Do we care too much? by @Sheep2763

It is the time of year when transitions are top of the agenda – new classes, new teachers, placing the old ones into year groups and matching up the support staff, considering both their skills and personalities. Time to think carefully about the benefits of rearranging who is in each class of the year group may be due to the new children who have arrived, how will each different group get on with different teachers, what about TAs?

It is a minefield. One that has the potential to blow up in your face if you get it wrong!

Many happy hours can be spent moving bits of paper, post-it notes and even at times, colouring cells on an Excel spreadsheet. Up until the end of term, even if teachers have been told which class they will teach or which TA they will be working with, there is still time to make last minute adjustments as different information comes to light or transition day shows up a clash that wasn’t immediately apparent beforehand. Things are often fine on paper, paper doesn’t have feelings. But what happens when the changes impact people and not just paper?

School is great! We have some of the loveliest children you could possibly wish to meet. We also have some who try to hide how lovely they are underneath their bravado and behaviours, these children are not always instantly loveable but give them time, get to know who they are underneath the façade they present and they really are the best.

We can quote till the cows come home that, “Behaviour is communication” but understanding behaviour is like learning a foreign language, it takes a while until you really understand what it is really being said. In the meantime whilst we are learning to translate the world moves on, school terms tick by and results, for everyone, need to be measured. For some of our children, the results that are the biggest for them may not be measurable by an exam or a grade – maybe they can now sleep in their own bedroom without night terrors, maybe they now trust an adult enough to say that they are hurt. We care about these children. We know what (or at least some of what) goes on behind the scenes. As adults, we also know that if we were experiencing some of the things that these children are experiencing, we too would struggle to behave in an expected manner –  let alone make academic progress in an expected way.

We care about these children. We accept that their behaviours are not all under their conscious control, that they are existing in a fight/flight/freeze mode for much of the time, but this can lead to behaviours that can affect other children and their learning. This is not acceptable. Would you be happy if your little darling was subjected to a child regularly swearing in the classroom? I guess, not unreasonably, that you would not. As a parent, you have the reasonable expectation that your child will go to school, be treated well and be taught so that they can make as much progress as they possibly can. The parents of the child who has a tricky home life generally want the same for their child too, even though they appreciate that their child may be “difficult”. They are aware that their child is presenting with challenging behaviours, because we communicate this sad news to them, sometimes, very regularly.

There are some processes in place for those whose behaviours are really challenging; it is a graduated response. Every school will have a behaviour policy that lays out what will happen and what the response will be to behaviours that are not counted as acceptable. The response to minor digressions may start at being given a negative mark/ loss of a house point or similar, it will work up through a variety of steps including making up missed work, parents being informed through to if things become too extreme, fixed-term exclusions – children sent home from school or even as a final resort, permanent exclusion.

If we reach a point of having to send a child home then we have to start saying what has gone wrong? If we continue sending children home – then we have continually failed – failed to provide an environment where everyone is safe and everyone can learn.

Is it the children’s fault? No.

Is it our fault? We need to consider what else we could have done, what was their behaviour telling us that we didn’t understand?

We care about the children, all of the children. If, though, we keep considering those who are tricky, those who are disruptive and then making excuses because we know what is happening to them at home, are we caring enough about the others? If we keep those challenging children in school are we really caring for them? Are we offering the inclusion of some at the detriment of others?

We should always be aiming to provide what is needed:-

  • does a child have a neurological difference e.g. ADHD/ ASD – we can refer to a paediatrician (having first ensured that the parents have been referred to and completed an 18-week evidence-based approved parenting course.
  • does the child have a mental health need – we can refer to CAMHS but thresholds are really high and if the child is not presenting as suicidal and if there is any possibility that the need may be due to a situation at home or a medical need then they will suggest we refer elsewhere first,
  • is the child neglected – we must refer to children’s social care – thresholds are so high that unless is it really bad then they will suggest that we speak to the parents or maybe have a Team Around The Family meeting and work with the family. This is totally voluntary on the parents’ part and many decline the offer of help in this way.
  • does the child need an assessment by an educational psychologist? – We can apply to them to come and see the child but even if we have the money to pay for the service there may be a waiting list and we have to prioritise how we use our 5 days support in a year.
  • does the child need a sensory assessment? There is a waiting list and a £480 cost for the initial assessment before we start to pay for therapy – the school budget doesn’t really stretch this far.
  • does the child meet the criteria for an Education Health Care Plan (the old statement)? We will apply as long as we can show that we have put in relevant support (often 1:1 support that we have no budgeted money for) and that it has made a difference, that their needs are long term, severe and complex and that we have had the educational psychologist in to observe, assess and, after we’ve followed their advice, review (as well as any other relevant external agencies).
  • does the child really belong in a mainstream school or would their needs be better met in an alternative or specialist provision? First, get an EHCP and then get the local SEN panel to apply to the provisions that could be suitable and see if they have spaces (very unlikely). In the meantime, keep caring, keep trying.

The possibility of permanent exclusion often hangs heavily over the heads of some of these children. If they are permanently excluded then, after 6 days, their education becomes the responsibility of the local authority. Is that good? We are likely to know that the local specialist provisions are full so their education often becomes a token gesture – a few hours tutoring a week. Is this because the local authority doesn’t care – definitely not – they just don’t have the spaces to place people even if they had the money.

We care so we try not to permanently exclude but there comes a point where either behaviours are so frequent that they accumulate so that they reach 15 days in a term and permanent exclusion is almost inevitable or a one-off incident happens that is so severe that the child receives this ultimate sanction. By trying not to permanently exclude, by trying to find a way that will help, are we too caring, are we giving a disservice to the majority?

By caring too much and trying to avoid permanent exclusion are we really helping the children we are trying help? Is there another option? In an ideal world with a magic wand and an endless bucket of money, yes, in reality maybe not.

So am I going to stop caring? No. As Rita Pierson said in her TED talk, “Every child needs a champion” (

Am I going to stop trying? No. I want the provision to be right for all children and the support that they need to be made available to them if at all possible.

Can you really care too much? Maybe. At the end of the day, I think that some of these children need as much care as they can get but I also know how I would feel if it was my child who was having their learning frequently disrupted.

It’s a tricky balance that I’m not convinced I will ever get right.

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About sheep2763 25 Articles
SENCO in a small primary school with nursery

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