Since the addition of a mental health category in the new SEN code of practice, we have all become psychologists and counsellors, right? Wrong. The expectations are that teachers are to be able to spot a vast myriad of potential mental health issues, then strategise and differentiate in order to effectively manage them within our classrooms. It is at this point we are all thankful for the block of study empowering us to do the latter in our teacher training. Did you miss out on that too?
We need to look for robust strategies, practical support and develop the confidence to meet the needs of children with mental health issues. I strongly recommend looking at ways to manage attachment difficulties as a first wave approach to creating a genuine sense of inclusion in the school system. Attachment difficulty of some form or another appears in approximately 60% of the UK classroom. There will be children in your class who have experienced some form of harm, inconsistent parenting or those that have been or who are at risk. Attachment theory is a topic worthy of a series of books and some excellent ones exist to shine a light on this area, but for the purposes of this article, we will seek to highlight attachment theory and evidence-based interventions which can have high impact in addressing some of these issues.
Children with one of the forms of insecure attachment often present with an inability to cope with or engage with their learning environment, tuning out or lack of progression. They may have relationship problems, establishing trust can be a challenge, along with social communication difficulties. Children with insecure attachment difficulty also have a poor sense of self. They can lack self-awareness and even present as disruptive with tendencies to be over-excited, fidgety and jumpy. By recognising these factors you can prepare your classroom environment, routine and self to be better equipped to promote inclusion and well being. Awareness of these difficulties allows the practitioner to differentiate, not only the tasks and expectations set, but also the language used to deliver and engage and also the way you relate to your class. Positive and reciprocal relationships are key to success with almost all mental health strategies, along with outstanding teaching.
There are many interventions that help to promote holistic and secure relationships and also engage the hardest to reach children. These could be varying forms of therapy; to include cognitive behavioural therapy, either conducted independently or in small groups. Circle time, activities to reduce anxiety, SEAL or solution-focused approaches. One intervention with high impact results, with robust research and evidence to reinforce its usage, is Nurture. Nurture groups are increasing in number and although early intervention is always considered to be more effective, they are becoming more and more popular in secondary schools.
A nurture group is a short term, focused intervention where the child keeps a continuous relationship with their class, but have withdrawal time with nurture trained practitioners. Nurture should happen at both home and school and include soft furnishings and a strict routine, including meal preparation for either breakfast or lunch. Activities including arts and crafts, emotional literacy sessions, curriculum tasks and circle time which take place in a well-structured setting with a usual ratio of two adults to between six and eight children.
Nurture in action
A future suite, revamped and under new leadership is seeing high impact results. Planning for the promotion of activities to address ‘the gaps’ are specifically set to enable full participation for the children.
This article is from the March 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. You can freely read the online version by clicking here.
Sarah Kennedy is an inclusion manager, primary deputy, CBT therapist, and primary teacher with 13 years experience of teaching 0-11-year-olds.