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Using nurture to create a calmer school

August 13, 2022, 18:21 GMT+1
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  • With permanent exclusions on the rise, SEND leader Kate Tokgoz developed a solution that made a huge impact on pupil behaviour
Using nurture to create a calmer school

Persistent disruptive behaviour continues to be the main cause of permanent exclusion.

Pupils with special educational needs, including those with ADHD and autism, are more likely to experience behavioural issues while in the school environment, especially after the school shutdown – including, in our case, attempting to abscond from classrooms and causing damage to property.

The impact on staff and other children was highly damaging.

Many pupils were simply struggling to cope and imposing sanctions proved only to exacerbate the difficulties. 

We needed to find ways of managing these challenges, and to put measures in place that were protective, nurturing and supportive, rather than punitive. What was needed was a complete re-think of our strategies and policies to meeting pupils’ needs, and a change of priorities.

When all our pupils returned to school in March last year, we realised that the lockdown had caused significant rises in behavioural issues amongst a number of children, most of whom had needs that staff were struggling to meet in the main classrooms. 

After experimenting with a ‘time-out’ option, where disruptive pupils were asked to sit in the headteacher’s office for a set amount of time, we realised that a much higher level of attention was needed to help improve these children’s behaviour. 

What we failed to anticipate, however, was just how high the level of disruptive behaviour would rise if these pupils were left in the main classroom.

Children from Years 1 through to 6 were frequently running out of classrooms, damaging property and even attempting to leave the school site altogether.

Not only was this causing major disruption to teaching staff, but it was also having a negative impact on the rest of the children in the class, who were witnessing poor behaviour on a daily basis.

Fixed term exclusions became a temporary solution, although the school also trialled reduced timetables and one-to-one lessons with learning support assistants.

Despite our attempts to re-direct these children into the correct learning area, the rest of the teaching staff and I were still seeing significant behavioural issues amongst SEND pupils.

Creating a new environment

It soon became apparent that many children were displaying an inability to cope in a classroom setting, which is why I suggested the possibility of creating an entirely different environment for these pupils to continue their learning. 

Over the next few months, I worked closely with several other members of the senior leadership team to set up the Base, a unit in the school which has been designed to meet the needs of children whose social requirements were not being met in the classroom. 

It was a far cry from a time-out in the headteacher’s office. The provides nurture-style provision with a more relaxed timetable. Key skills such as reading, writing and mathematics are interspersed with more creative activities such as craft and cooking. 

We also quickly solved one of our main problems. We installed a purpose-build play area that pupils could visit at any time of the day and by allowing continuous access to the outdoors, we found that pupils were much less likely to run out of the Base during a disruptive episode. 

Instilling a culture of nurturing

As part of the Base’s culture of nurturing, teaching staff make the children’s social and emotional needs the highest priority, without neglecting their academic needs.

One of the newest measures we’ve put into place is the introduction of individual reward charts for good behaviour, which can include the option to invite a friend to the Base for snack time.

The children also enjoy some quiet ‘down time’ at the end of each day, which usually involves a short amount of cartoon watching. 

Sensory stimulation is an important part of nurturing SEND children, which is why we equipped the Base with a wide range of appropriate objects, such as weighted blankets, wobble boards and fidget toys.

Our teachers have been using Gym Trail to support their lesson plans, a programme that helps improve several social skills such as turn taking, waiting in line and following instructions. 

Communication is key

We’re acutely aware that being told your child would benefit from an education in a separate unit isn’t easy to hear. However, parental response to the programme has been overwhelmingly positive.

In fact, a recent survey revealed that 80% of our parents strongly agreed that their child’s needs were being supported effectively in the Base – with the remaining 20% neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

Parents felt that they understood why it was necessary for their children to learn in the Base and how the new nurture-style is supporting their needs. 

Turning over a new leaf

Since opening the Base in June 2021, the school has seen major improvements in its behaviour.

Classes have gone from being widely disruptive and somewhat chaotic, with behaviour growing volatile and often dangerous, to far more calm and constructive learning environments.

Our teachers have been incredibly supportive of the Base and the atmosphere when you walk through the school is so much more positive. 

As already mentioned, permanent exclusions were beginning to become a worrying issue in the school prior to our opening of the Base.

The students we placed in the Base adapted to their surroundings a lot sooner and better than we expected and are now reaching the stage where they can be integrated into the main classrooms for a couple of hours each day.

The work that the team has been doing to increase these hours in a supportive and encouraging way has significantly reduced the likelihood of permanent exclusions, and two of our children have already been fully re-integrated into mainstream classes.

Given the success of its first year, the school is keen to use the Base to support several other children who we feel would benefit from this style of provision.

Although this may be a challenge, with children who are currently accessing the Base continuing to need support over the next academic year, we’re hoping that introducing more reduced timetables with additional time in mainstream classes will allow us to do so.

How to set up your own Base

  • When it comes to educating SEND pupils with behavioural issues, supportive not punitive behavioural policies are the best way forward. Sanctions and punishments such as ‘time- outs’ can cause undue stress and may encourage further isolation and poor conduct.
  • Transferring struggling pupils into a different unit isn’t the same as admitting defeat.  Reassure them that a separate learning environment is only temporary and is to be used as a stepping stone for re-integrating them back into mainstream classrooms with their friends.
  • Communicating with parents is the key to success. Checking in with parents or carers on a regular basis and explaining the benefits of a different learning environment is an important part of supporting the children.
  • Supporting a child’s social and emotional needs is just as important as developing their academic skills, so take the time to evaluate each child’s sensory requirements and create an environment that will make them feel comfortable and safe.
  • Re-integration won’t happen overnight. Gradually exposing pupils to mainstream classroom settings over a long period of time can be a long process, but it is certainly worth the wait. Some children will make the transition faster than others.

Kate Tokgoz is the SEND Leader, and Chair of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team at Southminster Church of England Primary School, Essex.