Some difficulties… by @ASTSupportaali


Back in 2014 I wrote this blog highlighting some difficulties our students face daily.

I have now found this brilliant website which is from a Local Authority- Oxfordshire. It is called the Practitioners Toolkit. It contains details, links, charitable associations, resources and information on every major need a child could face in and out of school.

Check it out here!

practitioners toolkit

This advert by @PrincesTrust summarises this post up beautifully…

When I first started working as the Director of Inclusion in my school I came with a backpack of experience dealing with difficult, non-compliant, defiant students. Who may have been angry about things in their lives or generally frustrated by their situations. I strode into the post with the label of being an Advanced Skills Teacher in Learning and Teaching, valiantly/foolishly (delete as you see fit), thinking if I can perfect the delivery/pedagogy/thinking of teaching and learning then any student can/will do well. Always. Whatever the situation. However, what I was seriously missing was knowledge of the extremely ‘damaged’, ‘broken’ and really and truly ‘vulnerable’ students. (I don’t think I will say experience, as students facing these extreme difficulties were indeed present in my last school, but I am not sure if my eyes were fully open to them.) I don’t know if all teachers are acutely aware of the day to day difficulties many young people face. I mean don’t get me wrong. I am not saying teachers do not care. Or are ignorant to these issues. I am just thinking, because I wasn’t fully aware of them, maybe there are others out there like me? (I am a little ashamed that I didn’t know. Why? Because, I grew up in an area, well, lets just say the total opposite of a leafy, calm, well regulated location.)

Mr Ali- Boys Assembly from Mr A Ali (A little about me, my life, my background- presenting to Year 10 and Year 11 boys.)

(Ignore slide 20- it was not shared with anyone- it is a misogynistic attitude that I removed before delivery!) Throughout my time being a teacher these are some of the difficulties that students I have taught, had to lead or deal with have had… First the ones we are all aware of? (All of these categories have been hyperlinked with a general website where you can read more about the category.) These are the subgroups that your HOD, SLT or OFSTED will look out for. These are the target groups of students per se…

  • Free School Meals (I used to be a FSM student.. click the link to see to see which groups of pupils are entitled to this service. However, do remember many eligible parents simply do not apply- therefore missing out on the label?)
  • Pupil Premium (I have recently just hired a Pupil Premium lead to work with our Research Champion who will be investigating the make up of our PP students. Is the governments pledge of £2.5 billion pound enough. Is it OK for schools to work out themselves how best to spend their money? Do schools usurp this money into their wider budget and cover their additional costs?)
  • English as an additional language (The difficulties for these students vary. I too was an EAL student by definition.I can see this as more of a celebration than difficulty. Speak to @DiLeed for more information!) We have a separate EAL team. They are distinct from the SEN/D team. This is important, that their difficulties are not labelled or indeed treated as learning deficiencies? I oversee them too under my Inclusion umbrella.
  • Special Educational Needs (There have been lots of really useful blogs written about the specific needs of children with SEN/D by @JulesDaulby and @NancyGedge along with @ChrisChivers2) Also click here for information on the SEND code of Practice changes. It is well worth reading up on the categories of needs.
  • Physically Disabled– All schools should have an accessibility plan. A medication policy and an equality framework. They should make their school available for all category of students. We have a HLTA in post to offer specific services to our PD students. Toileting, physio and so on.
  • Looked After Children/Adopted Children (See below.) These students are eligble for Pupil Premium Plus grant- instead of £935, they are entitled to £1900. How do you spend the additional money? What gaps need filling most?

Now, here are some that were less obvious to me…

Students who have to look after their parents, siblings or relatives. This may be due to illness, large families or through inadequate parenting. The scale of this is much bigger than I realised. Many students do not come forward, or indeed even know that there is support available. I didn’t appreciate how little ‘additional’ time they have. How mature they have had to become. How quickly they have had to grow up. I am blown away by the level of responsibility that children as young as 11 have bestowed on them. We have a dedicated TA for Young Carers here at my school. He tracks and monitors their ‘level’ of need. He personalises provision if need be and depending on their level: red, amber or green, he puts in adequate internal and external agency support. He also runs a morning and lunch club for them. (Not exclusively, but runs one and invites them.) We are currently a ‘silver’ status Young Carer school, going for the gold award.

Me: Stop that, or I will call your Mum!

Student: You can’t!

Me: OK, I will call your Dad then.

Student: You can’t either. (Storms out- pretty upset!)

Me: What happened there?!

How many times have we had that type of conversation? Well, much to my confusion that identical exchange caused a great deal of distress to a student whose parents weren’t at home. More to the point, were never coming home. Whose parents have not been home for a long time. However, is it appropriate to say, ‘I will call your parent/guardian/carer.’ I guess, it all comes down to knowing your students. (Adequate records and communication here vital.) This kind of knowledge and information however, may not be common knowledge to all. A difficult situation, but imagine the difficulty to the students?

The only thing here is for me to ask Teachers to be aware of the topics they are teaching. The content they may have to discuss might have a profound affect on some of our students. Another key factor is those students suffering from neglect. This is often obvious by clothes not fitting well, being dirty, the child also has an unkempt appearance (maybe lice in hair) and has an odour. These children are picked on and staff need to be vigilant to ensure these students are not isolated further.

  • Traumatised children

Those who have been sexually exploited, been assaulted, honour killings, kidnap, road traffic accidents, intrusive medical procedures, forced marriage, female genital mutualisation etc are a cohort that needs to be thought about as trauma completely takes students off track and it takes time to recover….course content important here, as is compassion.

Age unknown? Language unknown? How they arrived unknown? These students are categorised as Looked After Children. (LAC- see above.) However, what do you do with a student who may have arrived from some of the most war torn countries in the world. Themselves. They are illiterate in their own language with no schooling from their mother land. We try our best. That is all we can do. We currently have a designated TA for LAC children too. Her role is to ensure that these students receive the best possible catch up provision. We are committed to ensuring their strifes and difficulties are minimised whilst in our care.

Divorce, break up, new boyfriend/girlfriend? I was really unsure how this affects students in their day to day education. I mean the obvious factors remain at play. However, what about increased poverty? Conflict of emotions? Anti Social behaviour? There are also so many agencies out there working with parents now to improve their parenting skills. Charities such as Thriving Families or Parent Partnership. They aim to plug the gap in the primary stage of socialisation of our young people. Many of our young people are also being looked after now by their grandparents. The difference in generation coupled with attachment difficulties often presents itself in difficult behaviour.

Pupil Premium grant is designated for certain students. But what about the ones that just don’t have enough? That may have just missed the criteria. The important thing for these students and any of the above is to have high aspirations, attitudes, emotions and enthusiasm for them. Want them to succeed more than they do. Want them to do better than they realise. But, that doesn’t mean they should only receive the core diet. English, Maths and Science. With endless interventions. On the flip side, it doesn’t mean also that they should go on every trip being offered and access every external opportunity being provided. The balance is crucial.

Just because of the stigma attached to these (obesity, homosexuality), and the reactions of other students to these students. In an ideal world these shouldn’t be factors that cause difficulties to our young people. The reality is, that they do. Stonewall have a fantastic range of campaigns to help promote the unnecessary nature of this bullying that these children receive. Bullying is a nationwide problem, both in adults and students. I often ask students to reflect on their habits. Meaning, we all know and recognise what a Bully looks like, what a bully does and why they should not do it. However, do we ever sit back and think, am I that person? Do I bully others? Do I reduce the esteem of others? Am I a Bully? A powerful question. One that needs reflecting on. Cyberbullying is becoming more and more prevalent in our schools. Phones, internet, internet phones! I could write a whole seperate blog on the sexualisation of our young people and the inappropriate use of the internet. However, the way others engage with each other online is becoming more and more of a serious issue.

Students may be suffering from illnesses that prevent them from attending mainstream school. Or, for significant periods of time. Some of these young people may be hospitalised and attend in Oxford, the Hospital School. Here, we could also provide our Education Inclusion Tutor to go and support with education at home for these students. Other illnesses such as foetal alcohol syndrome play a major part in a students welfare and attainment.

Drug use is more and more prevalent in young people. This abuse alters behaviour, mind frames and outlooks in life. Working with agencies such as AddAction we try to mentor/pair up mentors with young people who have become entangled in the emotional pull of drugs. However, how do you ‘fight’ this pull when parents/siblings/friends are using these drugs.

  • Racism/Discrimination/Islamophobia

I think this is a wider problem that people may realise. We all know what those words mean. We can all recognise it. The affect on the young person is wide scale. Think about your schools? How inclusive are they? Yes, they welcome all, they do not separate. However, do your students naturally segregate? Go for a walk at lunch time and have a look? Do students take pick jokes out of accents? Is it becoming the norm?

Young people suffering from a loss of a loved one. This has a substantial impact on their learning, Research on bereaved children shows that they are more likely to have a serious illness themselves, be 55% more likely to have a mental illness and be likely to be excluded from school. This is horrendous, that somebody who has lost some important part of their family, has to then lose more. We want to make a change, and a difference to these young peoples’ lives, so we have school based councellors. They are amazing at assessing and supporting these students.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health services are busier now than they have ever been. They deal with students suffering from any of the above issues. We work very closely with these services to ensure our students are able to be in the best state of mind to learn.

“Young people are often not able to verbally tell us what is going on, they will show us. So if faced with unusual or difficult behaviours our (all staff) first step is to be curious and to try to understand what is being communicated to us. Key question to hold in mind is ‘what is this behaviour telling me’. It helps staff to respond and not react.” (D. Chappelle- Our school Lead Counsellor.)

How do WE try to help… We run a + unit/provision here at my school. It is designed for students who are displaying some of the characteristics of the difficulties listed above. WE DO NOT place these students in this provision unless we feel it is the best place for them. We have a team of fully trained staff determined to provide successful outcomes for the young people in their care. They aim to build the resilience along with social, emotional aspects of their lives. The wonderful staff offer training in attachment disorder, ODD and other behaviour difficulties. I have learnt so much from them. Along with learning from the students. What else do we offer: (Most of our Pupil Premium allocations.)

  • School Nurse
  • Counsellors
  • Non- Teaching pastoral staff
  • College Achievement Leaders and Assistants- more than a conventional Head of Year. (All of these guys are simply amazing!)
  • Careers, Information and Advice
  • Peer mentors
  • Vertical tutoring
  • Humanutopia- Heroes
  • Education Inclusion Tutor
  • Home School Link worker
  • Play Therapy
  • Lead TA’s- PD/LAC/YC/EAL
  • Achievement Support Centre
  • Working with outside agencies- Team around the Family- TAFS or Team around the Child- TACS.
  • Cause for Concern panels- every short term. We discuss and monitor students that fit into the categories above
  • A safeguarding team/group/experts
  • Regular CPD/Advice and Information on these students.
  • In Year For Access Panel meetings- where relevant SLT meet with the Social Inclusion Officers and various other leads to determine the best provision for some of our more challenging students

Am I missing anything? What other difficulties do students face? I wanted to share in this blog some of the various challenges students face. I want to be able to reduce these whilst at school… I do this because I value inclusion… For more reading;




    • An excellent post. I work in a primary school and we have children in most of your groups (both lists) so your blog resonated with me. We also have children placed within their family, who do not fit into any of them and are not “looked after children”. Another group is those with siblings in hospital long term or with very demanding SEND. This is something our Learning Mentor focusses on as they can lose school time through their family situations. Linked to this are our persistent absence groups.
      We have above average statements and SA/SA+ (in old money) so our notional budget is very stretched. However, the staff work their socks off to ensure than we cover all bases.
      A lot of the time it is the children in any of the groups outlined in your piece who we are most proud of and who have come on the most when they leave us. A few tears have been shed when they left us.
      Doesn’t show on RaiseOnline but we know!

  1. Research on bereaved children:

    Children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or friend are more likely than their non-bereaved peers to:
    • Have had a serious illness themselves which included a stay in hospital – around 60% more likely
    • Have a diagnosable mental disorder – around 55% more likely
    • Have a parent who has had a serious mental illness – around 80% more likely
    • Have a parent who has had a serious financial crisis – around 40% more likely
    • Have been excluded from school at some point – around 60% more likely

    Key findings from new CBN and NCB research on bereaved children, published in November 2009

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