The school staff were at their wits end with Joe (year 4). They had tried “everything”. He was frequently leaving his classroom without permission, running around out of control and banging on windows and doors, disturbing his own and other classes.
His class teacher was a senior, experienced teacher who had a calm manner and generally good relationships with pupils. There were several children with difficult situations in their home lives in the class including a group living near each other, who brought family disputes from out of school into the classroom.
All sorts of people, including two PCSOs, had talked to Joe and nothing seemed to make a difference. In fact his behaviour seemed to be escalating and he was at serious risk of permanent exclusion. Yet his behaviour out of school did not seem to be a problem and he had a good relationship with both of his parents. This led to tension between school and home because Mr and Mrs A didn’t see what the problem was and felt Joe was being “picked on”.
I saw Joe at home because he had had negative experiences with adults trying to talk to him in school and home was a more relaxing and positive environment for him. I spoke to Joe about his perspective and he seemed confused about why he was in trouble. He couldn’t explain why he left the classroom and caused such a fuss. He talked about his difficult relationships with other boys in the class and feeling blamed for things that weren’t his fault. It gradually emerged that he felt he couldn’t do anything to please his teacher and had given up trying. Joe has older brothers and sisters and was effectively now in a similar position to an only child – being the only child at home used to a lot of adult company and attention. We worked out some targets to work towards and an Individual Behaviour Plan (see Intervention, targets and Monitoring, IBP). During the next few weeks Joe struggled and continued to have fixed term exclusions. This had a de motivating effect as he didn’t feel his effort was being noticed and that he was expected to be ‘perfect’. From the school staffs point of view, the change wasn’t happening quickly enough – they had high expectations of seeing a difference quickly as they were concerned about the effects on the rest of the school from such high profile, challenging behaviour.
During this time I kept close contact with Mrs A. I suggested that a fresh start somewhere else might be the best approach for Joe. Mrs A was initially very reluctant as she felt that would mean Joe being “punished” for the situation which she felt was largely created by another child in the class. Joe however was quite keen on this idea and fairly quickly we all decided it was worth taking the risk.
The receiving school did an excellent job in making Joe welcome and giving him a real chance, despite an already challenging class in a small classroom. Joe had the support of the Learning Mentor from the outset and there were regular meetings with Mrs A, the class teacher and the Head Teacher. There was a wobbly start but eventually Joe began to trust that the adults really did have his best interests at heart and at the last meeting I attended he was described as “a different boy – cannot find fault, an absolute angel”. A year on, Joe is still doing well and looking forward to transferring to secondary school in September.
Sarah (year 5) has an older brother with a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Condition and a long history of school refusal. Sarah does not have a diagnosis, but shares some characteristics of ASC and struggles with social communication skills.
In year 4, during a period of building working at school when there was a lot of noise and occasional room changes, Sarah became more and more anxious about going to school and on occasions refused point blank to go in to school or her classroom.
Sarah is a bright girl and a talented artist, but she was falling behind her classmates because of her poor attendance. Working closely with Mrs B and the school SENCo we devised a plan to maintain regular daily contact with school, very gradually building up the time but mainly concentrating on planning for a ‘fresh start’ and regular attendance for September.
We discussed each stage with Sarah to ensure realistic targets, but needed to show her that the adults were making the decisions in her best interests rather than letting her totally control the situation. As she was refusing to go into her old classroom at all, she worked in a nearby group space with others girls joining her on occasions. The focus was on planning where she would sit, who with and how things would work in the new class in September. Making it seem inevitable and not allowing any ‘window of doubt’ that the plan would not work.
We visited the new room, took photographs, drew plans and wrote Social Stories in preparation. Over the school summer holiday the Family Link Worker maintained contact to keep Sarah positive and iron out any remaining concerns. See Intervention and Monitoring
Sarah made a good start to the new term and increased her hours as the year progressed as planned. She continues to need the ‘safety net’ of ending a short time before the usual end of the day (avoiding the cloakroom scrum!) but stays on the school premises because of younger siblings being picked up too. She is now happy in school and participates fully.
Tom (year 1) for no obvious reason started being reluctant to come in to school in the mornings, misbehaving in class and then refusing to participate at all in class activities. After observations and discussion with staff members we drew up an initial plan. Tom was met in the mornings by the learning mentor and spent the first part of the day in her ‘Sunshine Room’. When settled, he was taken to a ‘work station’ in a group area just outside his own classroom, where he worked on the same tasks as the rest of the class with the support of a TA.
After a few weeks Tom began to be curious about what was going on in the class room, perhaps missing the social interaction. He began to spend more and more time back in class and the TA gradually withdrew his support. It emerged that there had been some tension at home and there were also some health concerns for Tom being investigated.
Tom needed the extra attention and time with adults during a difficult period, but it was important to keep a routine going as far as possible, to remind him that adults were in charge and ultimately made the decisions. There was some additional cost for the school in employing a TA for working 1:1 with Joe for a short time, but this was considered a worthwhile investment to avoid a prolonged episode of emotionally based school refusal. Tom has occasional wobbles when he seeks refuge in the Sunshine Room, but is mostly coping in class with his peers. See Intervention and Monitoring