In all our years of technological advances which seem to be expanding exponentially year upon year, the one thing that seems to be at a standstill is how we educate our children. Yes, we have included iPads in our classrooms but the types of lessons and the academic expectations are very slow to meet the needs of what children are actually faced with on a day to day basis. We need an education system that values above all else, the importance of inclusion – not if they can remember in what year who won what war.
When is a mainstream school no longer a mainstream school?
A mainstream school by definition is a school or academy where a pupil can adjust to the expectations of general education in a classroom on their own without additional support. These schools are without fees and so generate their funding elsewhere such as local authority. Therefore, we understand that budgets are limited for these schools.
We also know there is a pot of money for those children who don’t meet the threshold for specialised schools but are recognised for having special educational needs – that could be learning needs or more commonly, social, emotional and behavioural needs.
What I am seeing having worked in a government primary school for almost seven years, is an increase in children starting education on the back foot as it were due to high levels of need. I see our SENCo’s (Special Education Needs Coordinators) spending hours of time trying to secure an EHCP (Educational Health Care Plan) for these children in order to secure the funding that will help support them throughout their educational career. Even then it is not guaranteed it will be approved, as the growing numbers only put further strain on resources.
So schools are having to be clever about how to create a safe, inclusive and educational environment with not nearly enough staff who are trained in this specialised area of education. This alone has a knock on effect to staff morale and therefore children’s behaviour.
Change is long overdue
First point of change is for government to recognise this growing need and to allocate resources accordingly. Next is for the education system in and of itself to change. I heard the other day a quote from someone was that only thing that has changed in school in the last 100 or so years is that we use a smart board instead of a blackboard. The lessons are the same, maybe taught in different ways, but still the same.
We used to have more PSHE (Personal,Social, Health and Education) lessons when it first became an issue, but that had to fall to the wayside with the ever-increasing demands on teachers from OFSTEd to meet educational standards across the board. How can we test a child from an impoverished background using the same measures as with a child who has – at the very least – their basic needs met such as food, shelter and warmth, and expect an equal result?
So what does a new education system look like?
I’ll give my school as an example as it is one that is amongst an economically disadvantaged community. The first thing we may be faced with on a school day is children who haven’t eaten breakfast or a sugar fueled breakfast bar/cereal. Our school has recently started a breakfast club – but there is a cost, minimal but still more than some families can afford. So it would be ideal to have that as standard.
Then onto our children with heightened sensory processing needs – that can come from developmental delays or just children from chaotic home lives that struggle to emotionally regulate on a moment to moment basis. I would like to have a building completely separate from the school with sensory rooms to help bring them down from hyper arousal states (fight, flight). I also envision a room with a climbing wall, and sensory swings, exercise balls etc. to bring them our of a hypo arousal state (freeze). This would be part of their day before they could even access a classroom situation.
The classroom itself would be plain and have less distraction on the walls. There would be means of sensory regulation resources in the room – wiggle chairs means to stand and walk around while they listen. The lesson would be engaging in a way that their game consoled minds could feel excited about. There would be a sense of belonging as teachers could test children on what they personally are good at – not what we want them to be good at. All that matters is that they feel more successful than not and that it is okay to fail once in a while too and see it as a chance to grow. Teachers feel respected instead of authoritative. I could go on and on and I would love to hear other thoughts of what an ideal educational experience would be like for you.
What are we hoping for?
In summary, we are all connected and what happens to our children affects what happens to us as human beings in essence. We have to care and change accordingly as we potentially hold in our hands what could be the next person to discover a cure for diseases that have plagued us for years, or the next brilliant mind to discover how to finally end world hunger – but they never had the chance to reach their full potential because they felt a failure at school. That’s crazy isn’t it??