Correlation and Causation – PX and Prison 

Correlation doesn’t equal Causation 

I had my first holiday Twitter spat on Saturday (I know I couldn’t even last one day). 

It was on permanent exclusions. After a tweet from the Prison Reform Trust arguing the case for criminal leniency for children in care, I drew a comparison with the fate of students excluded from school. 

Lord Laming who undertook the report, was on Radio 4 earlier this week with one example of the police being called because a child in care had taken food from a fridge without permission. 

This story horrified me; I look at my kids who have all done much worse and weep at the idea of them in the care system if my husband and I died. Statistically I know they’re likely to be separated as there are four of them; I know my son at 13 will be the hardest to place and having identical twins, they’d be kept together surely? But if they weren’t, the separation would be doubly damaging, so strong is their bond. 

I also know if one of them had SEN it would place further pressure on the care system and any behaviour issues (two are feisty, two compliant) would be dealt with more severely than we would at home. My goodness, if it’s food out the fridge; I may as well have 999 on speed dial. 

A criminal record for children in care, Lord Laming argues is assuring a future burden on society.

Back then to my Twitter spat; I claimed 47% (although probably a higher proportion as this includes non care system kids) of them, if excluded, were likely to end up in prison. This is the percentage of the prison population who have been permanently excluded from school. 
I was picked up here (probably fairly as I jump on anyone blaming parents for language and literacy difficulties using correlation as cause) because it doesn’t necessarily mean that those 47% wouldn’t end up in prison anyway and that schools may have done everything they could to prevent the exclusion. Fair enough, mea culpa.

My point though was that the label of being permanently excluded is as damaging as the criminal record Lord Laming was criticising. He’s not asking these to be lifted for dangerous criminals but for the petty  instances, allowing care children the best start in adult life.

Many excluded children have: 

SEN 

experienced bereavement 

witnessed domestic violence

been sexually abused

been physically abused

There is a similar pattern for prisoners and with whopping percentages of language and literacy difficulties among the prison community.

Yet, we may not see these children as victims and neither will society when they have a criminal record and permanent exclusion stamped on their forehead before the age of 16. 

Can’t we do better for these kids? Find models known to work and replicate them? These children matter and are society’s responsibility.

http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk
http://troublesofyouth.pbworks.com/f/occ71-exclusion.pdf (75% of excluded pupils end up with a criminal conviction)

 http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk

We’re teachers not Demigods

I’m tired of teacher bashing. As far as I can see we self loathe ourselves enough without others having to do it for us.

Bennett’s criticism of posters, group work, DVDs and role play in a recent tabloid article has won hands down this Easter for irking me.

It was easy pickings journalism. Adding stereotype to anecdote to take another swipe at the beleaguered teacher. This was no better than OFSTED grading my lessons, no less frustrating than having Gove call me an enemy of promise. Yet again teachers were being judged on their classroom practice.

Criticising posters particularly smacks of perfectionism – this is similar to the perfect parenting fetish. ‘Don’t use forward facing buggies your child will have speech difficulties’, ‘dummies will ruin your child’s teeth’ and ‘never sleep with your child, it’s unhealthy for their emotional resilience’. These judgments are there to make us feel guilty, no wonder we all feel crap especially if we’re parents and teachers.

Society bombards us with images of perfect parents and the media expect similar perfection in teachers. Not only do we have to get our children to learn efficiently every second of the day, we have to do it while looking amazing and rocking a BMI within the average range.

The most damaging issue I see in schools is having to use supply teachers. Drafted in for long term sickness, usually linked to teachers becoming stressed and exhausted from having worked too damned hard and having been set up with unrealistic expectations.

Teachers need to pace themselves, allow time for marking and slots where they’re not continually teaching from the front. 

Consistently mediocre should be the new excellence – anyone who thinks teaching is like Dead Poets’ Society is part of this fake idealism. Students need a teacher who is present, consistent, knows her subject, can engage students to learn it and ensure progress is made: that’s it. We all do this differently. 

Of course be inspirational if we want to be but not every lesson – spread our  brilliance out evenly and give ourselves a break. We’re teachers not demigods.

Image from ActiveApparel 

Segregation – a collection of responses

Edu blogging and edu Twitter can be extremely rewarding at times but also nail bitingly painful. When you work in SEN, it can be difficult reading ignorant comments and hearing views from teachers who clearly believe students should be elsewhere. These ‘outclusionists’ have less idea where they should go just ‘away from me and my class’.

When  QT wrote a blog post claiming to be playing devil’s advocate, I thought actually, it was not provocative just prejudiced and in poor taste. So I wrote a rather ranty blog. I also questioned how ‘normal’ you have to be for mainstream a while ago.

What happened next was better however: the Titans of SEN began to respond. I’ve used this image before; over the brow of the hill came the voices and it made me burst with SEND pride that such professionals champion those with the least resources available to them. Here they are: 

Nancy writes beautifully but harshly on ‘Rose tinted spectacles’ giving some statistics which we should all read.

Simon writes an excellent post challenging the views that we all find ‘like minded’ people and suggesting teachers should be looking for solutions to mitigate difficulties.

Chris tells us how children can be learning opportunities for teachers and that investigating options as a teacher is rewarding.

Jarlath responded with an aspirational blog lamenting how some dwell on the deficit model of SEN rather than seeing students who have a lot to give and achieve. 

New to me is  Kate, who writes a positive post on inclusion based on real experiences which was a pleasure to read.

OldPrimaryHead ‘s stonking blog sums up the problem but also the solution – a decent head who believes in inclusion past test results.

And Sue reminds us, of course, that #Everychildmatters.

Lena writes an interesting post encouraging more understanding and commitment to inclusion. 

Why is inclusion so important? Read Jude ‘s post – it brilliantly destroys the prejudiced arguments in favour of segregation.

A post from Liane on how teaching students with SEN has made her a better teacher is one which will resonate with many.

Beth reminds to to look for triggers behind the behaviours and that segregation could be yet another knock back for some vulnerable children.

Cherryl gives some examples of students in special school and asks the question; should all children be in mainstream?

JordyJax tells us SEND is not going away and gives some very practical advice on spotting SEN in students causing difficulties in school. 

Rob compares the lack of funding for flood defences with inclusion and how the subsequent fall back costs far more – he’s right, we need more money and more accountability for students with SEN – provision is currently a lottery.

Bennie has written a fantastically moving tribute to teachers on why we teach  – the stats are shocking too.

Maryisherwood, a special school headteacher writes how inclusion is personalised and inclusion for one student may mean a special school and for another mainstream.

Matt, a parent should have the final Words which are in the comments section of QT’s post.

   

 
  

Segregation and Stereotypes 

QT
is trying to be controversial. – so was Toby Young when he called pupils with SEN troglodytes. 
But when does controversy actually become plain offensive? When does controversy perpetuate stereotypes of students with learning difficulties? 

And when does controversy forget that the group they are offending are children? And children with the least resources available to them? Children who may not be able to fight back? 
In my Speech and Language Base (students who access SALT and English but otherwise are educated in the mainstream) are learners who are quiet, studious and tremendously hard working against all odds. Despite the fact that school runs in fast forward for them, some of my students’ attendance records are excellent, behaviour exemplary and they crave quietness so they can concentrate. Yet to QT they are lumped with chair throwing pupils. Let’s be clear; they’re are many neurotypical chair throwers too.
So if we are to segregate by quiet and studious what is the other group? Loud and unscholarly? And are these all people with SEN ? I struggle with opinionated rugby players can we have a separate school for them?
Where does segregation begin and where does it stop? I find people often agree with such ideologies until they or their children are excluded. 
Worst of all, as segregation really is just the inclusion debate between mainstream and special school, no, worst of all is the gross generalisations made about those who the author wishes to segregate. Anyone who has agreed with the blog is complicit in reducing children with SEN to derogatory stereotypes which border on the grotesque. If you’ve met a child with SEN you’ve met one child. 
So no I’m not with you QT and I’d be really disappointed if anyone were. 

Segregation and stereotypes 

QT
is trying to be controversial. – so was Toby Young when he called pupils with SEN troglodytes. 
But when does controversy actually become plain offensive? When does controversy perpetuate stereotypes of students with learning difficulties? 

And when does controversy forget that the group they are offending are children? And children with the least resources available to them? Children who may not be able to fight back? 
In my Speech and Language Base (students who access SALT and English but otherwise are educated in the mainstream) are learners who are quiet, studious and tremendously hard working against all odds. Despite the fact that school runs in fast forward for them, some of my students’ attendance records are excellent, behaviour exemplary and they crave quietness so they can concentrate. Yet to QT they are lumped with chair throwing pupils. Let’s be clear; they’re are many neurotypical chair throwers too.
So if we are to segregate by quiet and studious what is the other group? Loud and unscholarly? And are these all people with SEN ? I struggle with opinionated rugby players can we have a separate school for them?
Where does segregation begin and where does it stop? I find people often agree with such ideologies until they or their children are excluded. 
Worst of all, as segregation really is just the inclusion debate between mainstream and special school, no, worst of all is the gross generalisations made about those who the author wishes to segregate. Anyone who has agreed with the blog is complicit in reducing children with SEN to derogatory stereotypes which border on the grotesque. If you’ve met a child with SEN you’ve met one child. 
So no I’m not with you QT and I’d be really disappointed if anyone were. 

Teaching Assistants 

I’ve been reading a lot about deployment of TAs recently the Keyinsights article
set me off and I’ve followed the great links to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)

and others. 
So, I’ve done some reading. 
I have also discussed this on numerous occasions with Twitter colleagues.
So I’ve sought opinions and advice. 
I think most would agree the following: 
1. TAs should be used effectively 
But what is effective? The EEF have 7 pointers which are superb.
2. TAs should be trained.
This is something our school and area partnership have been working hard to improve.
We had a day looking at 1:1 literacy interventions, we’ve done some assistive technology training and in February we’re having a whole day with a series of workshops looking at language, reading, spelling, phonics and writing. 
3. TAs should not be taking role of teacher, especially for those with learning difficulties where the gap between them and their peers is widening. 
This can be problematic – if a teacher wants to teach whole class they may ask TA to take an individual (usually in secondary) or a small group (more primary?) out to consolidate and reinforce information. 
I have no problem with this as long as the teacher is leading the learning. We must be sure TAs have been suitably trained to do this type of intervention however, sometimes they have more experience than teachers around SEN and working closely with the teacher can be a sublime relationship pushing the student/s on to make progress. 
We can however get this hideously wrong – a TA who doesn’t know how to teach phonics can do more harm than good and often with the very children who need specialist teaching the most. 
I’m afraid this is the fault of the teacher – they have abandoned this child and given full responsibility to the TA for the pupil/s with least resources available to them. 
I’d hope all would agree this is bad practice. 
What of the 1:1 TA who is with a child who has complex communication needs? 
This relationship is complicated. – the TA should have knowledge of the child’s need and know how best to include him or her into the mainstream using inclusive strategies. 
A best practice situation might be: 
Weekly planning with teacher – tweaking how and when child can cope in class and how they are accessing curriculum. 
In secondary, this is harder; while the student may have a key worker, it is likely a number of TAs will be involved and numerous teachers – how do we keep continuity and plan effectively for the student?
And the one for me which causes most angst is the student who, for social and emotional reasons as well as learning difficulties is only coping in mainstream secondary with a TA by their side. 
How can we maximise this relationship so it is constructive rather than destructive? Can we plan for the student to learn independently yet keep their anxiety at a level where they don’t shut down completely? 
If a student requires a sensory diet but also benefits from break times with their peers, how can we fit this into a full timetable? How can the TAs and teachers plan for this? 
These are questions I have no answers to. 
Then there’s the child who requires a scribe and reader? Does this mean they sit back while the TA does the work for them? Are they engaged? For some, the TA copying off the board or making notes for the student means he or she can concentrate on the content without their literacy putting a barrier up for them. For others however, have they learned helplessness and while the TA is scribbling away they are busy distracting others, completely disengaged?
Another problem for both teacher and TA to solve. 
When school has a student whose attendance is poor due to refusal, illness or mental health how should the TA be used in these circumstances? Continue to attend classes and make notes? Prepare resources to enable the student to catch up on their return? Act as a class TA to help others or, often in our case, ask the TA to help other students in other classes as sickness affects TAs too. 

Then there are Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) who performance manage other TAs, take on other responsibilities such as small group interventions and literacy support. This work is done outside a mainstream classroom. 

I don’t think we’re getting everything right but I know I see some incredible practice between TAs and teachers. I also know we can improve the system but how? 
Communication is key but we struggle in the rapid, fire fighting environment we work in. Things change too- what works one week can be disastrous the next. An argument with another student or teacher can mean a student with difficulties is affected for weeks. 
The only way to keep improving is to keep checking, keep changing, trying new things but I’m also aware this can have an exhausting affect on teachers and TAs. Thank goodness they’re so adaptable – for to include our students with needs we have to to be flexible and make adjustments – we may not get it right all the time but sometimes, with these students no research has been done yet – the situation is a new one (even to me after 15 years) and we have to work within the parameters of knowledge,  experience and the structure of school. We might also think the unthinkable, sometimes it’s like trying to be creative in a tiny box and it is the TAs who can liberate us – we must use them wisely and effectively but as part of the system not as an alternative. 

Advice from a Think-Triumph Toledo 

It’s always a tricky one arguing against someone who says everyone should have a C grade in GCSE Maths and English. You’re immediately accused of saying literacy and numeracy doesn’t matter.

But I’m going to stick my neck out – partly because I’ve had a lovely holiday picking mushrooms and sea asparagus and have gone all tree huggy. 

The Policy Exchange has brought out a paper arguing for a transfer of funds from schools to FE if students don’t achieve a C in English and Maths. 

This, what is essentially a fine, disproportionally affects the schools who are struggling. Struggling to recruit teachers as it’s so tough, struggling to control students as they’ve got all the kids the ‘outstanding’ school up the road doesn’t want and struggling to stay positive with the perpetual cycle of inspections as they’ve been requiring improvement since forever. 

So they’re down; physically and emotionally. What happens? Along comes another think tank to tell them they’ll have to pay if their students don’t get Cs. 

Instead of telling them they’re doing a good job in difficult circumstances but could do even better with the support of a critical friend, they’re given another kick and told they’re letting down their local FE college who is bearing the brunt of their incompetence.

If we are getting to this, then the Heads might want to read my ‘Think-Triumph Toledo ‘ advice. 

Top 4 tips 

1. Start up a zero tolerance policy (this is guaranteed to make the students the pastoral team and/or SEN team work hard with to help cope in school become so anxious they’ll behave in a way which will be easy to exclude them). 

 2. Tell parents of children with difficulties that this probably isn’t the school for them because you concentrate on the academic – the school down the road would be far better at meeting their needs (this is because you care about them not your results).

3. Take students out of Design and Technology, Art, Drama, Textiles. Outdoor Education – any subjects that won’t affect statistics too much even if the students excel at them and give extra English and Maths lessons to try and get them that magic ‘C’ – for if they have that the world is their oyster (even if they did want to be the next Tracey Emin and needed Art to get into college).

4. Don’t worry about the why students aren’t getting grades – it’s irrelevant and any reason is just an excuse. You might think you care but actually you’re a victim of soft bigotry or an enemy of promise (depending on which MP was in charge at the time).

That should do it – no fines for you just lots for the school down the road – but there is no school down the road because you were it?  Oh don’t worry about that, it’s not your problem.