Clear research has shown that the ability of the teacher to teach reduces in relationship to the increase in the size of the class. This of course is an obvious correlation. Indeed, it has been suggested that teacher’s effectiveness increases rapidly as the class sizes go below 20.
Questions to ask are how then do teachers in schools with high pp percentages manage to both control and teach large classes? Particularly considering the increase in the numbers of children with SEMH. The evidence for this may be seen in the significant increase in exclusions in primary schools.
Reduced support services
Over the last 10 years there has been a significant drop in the support services available to schools in relation to children with SEMH.
- The increased cost of advice from the schools’ psychological service, coming out of an already squeezed school budget
- The admitted failure of both PCAMHS and CAMHS to respond significantly to school’s need for advice with more severe SEMH children, and the lack of long-term commitment to those pupils
- The reduction of teacher outreach services (BSS) for teachers and schools struggling with the more profound cases of mental instability and behavioural dysfunction
- Lack of quality social support services for schools struggling to manage severe pastoral problems
- The inconsistency of the hub system, often creating more problems than they solve
Inadequate analysis of behaviour
- Lack of appropriate tools for objective measurement of behaviour patterns of children and groups
- Lack of clear and reliable record keeping of incidents
Ineffective Insets on behaviour management
- Lack of available knowledge in the school to enable differentiation of presenting behavioural symptoms displayed in the school setting
- The virtual absence of appropriate targeted in-service training, on the management of children and carers presenting significant mental health problems.
Inadequate curriculum content
With a narrowed curriculum driven by league tables etc., schools now reduce the amount of time given to the more creative subjects. As a consequence, the more difficult children miss out on areas they may be more competent in, compared with more academic subjects, resulting in poor academic self-image. Research shows clearly that this poor academic self-image correlates strongly with poor pupil behaviour.
- With increased class sizes, differentiation is more complex and as SEMH pupils are often below average, they rarely succeed in the more academic subjects
- Differentiation can sometimes mean differentiation by outcome; creating a sense of failure reinforcing poor academic self-image
Insensitivity to pupils’ social dynamics
- Because of their behaviour, SEMH children are more likely to be isolated, or form dysfunctional negative groupings. As a consequence, their lack of inclusion causes significant difficulties for the teacher to manage
- Paradoxically, outside the classroom, these children have a very high self-image, but when that is exposed to the learning environment the pupil is conflicted, which challenges their self-image and consequently creates significant difficulties
Inconsistent behaviour management in school
- If there is inconsistency in adult’s responses to both good and bad behaviour, these sensitive fragile children are confused and consequently their behaviour becomes erratic.
- This is particularly evident in areas of free association and movement around the school where rules of conduct are not consistently applied by all managing adults.
- Research has shown that clear leadership built on sound and clear ownership by all staff regarding behaviour management significantly reduces behaviour problems.
In this field, so often the child is defined as the problem. However, this may not always be the case. Schools and individual teachers should constantly reassess the success or otherwise of their performance and strategies. Always keep in mind that the school experience of these very unfortunate children may be in sharp contrast to their environment out of school.
I would warn against punitive methods, because only through consistent co-ordinated positive reinforcement will many of these kids see the light of approval, giving them an opportunity to re-assess their own value, and take ownership of their own behaviour.
Roy Howarth started his teaching career in London working in comprehensive education, remand homes and a 50-bed school for profoundly disturbed adolescents. He was then Headteacher at Northern House Special School in Oxford for over 20 years and now works in primary schools as a general advisor on both class management and behaviour management plans for individual pupils.
For 100 strategies to improve behaviour, Roy’s new book 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Supporting Pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties is out now!