Category Archives: PSHE

How to Increase Poor Behaviour in Schools

Oversized classes

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.

  1. The increased cost of advice from the schools’ psychological service, coming out of an already squeezed school budget
  2. 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
  3. The reduction of teacher outreach services (BSS) for teachers and schools struggling with the more profound cases of mental instability and behavioural dysfunction
  4. Lack of quality social support services for schools struggling to manage severe pastoral problems
  5. The inconsistency of the hub system, often creating more problems than they solve

Inadequate analysis of behaviour

  1. Lack of appropriate tools for objective measurement of behaviour patterns of children and groups
  2. Lack of clear and reliable record keeping of incidents

Ineffective Insets on behaviour management

  1. Lack of available knowledge in the school to enable differentiation of presenting behavioural symptoms displayed in the school setting
  2. 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.

Insufficient differentiation

  1. With increased class sizes, differentiation is more complex and as SEMH pupils are often below average, they rarely succeed in the more academic subjects
  2. Differentiation can sometimes mean differentiation by outcome; creating a sense of failure reinforcing poor academic self-image

Insensitivity to pupils’ social dynamics

  1. 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
  2. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!




Resilience Or ‘Bouncebackability’

I have been lucky enough to take the wonderful journey involved in writing a children’s non-fiction book in the areas of wellbeing and emotional health, several times. What I absolutely love about this process is the distillation of all I have researched and learnt over the years into a simply worded text (supported by illustrations). What’s Going On In My Head?, a book about positive mental health for young children, made me embark upon another such journey. I had to consider everything I knew about maintaining mental health – a key component of which is resilience – and put it into simple words.

Resilience is a word that’s been bandied about for a while now with the general understanding that it is one’s ability to deal with and ‘bounce back’ from life’s negative events. There is a fair amount of certainty that it is a good thing and it is so good in fact, we can’t have too much of it. However, even though the term is on most people’s radar, how to increase our resilience is a little more elusive. My book aims to make it less elusive so children can start thinking about and addressing the issues relevant to developing resilience.

In the book I have covered many of the well-known components that contribute to resilience, such as….

Molly's Blog

…but I also made a few further reflections relating to resilience that I think are a little less obvious. They are as follows.

Self esteem

I was there at the start of the ‘self-esteem’ movement in schools. I remember running INSET training on the stuff in the early days of the national Curriculum. I would say most people’s understanding was quite primitive back then and more or less amounted to, ‘we must praise the children more.’ We have certainly moved on but I still think there is room for further fine tuning.

I think we focus too much on the positive. Yes, you heard right! I think that genuine self-worth comes from not only enjoying and celebrating our strengths and achievements, but also from the complete acceptance that there are things we are not naturally talented at. It doesn’t mean we can’t practise and get better at those things, but there will always be others who excel in some areas with considerably less effort. (It makes sense therefore that if we have become good at something through exceptional effort, this is indeed praiseworthy). We need children to know that being less than great at some things is absolutely fine.

Emotional literacy

I could go on about emotional literacy for hours. In fact, I do! But a message about emotions that I think we are often being too indirect about or not delivering at all, is that we really do need to stop believing the unrealistic idea that we are meant to be happy all of the time. It’s partly advert and social media culture that promotes this idea. We need to help children understand that negative emotions are to be expected, and as long as we are mentally healthy, they will soon be replaced by another equally transient emotion. Humans experience a huge range of emotions – both comfortable and uncomfortable – and this is how it is meant to be. Negative emotions need to be fully acknowledged, validated and accepted so we can then move on and develop healthy coping strategies for when we are experiencing them.

Coping strategies – rumination

 Rumination – a thought that is bothering us by going round and round in our heads, and our ability to prevent or moderate it can have a huge impact on our mental health. There is no doubt that some people are afflicted with a tendency to ruminate more than others. 9781472959232 (1).jpgHelping children, especially the more anxious ones, to recognise 1) what rumination is, 2) when they are doing it, and 3) what they can do to ‘park’ it, can help maintain positive mental health. What’s Going On Inside My Head? explores all these messages and what’s more, it says it in ‘Kidspeak’!


Molly Potter has taught in both mainstream and specialist provision primary schools as well as being a county PSHE advisor. Her new book, What’s Going On Inside My Head?publishes on 21st February 2019 and is available to pre-order now.

A Sense of Place: Young Children, Resilience and Climate Justice

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”- David Attenborough 2018.

Whatever your beliefs, you cannot escape the issue of climate change.  Scientists all over the world agree that this is the greatest disaster facing life on earth. Our mortgages, bank accounts, university educations and insurance policies will not protect us. Personally I flip between anger and the urge to campaign, and the temptation to bury my feelings with mind numbing distractions. I feel fortunate to have young children and nature in my life  –  both of which are huge incentives to stay awake and practice resilience to face the future – whatever it might hold.

I often talk to teachers and carers of young children about how to share this most pressing concern with young children. They are not responsible for climate change and yet it is their generation that will deal with the consequences if we cannot find a way to halt global warming and mitigate its effects on their chances of survival.


Whether our children become scientists, philosophers or politicians of the future, is it our job as teachers and carers to raise them with the capacity to respond to these central questions:

  • What is it to be human and alive on this planet right now?
  • What is needed of us? How can we lead purposeful lives and leave a legacy of more good than harm?
  • How do we share our journey with young children with courage and fortitude?

Slowing down and shifting perspective

Our increasingly materialistic, technologically-driven busy-ness gives plenty to distract ourselves and our children from reflecting on these central questions.

But simply stepping outside under the sky, feeling the wind or the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and drawing breath can open up space in my mind to think differently.

Nature is my daily resource and it’s accessible wherever I am to support a shift in perspective when needed. Whether it’s stretching my eyes to change the view, tuning into bird song to shift receptivity, finding a sit spot to calm my mind, or going on a ‘no destination’ mindful walk to order my thoughts.

Nature gives children a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional environment in which to develop physical resilience and lay down the neural pathways for lifelong learning.

Children need time to ‘do nothing’ – to daydream as well as to explore their own ‘unadulterated’ lines of enquiry (or play) without interruptions and timetables getting in the way. We can take our cue from Nature’s rhythms, night and day and the changing seasons and weather.  Without electronic white noise, children can experience what quiet feels like and develop their capacity for greater attention. In the absence of bright neon and screen lights they can experience the restfulness of natural light and dark, or the magic of fire light or stars.

Finding the ways to share the hard stuff

When children are very young, we don’t want to overburden them with the troubles of the world. It would be like dumping too much grit on a bed of new seedlings. They need the right amount of water, sunshine and shelter to develop strong roots. But they also do not need to be wrapped in cotton wool. They need gradual exposure with much care, attention and support. Our job is to notice what they need and when.

Outdoors, children will encounter the hard stuff of life – cold, heat, discomfort, impermanence and change, and most likely at some point the death of a bird animal or insect. They will learn through observation, experience and gentle guidance of an adult companion about scarcity and abundance and about impermanence and the joy of sharing and caring.

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Responding to children’s questions with honesty and integrity is important. But mostly we need to listen well. We need to listen to what they themselves are expressing through what Magaluzzi calls ‘the 100 of languages of children’, and be prepared to receive what they communicate. They will tell us when they are ready to hear more.

What can we do about it?

It is through our behaviour that children absorb the values of the culture in which they are born. We can show appreciation for the gifts of nature that sustain our lives. We can learn the names of plants and animals; we can explore the properties and gifts of the earth and air around us. We can develop empathy and alleviate suffering through kindness and fairness. Outdoors children recognise their interdependence with plants, animals, minerals and ether. We can grow food with them, we can harvest water, and we can recycle and save energy.

As teachers and carers we are advocates for young children and their future on earth. The way in which we practice this advocacy will vary according to what feels right for each person. Some will campaign for and against policy locally or nationally, others will focus on teaching children, talking to parents and carers. Most importantly we need to keep learning ourselves, and developing our own resilience practice.

And me? What do I do? When I am outdoors I find it easier to let go of overwhelming feelings of fear, loss, grief and suffering. These difficulties don’t go away but somehow the vastness of the sky and the sea, the rootedness of trees shift my perspective. Outside I often feel smaller but also part of something bigger and eternally changing – a universal dance of light, air, space, ether and life! I draw strength from it.

We owe it to ourselves and young children to advocate for sustainable human life on earth however we can.

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With thanks and with gratitude to our teachers  and companions in life and in work – those that help us find resilience to stand with the challenges that life present us.


Annie Davy was Head of Early Years in Oxfordshire where she led an award-winning service for 12 years and is founder and director of several community-based projects. Annie’s book A Sense of Place publishes on 7th February.

All of the images are credited to Schnell Photography.


The Birds, Bees and a Giant Stork

For seven years, in what now feels like a distant and previous life, I worked to support primary schools with their sex and relationships education (or SRE). My role included training teachers and governors, speaking with parents and carers, and providing numerous resources. While all of this was helpful, in a nutshell, my job was really about managing people’s— often irrational— gut reactions to the idea of sex education.

“Won’t it encourage them to experiment?” “Won’t this disturb them?” “My daughter still believes in Santa Claus; I don’t want to talk to her about body parts.”

The reality is, we often have a response to talking about the body, sex and relationships in a way that mimics the attitudes held by the adults in our childhood. Once that reaction is unpicked a little, it doesn’t take much to help resistors of SRE see that, in actual fact, it’s always a good thing.

There are several reasons why it’s good for children and young people to have trusted adults who are prepared to talk about gender, body parts, puberty, reproductions, and sex. Here are some:

  • A Trusted Source of Information:

Without adults that are prepared to give children and young people accurate information and help them develop positive and realistic expectations about sex, our young people will flounder around with absolutely no understanding of what sex should or should not be about (or worse still, use pornography for information). It makes sense that children and young people who have never learnt about sex and relationships are more likely to ‘fall prey’ to negative sexual experiences.

  • Safety is the Number 1 Priority:

Having sex is potentially life altering or dangerous. (Think pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections or exploitative relationships.) Crossing the road is also dangerous. Imagine if talking about crossing the road safely was embarrassing. Would that stop you teaching your child how to cross the road safely?

  • Not Harmful When Discussed Sensitively:

Parents and carers who have told their children how babies are made at a very young age would argue their children are no less innocent for having this information.

  • Encourages Trust Between Parent and Child:

Talking openly about sex early in a child’s life teaches them that adults are prepared to discuss these topics and that there are people they can turn to for help and support.

  • Sets Realistic Expectations:

Children and young people are bombarded with information about sex, relationships and gender from a variety of sources (for example: TV adverts, graffiti, shop displays, posters, the internet, computer games, pop videos, TV programmes, their school friends, older brothers and sisters etc). Some of the messages children receive from these sources are not accurate or realistic and in the absence of adults to help them process this information, they are often left confused or with ‘unhealthy’ ideas.

  • Inconsistent SRE at School:

School SRE varies considerably in quality and quantity. Parents and carers cannot assume their child will receive comprehensive SRE at school. This can be illustrated by the fact that 10 % of girls in the UK start their periods without knowing what is happening to them because nobody has told them anything. This can be an extremely worrying experience for a girl.

For me personally, telling my children in simple terms at a young age how babies are made seemed the right thing to do. They knew as soon as they were old enough to understand. They were also still young enough not to have picked up anything about these topics being embarrassing or awkward for some people and they simply showed an innocent interest in what I was telling them.  They always felt they could ask questions knowing they would get an honest answer. I think I ultimately equipped my children to feel comfortable accessing support in this area.

9781472946416I strongly believe conversations about these topics between parents, carers and their children only have a positive impact. That’s why I wrote, Let’s Talk About the Birds and the Bees. The book is quite comprehensive and aimed at young children. It explains how boys, girls and adults’ bodies are different; it explores the idea of safe touching; what’s appropriate for public and what needs to be kept private; the changes of puberty; how a baby is made and that sex is not just about reproducing. It also explores pregnancy and birth, what love is, what is involved in parenthood and why some parents’ relationships go wrong. The simple language is enhanced with wonderful illustrations and the only euphemism is in the title! I never used euphemisms with my children. If I had written this book when my children were young, I certainly would have used it!



Molly Potter’s books Let’s Talk About the Birds and the Bees and What’s Worrying You? are out now. Her newest book, Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies is out on 4th October 2018.




Alistair Bryce-Clegg’s Top Tips For Effective Transition Into Year One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlistair Bryce-Clegg was head teacher of an infant school and Early Years unit for 10 years. Alongside his headship, he worked as an EYFS consultant working with a diverse range of settings to help them enhance their EYFS practice. In 2009, Alistair left headship and went into full time consultancy with his business ABC Does.

 This is Alistair’s 25th book for Bloomsbury Education; he is also series editor of the popular 50 Fantastics series.

A really good transition to Year One can make a significant difference when it comes to children’s well-being and attainment. As our children join Key Stage 1, it is really important to be mindful of the fact that they are only five or six weeks older than when they left Foundation Stage. In those five or six weeks, they have probably done very little (if any) guided reading, phonics or mega maths! It will take them a little while to get back to where they were before the summer. That is why the more familiar the Year One space is, and the more it reflects the way they are used to learning, the faster their progress would be.

There are lots of elements to an effective transition. Some are to do with culture and others are to do with activity, but if I had to give you my top five transition tips, they would be:


  1. Transition is a process not an event

One thing to keep at the forefront of your thinking is that children should enjoy the transition process – not just experience or endure it, but actually enjoy it. For this to happen, it needs to be planned well in advance. If it is practical, then pre-transition visits should be regular throughout the year, not just in the last week of the summer term. Children should have lots of opportunities to visit the Year One space, even if there is no guarantee that it house the same teacher next year. Every bit of familiarity helps.

  1. Play – it’s not a four-letter word!

A play-based approach to transition is not just about getting out the buckets and spades and some construction on a rug! We want children to be able to build on what they already know and to hone and extend their skills, resulting in them becoming effective learners.

A good EYFS environment is based on accurate assessment, skill development, and implicit and explicit challenge. It is not left to chance and it doesn’t happen by accident. When the children transition into Year One, there needs to be the same rigour applied to their play spaces as there was in Reception. High level engagement leads to high level attainment and children are rarely more engaged than when at play – whatever their age.

  1. Continuity is key

As adults, we can find the transitions that we make in our life nerve-racking and unsettling, such as starting a new job or moving to a new area. We often don’t feel happy and settled until things become a bit more familiar.

This sort of feeling is no different for children, in fact it is likely to be greatly magnified. As adults, we have a great deal of prior knowledge and experience of life to draw on, whereas children have significantly less. They don’t know from experience that everything is likely to be all right, nor do they have strategies for dealing with the situation if it isn’t. That is why good transitions are crucial, both for children’s emotional well-being, and their potential for attainment.

  1. Don’t forget the parents/carers

Transition is primarily about children, but it is also about their parents. Parents and carers need to feel well informed about and comfortable with all transitions in their child’s life. Children, parents/carers and staff need to be involved on an equal basis. Parents need lots of opportunities to access a variety of information to let them know what Year One will look like and what to expect. Transition is about the setting fitting the child, not the child fitting the setting.

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  1. Enjoy it!

The most important thing to remember about transition is that effective transition takes time. Effective play-based transition can have a really powerful effect on all children, capitalising on what they know and how they learned it, enabling them to be the best that they can be in Year One.

Effective Transition into Year One is available to buy now


Emotional literacy – a journey we’re still on. Molly Potter

Molly Potter author photoWhen I was a child, I am pretty sure none of the adults I knew had heard of emotional literacy – in word form or as a general concept. I probably had quite a standard 70s upbringing – a little higher on criticism and lower on warmth than I like to think my kids are getting. I certainly wasn’t helped to deal with my emotions. My mum was stoical. I never saw her cry. I did see her get irritated a lot though. Her irritation seemed to mostly manifest in telling us off frequently and criticising us. My dad on the other hand was a very sensitive man – but only to himself, not others, not exactly. He spent most of the time confused by his emotions with intermittent outbursts of anger. I never remember my parents starting a sentence with, ‘I feel….’ or sitting us down to talk through how we were feeling.

And what about school? Not much help there either. I was quite a naughty and unruly child. I was shouted at a lot and hit occasionally by my teachers and headteacher. Obviously neither hitting nor shouting were particularly emotionally nurturing. I remember being expected to just shut up and cope with everything. Emotions were not acknowledged and there were clear unwritten rules about them having no significance and it being futile even trying to express them. Crying seemed to be making a fuss that step too far and could evoke even more nasty responses from the adults.

No I am pretty sure emotional literacy did not appear in any conscious realm throughout my childhood. I have heard adults say, ‘but it did us no harm,’ but I question that. It takes a degree of self-awareness to see what damage it did and I have spent a couple of decades remedying that damage quite effectively in ways I suspect my grandparents would ridicule! No I would argue that emotional illiteracy is damaging. After all an emotionally illiterate person:

• bottles up their feelings (and then will occasionally explode). My dad.
• tends to blame others for their own emotions. My mum.
• struggles to relate the cause of an emotion to its effect (e.g. the person who tells their child off because they were actually frustrated by what happened at work). My mum and my dad.
• might behave aggressively or defensively when experiencing negative emotions. My dad.
• lacks empathy. Both again.

So as schools eventually became more emotionally savvy, stopped hitting children (!), acknowledged damaging things like bullying and prejudice and implemented the SEAL curriculum, PSHE and started to develop pupils’ wellbeing programmes, I was 100% behind this shift. I strongly believe emotional literacy is a really positive thing. After all a person who is emotionally literate is:

• consciously aware of the feelings they are experiencing,
• understands what caused the way they are feeling,
• knows the most effective way to express and process this feeling,
• can ‘read’ other people’s emotions successfully and adjust their responses accordingly
• likely to be able to build and maintain effective relationships.

A world full of emotionally literate people would be a wonderful place! However, there is still some way to go. Us Brits aren’t known for huge demonstrations of emotions are we? We’re not very good at letting emotions just flow. And yet healthy emotions do just that – flow. They arrive, we process them effectively and then they leave. Feeling comfortable around emotions so that they can be fully acknowledged, helps them to flow and this is just one part of being emotionally literate. It’s a paradox that the most emotionally resilient are those who readily express how they are feeling and yet we are taught to see shows of emotion other than anger as weak.

Emotions are unquestionably an integral part of being human. We have an emotional response (however mild) to pretty much everything we do but we don’t always consciously acknowledge them. Strong emotions can be overwhelming. Anger can consume us and we are unlikely to function well. Other emotions can consume us too and sometimes make us behave quite ineffectively or ridiculously. Emotions and how they are managed therefore can be crucial to an individual’s capacity for happiness, wellbeing and their ability to function effectively.

So if we do start to understand the importance of emotional literacy, what can parents/carers and teachers do to enhance emotional literacy? First and foremost – be a role model. Find opportunities to express your feelings and what caused them. It will feel counter-culture at first but go on – give it a go. Also make it clear that whatever you are feeling, you realise you have a choice about how you will behave in response to that feeling. Point out that some of the behaviours you choose can be helpful in reducing a negative emotion and help to get you back into a more resourceful state. For example – you always take deep breaths when you are angry. Also use a variety of words to describe different emotions so that children develop a good vocabulary for expressing how they feel. If you can’t express yourself – then you are more likely to bottle things up!

Secondly, ask children to report how different situations make them feel. If a child struggles to express themselves use tools like ‘emotion graphs’ which plot positive and negative emotions during the course of a day or for younger children, emotion faces for them to point to express how they felt at different times of the day. If a child says they are feeling a particular way – always acknowledge it and take it seriously. Even if their response seems ridiculous to us, remember it is very real for them. Ignoring emotions teaches children to suppress them which leaves the feeling un-processed. (Unprocessed feelings can mean a child will always feel the same emotion when they next face the same or a similar situation. That situation therefore becomes an automatic trigger for that emotion.)

Thirdly, use stories, TV programmes and books and speculate about how characters in them are probably feeling. Use picture books to help children ‘read’ the emotions in others. Picture books can be great for prompting discussions about emotions. I wrote How are you feeling today? with this in mind. This book not only gives children a selection of different emotions to consider, it also delivers suggestions for what a child could do when they are feeling each emotion. This helps children to understand that there is always a choice about what you can do when you are feeling a particular way. This is a very key foundation to healthy emotional literacy.

And do you know what; I think I could even convince my mum and dad that this stuff was important.

How are you feeling today coverHow are you feeling today? is a delightful book that parents and children can use as a way of exploring every day emotions and talking about different ways of coping with them. It provides children with several straightforward, entertaining and appropriate interactive ideas to help them deal with a selection of significant emotions.

Molly Potter is a teacher in a short-stay school with children that have been or are at risk of being excluded from mainstream schools – putting much of her PSHE expertise into practice. Her past experience includes teaching science and PSHE and delivering support and training in the development of Sex and Relationship Education programmes in primary schools.