• In my daughter's school at the moment they are having a 'Reading Challenge'. The rules of this challenge are: read to an adult, get the adult to sign your Reading Record, and when you have a signed record you are allowed to put a tick on the chart in the classroom. If you get a certain number of ticks in a week you get some extra playtime on Friday.

    My daughter reads a *lot*, so on the surface of it this challenge shouldn't present a problem; as a minimum she usually reads to herself for at least half an hour every day before she goes to bed.

    However, I found out that my sweet little girl has been denying herself ticks on the chart (and therefore her extra playtime), because her understanding of the rules is that you only tick if you have a signed diary; it has taken any amount of persuasion from me (and two conversations with the class teacher) to convince her otherwise. As a grown up, obviously I can understand that there is some flexibility inherent within the rules of the challenge; however my daughter strongly identifies with 'being a good girl' and takes pride with doing as she's been asked.

    There's one particular Teaching Assistant in her class who seems to get quite frustrated when following instructions to the letter means children don't quite do what everyone else is expecting. What this TA is completely failing to understand is that (in our case especially) they are often so utterly determined to get it *right* that they won't allow themselves to deviate from the instructions unless given explicit permission, even for their own benefit. In my daughter's eyes, she hadn't completed steps 2 and 3 of the Reading Challenge (signing the Reading Record), therefore couldn't progress to stage 4 (the all important tick). The TA will say "Well of course you can have the tick, you've done the reading!" and my daughter will be utterly baffled, because she was clearly told that first you get the record signed, and *then* you can get the tick.

    I spent most of the drive to work this morning mulling over this situation, and how it has arisen. Are we as educators so focused on teaching to targets that even at age 6 we are giving children a specific set of instructions for *every* task, and rewarding them for following instructions rather than thinking for themselves?

    Yes, there needs to be an element of 'I'm going to show you how to complete a piece of formal writing' or 'This is how you work out a maths problem'. However alongside this, don't we need to teach our children when they should apply rules and when they can be flexible? When they are learning a skill and when they can think for themselves?

    I worry that our schools are churning out children who are encouraged to follow instructions without thinking about whether there is room for flexibility; children who we frequently then berate for not taking the initiative or for doing something without thinking about the consequences. Perhaps we need to take more responsibility for balancing out the need for explicit teaching of skills with encouraging children to think for themselves and develop the flexibility to be resilient as they go through life.

  • I recently conducted a small survey to find out how school teachers felt about the issues that looked after and care-experienced children experience in school. I am working on developing some resources to help schools be better equipped to deal with the issues, so first I wanted to hear what the teachers themselves had to say.

    The summary of results is below:

    What teachers are worrying about:

    The top three worries from the teachers who responded were behaviour, the difficulties that the children were experiencing, and the lack of support for staff to effectively deal with these.

    Behaviour could be broken down in to three categories:

    • avoidant/withdrawn behaviour, including hiding, running away, refusing to engage with tasks, distraction
    • oppositional/challenging behaviour, including rudeness, refusal to follow instructions
    • unsafe/risky behaviour including physical violence and sexual behaviour

    Difficulties that the children faced included:

    • academic difficulties; not reaching potential, low ability, lack of organisation/focus
    • social difficulties; friendship issues, or being overly clingy or interested in other people
    • problems in their wider family, including lack of support from family members
    • mental or physical health issues; not eating, lack of hygiene, self care, mental health problems

    Issues around support for staff included:

    • need for support from senior management
    • all staff need to be on the same page with addressing the behaviours
    • getting enough information when the child arrives in school/class
    • availability of support from outside agencies
    • the need to keep the other children in the class safe and able to learn whilst giving time and care to the student who needs it

    What teachers find frustrating:

    The issue that came up the most was the impact of the behaviour on the rest of the class. Teachers felt they had a lack of space and time to deal properly with issues - class sizes were mentioned a lot, and lack of time was the number one frustration when teachers were asked to list their top three. Support for staff came up second, including support from outside agencies and senior management, and the ability to access training.

    Interestingly, although the behaviour and the impact it has on the other children came up a lot in the general question on frustration, when teachers were asked to list their top three daily frustrations, lack of time and support both came ahead of the actual behaviour, which was third.

    This suggests to me that teachers are largely accepting of the behaviours of their ‘difficult’ children, as although they are obviously frustrated by them they are more frustrated by the lack of resources/support to help them as effectively as they would like to.

    Difficulties the students are facing:

    When discussing the difficulties the students face nearly 80% of the respondents said their children had issues with low self confidence and/or self belief. Change in staff members came second at just under 70% of respondents. The other biggest issues were concentrating for the span of an activity, and settling down at the start of a lesson.

    Interestingly, none of the respondents said their children had problems with active subjects like PE and music (though it must be noted that this was a very small sample) and fewer people than I had expected said that the end of a lesson was a problem.

    If you’ve got anything you’d like to add please do comment below!

    If you’ve got an adopted child, or if you are adopted or care-experienced yourself, what would you like to say to your teachers? What is the one thing you would like them to understand about you? Let me know in the comments below!

© 2019 Cat McGill