Ah, the Secret Teacher.  The ever popular Guardian column featuring the very best of Britain’s Pissed Off Teachers.  It’s not the kind of thing you read if you want a laugh or a giggle, a chuckle at the end of a long day; more a kind of nationwide outlet for the frustrations of the Pissed Off.

I get it, I really do.  Much of this blog is fuelled by my irritation with Life, the Universe and Everything, and very cathartic it is too, to write it all down, to see the numbers of people clicking on it, finding out that every so often, people actually agree with me.  It’s great.  I get it all off my chest, and I feel less mad, all at the same time.  Yay.  Sometimes, though, you read the newspaper, and rather than a weight lifting off your shoulders, you finish with a sour taste in your mouth.

It’s hard to put a finger on why you feel so not quite right.  It’s not unlike the feeling I used to get, around five years ago, when I was bullied at work.  I’d go back in on a Monday, after my couple of days off, and wonder why the atmosphere was…frosty.  On the face of it, everything was okay, but there was this indefinable sense of walking on eggshells.  Like this week’s Secret Teacher, it took me a while to figure out what was going on.

On the surface, the secret teacher tells a tale than needs to be told.  Children with vastly different needs are being lumped together in her (his?) special school and, not only is she (he?) not coping, but neither are the children.  Vulnerable pupils who need to be in school, getting their education, are refusing to come in, so intimidated are they by the behaviour of others, who are, frankly, spoiling it for everyone else.  It’s a sad tale, and, at first glance, an important one.

But there is something about it, something familiar, something underneath, and if you don’t mind, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, to consider it fully, I’m going to share with you what it was that gave me that prickling feeling.

It’s people being afraid of kids.  And more specifically, people being afraid of kids with SEND (that’s special educational needs and disabilities, you know, kids like Sam).

Somehow, there are ‘good’ disabled kids, you know the dear, sweet little vulnerable darlings, who take an age to complete their intricately detailed pieces of work, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, who are charming and lovable and never put a foot wrong, and ‘bad’ ones.  The sort who really ought to be in institutions that can cope with them, you know, the sort of places with “coded security doors to every room … emergency buttons and staff … issued with walkie-talkies to communicate emergencies swiftly and effectively. If a pupil “kicks off” and threatens the safety of other pupils and staff [there is] a special isolation room for … the very worst offenders”.  (Please excuse the paraphrasing, please follow the link for the original.)

Maybe if I didn’t have a son who occasionally, like every fifteen year old that ever was, kicks off and has a bad day, I wouldn’t take it so seriously.  Maybe if I didn’t know that there was no such thing as the sort of passive and compliant,  or explosive and dangerous two-dimensional child with SEND, I wouldn’t care.  I would concentrate on the story of responsible adults lumping vulnerable children with hugely different needs together under one label of SEND and be done with it.

But the thing is, I know about #7daysofaction.  I know about #justiceforLB.  I know about places where it is deemed acceptable to restrain young people and adults with learning difficulties face down on the floor because someone has deemed them uncontrollable, and not afraid, or confused, or lonely and sad.

I know what fear of someone who is different allows people to do, what happens when you sweep their existence under the carpet (remember Winterbourne View?), away into a specialist institution and out of the hair, and the notice of the mainstream.

So yes, I think that the words we use to describe children, young people and adults with SEND are important.  I think that the pictures that we paint with words like ‘violence’ or ‘compromise’, ‘frightening’ or ‘nightmare’ in national mainstream media are VERY important (and yes, I get just as cross about the one-dimensional-inspirational-Down’s-syndrome-baby-story).  And I absolutely will not stop pointing it out, because if we can work together, those of us who educate, those of us who care, we might just manage to change the future for vulnerable people for the better.

It isn’t about semantics and it isn’t about free speech.  It isn’t about that at all.  It’s about fear.

After you have read the secret teacher article, I recommend you watch this video.


22 thoughts on “Clickbait

  1. Great post, and so much to think about here, Nancy.
    I see this as an argument for more mainstream school placements because I think schools often send students with behavior problems to special schools thinking they are doing the best for the student – that the special school will accept the child and address the behaviors. But, in reality, the young person is just “out of sight, out of mind” with needs that continue, but are simply hidden now, and possibly more troubling if in a school with a more vulnerable group of children who do not go home and tell their parents what’s happening at school. My own sister died in a way similar to the boy in the video. I don’t believe it would have happened if she had been in a more inclusive setting. What do you think?

    1. I think you’re right about the out of sight, out of mind thing, and that we are too quick to pass a child along. I also think that there is too much ‘management’ of challenging behaviour when children are little, and yes, in mainstream environments. Here, in the UK, the tendency is to put a child with needs with an adult supporter (a TA), and the strategies go along the lines of placate and distract, rather than helping a child to manage their own behaviour. I could see this happening with Sam when he was in mainstream.

      I think what we need are really good understandings of how and why particular behaviour strategies work, and build up the confidence of our school staff to use them, and, most importantly, not be afraid of the kids.

      1. I agree that when in the UK, I saw way too many instances of 1:1 TA’s used to “manage” the problem instead of expert behavior specialist teachers creating effective behavior intervention plans and training staff to implement the plan. You cannot increase inclusion without moving specialist teachers into mainstream schools.

      2. Absolutely agree. The policy of just adding in more TAs is fundamental, I think. It speaks of the idea that all included children really need is a carer and everything will be tickety boo.

      3. The two strategies we were given by our local BST was to walk on eggshells, give a safe box full of toys, basically give them loads of power. The other thing was Team Teach training which involved how to restrain. They could see that maybe the first led to the need for the second as child was spiralling out of control.

        There has to be something in between that could have been recommended…

      4. Totally agree. I find team teach quite disturbing. I don’t like it that it is used on Sam – something I discovered quite accidentally one bed time. Rather annoyingly, he seems to rather like it as a way of getting an extra cuddle!!! Arrhgghh

      5. Oh dear!!

        Hate team teach and what it stands for. It’s not restraining on the odd occasion when absolutely necessary. It’s restraining because beh systems are not appropriate but folk don’t want to admit it.

      6. Agree. Mind you, I find, with Mr Turn-myself-into-the-heaviest-jelly-imaginable-at-bed-time a walk together arm in arm, in a companionable sort of way, an invaluable strategy. Which is a million miles from team teach, I agree.

      7. I think people only really need to think whether it would feel appropriate to ‘team teach’ a child in a public setting and people would have their answer as to whether it is a good idea….or not.

  2. Just stumbled on your blog!
    Your own personal experience adds weight to its power. I teach art in a special school (secondary age), love it – helps that art is something the kids like to do! we have mainly autism and some downs, some of our kids are quite poorly 😦
    I came to the school 11 years ago from mainstream and never looked back – think of my pupils just the same as I did my mainstream kids!
    There is bullying though which is so distressing and my feeling is that like this week’s secret teacher’s school, ours has a mix of children who don’t always feel they “belong together”. We have a few kids who are far more “mainstream” than the others. Overall our school is lovely and a great place to work. I see your point of view but can’t think of any of my colleagues working in special education who are “afraid” of any of their pupils. I’m certainly not!
    Thanks for your blog and best wishes.

      1. Something I’ve never felt in my job – enjoy their company and their achievements 😊
        Safeguarding all of my pupils is my main concern

  3. We have now stopped “team teach” (which I never used anyway) and have started being “trained” in something called “positive handling”. Got to say I feel uncomfortable about this kind of thing and have thankfully never had occasion to use it.

    1. Is this “team teach” something that encourages the use of restraint as a consequence? That cannot be possible!?! Teachers should be trained in the use of restraint as a protective measure in an absolute crisis – when a young person is in imminent danger of harming self or others – with a focus on helping divert the crisis without any risk of harming the child or others. Restraint is only crisis intervention, though. It has no place in effective behavior intervention or instruction. That is a different, and essential, field of teaching.

      1. Team teach is designed as a protective measure, to help prevent a young person from harming themselves and/or others. Having said that, I personally think it’s fraught with problems and puts both staff and pupils at risk. Glad my school doesn’t do it any more.

      2. Ah, no. In my understanding (and I haven’t been trained in it) it is a way of moving someone from one place to another. But it does involve physical contact, rather than waiting for the child to decide to do as you have asked them. I haven’t had the training though.

  4. Well when it was “sold” to us (and don’t forget, the training costs a bomb and whoever started team teach must be very wealthy), it was marketed as a “protective” technique so yes, if you are moving a young person somewhere against their will it is “for their own safety” and/or the safety of others. The key hold in TT is “the caring C”, where the young person is held in a non-grasping hold on their upper arm, by 2 adults, one either side of them. I always felt uncomfortable using TT and avoided it. Glad we no longer do it.

  5. The licensed Team Teach training is supposed to be about de-escalation but, prior to being appointed to headship of a PRU, I had to attend the 2 day training (2 days I could ill afford!). The PRU had become a default SEMH school (EBD for you oldies) – much cheaper than special although, apparently, it wasn’t to save money – yeah, sure it wasn’t. The illuminating training focussed on de-escalation techniques (which I had been using for the past 20+ years) for about one hour after which we spent almost 2 days modelling and practising different restraints. I quite enjoyed it only in a perverse sort of way as my partner was an EP!

    I was amazed that every member of staff in the LA PRU set up had to have this training but that the quality and nature of the training went unchallenged. Having come from a sort of “end of the line” residential EBD school where our kids were often described as borderline “sectionable”, I found it rather sad that underperforming PRU’s (not because of staff quality but the inappropriate placement/dumping of SEMH kids) were being encouraged to use force as the norm. Indeed, our residential EBD setting had seen the error of severe restraint and had gone from almost a “pin down” approach to restraint being the rarity. We did this out of choice recognising that relationships were all important alongside unconditional regard. Most of our young people had attachment issues so whilst they looked big and ugly when enraged, we were actually dealing with little children inside big bodies. We made positive self reflection a habit and, whilst uncomfortable to begin with, kids get it eventually – watch this if you haven’t already

    Our PRU quickly moved to nurturing approaches, restorative practises and motivational relationships where everyone is a mentor and coach. A place where children are not a problem but are equal as humans and learners. Where failure is part of life and not a defining element of one’s identity. Where lack of self respect or self belief are excludable offences (amazing what kids will believe at admissions interviews!). And, finally, where we seek solutions, resolutions and create an environment which builds self esteem. It’s not rocket science and there are numerous PRU’s doing it – unnoticed if you happen to be Charlie Taylor.

    In our last few years, we had the responsibility to provide for a mixture of SEMH kids, CAMHS referrals, mainstream challenging, school refusers, school phobics, a range of vulnerable “hard to place” bunnies, medical referrals, autistic children, and a whole load of others. My parting memory is being told by a group of mainstream heads on an open day that behaviour and engagement in our PRU was at least as good as in their own schools. It can be done but it needs an open mind, lots and lots of high quality training, determination and seriously bloody good committed staff. I suppose you could say we were lucky but I think you make your own luck.

    1. Fantastic! 😊

      You’re spot on with “lots and lots of high quality training”. So much time is wasted with irrelevant INSET days. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks team teach is a complete rip off/questionable in its purpose.

      PS let me know if your school needs an art teacher!! 😀

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