Teacher: This student seems to have an issue with spellings. Can you help?
Literacy lead: Well what we do is we give them a target card (on red paper so that it's slightly threatening) and their target is to spell better. Then if they meet the target in the day they can get a sticker and be rewarded by going outside at playtime. And if they don't spell better they will get a warning and will have to be held in at break time as a sanction.
Teacher: Erm... I'm not sure if that's going to....
Literacy Lead: It's just about setting clear boundaries. We have a no excuses culture round here.
Happily, this is I hope an unfamiliar tale. For children who find it difficult to spell, we don't just label the child as a 'bad speller'. More importantly, we don't just tell them to spell better and expect them to 'up-their-game'. We put in support, nurture, motivation mechanisms, reminders (which might be a target card on their desk amongst other things), interventions and extra resources. We explore their cognitive profile through psychometric tests, and speech and language screenings, work with parents/carers and try and identify what is affecting their progress.
But what I describe above, is sadly what many schools still do with children who struggle to behave appropriately (i.e. kindly and safely and be in a fit state to learn). In the olden days, by which I mean pre-2014, an area of recognised need within the special educational needs framework, was BESD or SEBD, referring to social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. And come 2014, the B was quite rightly eradicated from the coding. There are lots of reasons for behavioural difficulties - it might be a speech and language need (including EAL which I know isn't SEND but is a significant barrier), emotional, anxiety, interaction... Behaviour is a clear signal for us that something underlying is not quite right.
Children are like beans. Trust me on this one. If we plant runner beans and they fail to thrive, we don't just tell them to grow better. We look at the soil, we look at the environment and we spend a bit of time weighing up what's going on around the plants. We also have support strategies that we can use - we can water more, put in extra support canes, use string to tie up drooping stems, clear foliage around the plants to allow in extra light, and tend the plants regularly and with care. We do not simply tell them to grow better.
Behaviour can be an indication of many things but it is often indicative of emotional distress. For example, if you are having a bad day and are undergoing something of a stress overload, you are more likely to snap at your husband/wife/child/friend or colleague. However, this is not you experiencing an attack of 'snappy-syndrome', rather the snappiness is a result of the underlying emotional strain. Similarly, with children who have underlying anxiety, emotional disorders (and many more), behaviours will emerge due to this underlying need. Whilst it is not an excuse, and we should take responsibility for our actions, it is a reason. And a cure all is not to have a card in our pocket that says on it 'I must be nice'. It might help a little bit as a reminder but it isn't going to solve the problem.
If you are a Senco, you probably know all this. However, you may not have a voice at the table regarding behaviour systems in the school and this should be fought for. Yes - behaviour is out as a definition of a need but behaviour is your remit. More so now than ever. It is evidence of an underlying need and teachers should be coming to you and your team to explore assessments and strategies. If a student is not responding to the environment and needs expert input to access learning that IS your job. Tell your head, tell your governors, tell your heads of year and repeat repeat repeat.
I have found using analogies like the two above have really helped professionals I have worked with. I have seen eyes light up when I have used the spelling example, and, as for gardening analogies, I could write a book (maybe I will). Ever thought about inclusion and companion planting... I digress.
So if there are students with target cards knocking about in your school that say, 'I must focus more in class' (the modern equivalent of 'must do better') alway ask, what assessments have been done? And how is the child being supported to make this change? What is the specific strategy he/she is trying this week? What is the behaviour support or counselling that is happening alongside this target? Dig deep my friends and your troubled beans will grow.