"Did you hear about that four year old that got expelled from school?"
"Gosh, a four year old, that's shocking. What must a four year old be like to get expelled?"
What would you say in answer to this? Would you think hitting other children, running away, refusing to comply, screaming loudly, throwing themselves on the floor, running away and…shock…horror…even hitting the teacher…be grounds enough for expulsion…at four?
I have a friend who works at a primary PRU and often picks up the fall-out of young children being expelled from mainstream school. I can't believe that so many children are being failed by the system so early. I've seen it, heard it and read about it all over the country. Often it's these 'extreme' behaviours that are the cited reason. Often the mainstream school has given up far too early. They have not explored whether the child has a special need or issues, that with support, can easily help such a young child cope much better in school. And sadly, many of these children may actually have undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Conditions, including Sensory Processing Disorder which has made their transition to school such a difficult thing for them.Often they have language and communication difficulties and so their frustrations are compounded by the fact that they cannot communicate them. And that really is my point...
It's the behaviour that the child is using to communicate with us.They are not coping.They are anxious. You are frightening them.They don't want to do it because they don't know what it is.
And then comes my most hated excuse…
"They're doing it on purpose."
OF COURSE they are doing it on purpose! (The behaviour has a purpose!) A child who is frightened, frustrated and cannot communicate that they are struggling will find any way they can to get your attention to their plight.And let's face it, when they misbehave, then that gets your attention!
I do feel for busy and harassed teachers. But in the early years there should be a better system for supporting those children who can't settle, who can't fit in, who don't have the skills to TELL you what's wrong.It's not just a case of teaching them how to behave, but of using a functional behaviour model to discover what function their behaviour has.
I explain this more fully on my behaviour and autism course.(If you're in the NUT or ATL in Lancashire, I am delivering a course for them which is free for teachers in those unions. It's on the 11th November at Preston North End 5-7pm.)
If we really want to help children behave more appropriately, then we need to assess what function their behaviour has for them. It will be something very logical to the child and they can often be trapped into a behaviour because they can't figure out how to get their needs met more appropriately. On the course we look at four areas of need and how behaviours are communicating to us, the adult, what that need may be.THEN, we look at…
"What can we teach or support the child with, to get their need met more appropriately and successfully?"
So a four year old in an early years primary school class who is hitting other children, running away, refusing to comply, screaming loudly, throwing themselves on the floor, running away and…shock…horror…even hitting the teacher… could be trying to tell you that the lights or noise hurts them, that they don't understand what you say or what to do in this busy, bright and overwhelming environment. They may not know how to sit and listen, toilet themselves or cope when other children touch them.If they can't read body language, other children become scary objects that move and are frighteningly unpredictable. A toy that brings comfort and predictability gets taken off them so someone else can have it and the only way they can see to get it back is to thump the other child until they let go. There is so much they don't understand and cannot do that trying to exert some control over the situation and environment is the only way they can get by.
This child is likely to have special needs, or autism, or global delay or other SEND - and probably VERY high levels of stress. You might find them calm and joining in one minute and completely out of control the next.
But this is NOT a mandate for permanent exclusion.
Believe me. There is SO much you can do. And whether the pupil has SEND or autism or not, there are some good starting points that will help most young children in the early years classroom whose behaviour may be a challenge to you. These are my top 5 things.
1. Spend some time observing the pupil. How do they interact with the environment, other children and adults? What are the most stressful encounters for the pupil? Perhaps a STAR chart can help you jot down the frequency and context of the incidents they have. For a copy you can use look on my website http://www.reachoutasc.com/resources/nut-courses-behaviour
2. Try and lower the arousal of your environment. Is it the strip lighting that is giving them a massive headache? Is it too much noise (those who have hypersensitive hearing will hear a lorry five streets away as well as every single bit of noise in the classroom and have very little control or filtering to be able to focus on things). Can you provide a quiet, calm and possibly dark place for them to go to when things are getting too much? Can you give them a choice board, visual timetable, use a timer, rewards and activities that they enjoy and will engage with?
3. Shorten your demands. Give only one instruction at a time, and say exactly what you want and don't phrase it as a question. Thinking of just the key words you need. For example instead of, "It's home time, would you like to get your coat? Did you hear me Jack?" You actually only need to say "Jack, coat on". Let Jack process this instruction and give him time to do it.
4. Teach the child some skills you have seen they are missing. Instead of saying, "She can't share"; teach her to share. But be sure to break the skills down into small successful steps. So sharing is comprised of turn taking, waiting and passing things, which for a SEND or Autistic pupil may need teaching bit by bit. And LET them learn through their favourite things. If it's trains, use trains. Teach them how sit on the carpet, what to do while they are there, how to line up, how to do a new activity. It can be done even if it needs a visual schedule to support the child learning the skill. Here's an example…
5. Get specialist help early on. If a child is at risk of failure, of being expelled then do everything in your power to get the right help to keep them in your school. I have worked with countless children who had very difficult starts who are now in KS1-2 having overcome so much and really settled into mainstream school. The staff needed someone to help them with their thinking, to give them ideas, strategies and resources and to encourage them when they'd had a bad day. But with perseverance we see children have better days, settle down and flourish in mainstream school. But it hasn't always been easy and the partnership of the specialist teacher supporting the class staff has been vital to this. If a child needs speech and language support refer them.If they need assessment refer them or get parents to do so. Early intervention can make all the difference. (Yes I do know that is really difficult in the current climate but do still try!)
There have been many children who did not receive their ASC or other diagnosis until much later, in KS2 or even into their teens. Before that, they were labelled as 'naughty', expelled and given up on by the mainstream system and did not receive the support they needed. It's all too easy to blame the system or to say how hard it is when you've got 30 other children to consider. I understand that, I really do. But PLEASE, no more four year olds being expelled. We surely can commit to that.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.