13 July 2005

My Ideal EBD / Special Needs School

I wasn't going to post again today, but I have worked out what I would do with some of that $100 million (post below). It would work and it would work fast, but boy, would it take some silly money.

I love EBD kids. That’s kids (usually boys, wouldn’t you know it) with what are loosely and variously termed Educational Behavioural Difficulties, or Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties.
I found out I loved them, when the most holistic, far sighted and caring man I have come across in education (since my own beloved infant school Headteacher Alun Price), a man by the name of Rick Tracey (makes me think Dick Tracey and Thunderbirds) was acting Head at an EBD school set in the hills behind Seaford, run for and by Tower Hamlets. He took me on as a temporary teaching assistant and working to his methods was, well, wonderful.

He knew every child by name and you could see by the light in his eyes that their individual education plans were not pieces of paper locked away in a filing cabinet, nor were they written to try and fit the child to the education system, but to try and provide what that child needed to believe in himself long enough to learn something. It was all about getting them to believe they were worth something, to dare to hope, to plan, to dream of achieving anything beyond today.

You cannot teach a child that is drowning in cynical defence mechanisms and has no hope.

Anyway, on the basis of so much dreaming started by that short, three month contract at the right time in the right place – here is my fantasy wish list for a dream EBD school.

  1. Empathic Teachers. Police child abuse teams are populated by people with first hand experience of the trauma, on the basis that the child will only open up to someone who has been through it. I would select only staff with experience of violence, fear, drug abuse, bullying, mental torture in their own lives or the lives of their immediate family. Bugger the law, change the law, we need people who know what they are dealing with, who can see whether there’s a crushed ego behind the fist being waved at them.
  2. Full Staff Psych Evaluation. No victims, no psychopaths, no big heads, no buck passers, no competitive types. Think about it, mainstream teaching, particularly in senior schools has become the province of big heads; team players don’t really fit in because of the competitiveness encouraged between schools, departments, individuals. In many schools, if you come across a brilliant tool or have a particular skill, you don’t share it, unless you time it to maximum effect and publicly step in as the saviour who just happens to be better at the job. It shouldn’t be dog eat dog, but it often is and this encourages people with zero empathy, the ones most comfortable with that sort of set up, to be the ones that stick around. I want people with a real and burning vocation, not career minded posers, thank you. Healers, not salesmen.
  3. Extra staff.Educational Psychologist, Cognitive Therapist, weekend and evening open learning tutors for music and basic skills*.
  4. Staff Pre-Training.Everybody trained in Counselling, with a select few trained in hypnotherapy, time line therapy, NLP; a small enough team to be underlining exactly the same concepts to a particular child. Every single person educated to tutor Basic Skills 1 and 2 and to spot them and cross match the skills to whatever activity is going on.**
  5. Distance.Hills, trees, a view, calming stuff, away from the city. Room to think and room to kick off.
  6. Mobile Phone Dead Zone.They are addictive and the kids itch to be using them instead of doing classwork.
Holistic Approach:

Full entrance medical
– and I mean full; blood tests for all underlying causes including food intolerances, drug levels etc. MRI to establish other chemical imbalances. Vitamin deficiency testing, sight and hearing, the works.

Proper Kitchens serving balanced meals with organic produce and no e numbers. Not a tin or prepackaged item in sight.

No Weekend Home Visits
: Instead suites of rooms, family flats, for family to be shipped in to visit the child, not the other way round. No reward system, just a rota. The worse a kid has been, the more he needs to see his parents and the more we should want to work with them.

Transport laid on:
This should be hassle free for the visitors – they may be part of the problem, or else share the child’s problems. The more this is like a weekend break for them, the more likely the family are to begin to find new, stress free ways to communicate.

Weekend meals laid on:
Barring a trip out for one meal or ice-cream, the idea is to keep the child off whatever foods affect their moods, ie keep the parents out of the loop as regards menu choices – again this also makes it less stressful and more pampering for them. It also means the child isn’t as grumpy as hell and unteachable until next Wednesday because he is coming down off his sugar high. We already accept that Easter holiday floats because teachers want even normal kids to have a whole week coming down off Easter eggs before they go back to school – we should take that much more seriously and take it into much more detail with children who have issues.

Parent Opportunities.
*Counselling, basic skills and ‘treat’ education like music lessons, hobby days, cookery classes etc should be available to the parents on tap during those weekends. The child seeing even one parent achieve something, learn something new, feel good about themselves, is going to do more for that child’s own potential to receive education than anything else you could spend money on. I would even add in legal and financial advice, anything to make the 'fresh start' attitude pervasive.

Self Selected Curriculum and Cross-Seeded, Non Departmentalised Achievement Records.
**It is perfectly possible to pass basic skill exams without knowing it, say from what you demonstrate you can do in an art lesson or any other lesson; basic maths, English etc are used across the board and should be ticked off as achieved across the board, not simply measured during maths and English lessons. The Picta units in the Prisons already do this – in the process of learning IT essentials, as you exhibit quantifiable skills on the basic skills curriculum, it is recorded and you are graded for them, without ever feeling tested or taught. The end result is a surprise certificate and round of applause, mid term, which has wonderful knock on effects.
Some people are great at learning ‘in a chat’ but clam up with ‘cant’ and ‘don’t want to’ in a structured lesson.
Look at all the facilities on a mobile phone, or the complexity of finding MP3 download sites and rude sites that slip past the current favoured ‘child safety’ system used on school computers. They can all do it – they all have really sharp minds, but if you had sat them in a classroom facing front and began with “Today we are going to learn how to…..” you would watch them all mentally switch off.

One thing EBD kids all feel is missing in their lives is control. They naturally claim the only control they have by phasing out, by bucking the system, by refusing on principle and this is plainly obvious when changes (even nice changes) are forced on them, because there is a noticeable increase in acting out. A teacher's first job should be to inspire a love of a subject. Any idiot can write stuff on the board, or throw information at a child. Teach them to light up inside for love of your subject - which you can only do by loving it yourself.
This brings me to the self selected element of the curriculum. I firmly believe there should be options from day one for these kids – Judo, photography, whatever they want where a certificate can be achieved. Just one lesson a week there should be the capacity for one-on-one teaching, which brings us firmly back, again, to the kind of teachers we have – this would involve the sharing of clear and detailed lesson plans, giving any available member of staff the ability to pick up the ‘hobby’ subject. Complete unselfish skills sharing is needed.
Like Golden Time in Junior Schools, this self-selected lesson should be earned, the alternative being a nice trip out to nowhere for some gentle counselling.

And I think that’s it. Apart from an attitude I saw in Mr R J Tracey – always give people a good reputation to live up to.

He liked those kids, he saw the potential in them, the best in them. Do you know there really are some special needs teachers and Heads out there that see the kids as little sods who need to learn to shut up and pretend they’re ‘normal’? See them as just needing more discipline, aka less tolerance, as simply needing to be forced to conform? Something to be squashed and bent to fit performance criteria? Damaging, damaging, stupid people.

But hey, I’m not an educator, so what do I know.


doris said...

Very well thought out. I hope it gets well indexed by the search engines and technorati etc. There are many issues you bring up and deserve further coverage.

Cheryl said...

Really nice of you to say so, thanks Doris!

Bernadette said...

I've completely given up on American public schools and presently enjoy "homeschooling"!