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“A vicious circle that can be broken by teamwork between parents & teachers”

Published: June 30, 2016

Adoptive Dad Rupert writes about finding the right support for his son at school.

When my son started school at the age of four, he really wasn’t ready. He enjoyed a lot of it – particularly being around other children, using play equipment and doing sports – but he was very resistant to actual learning and work. When he moved out of reception and into Year One, this became more marked. He refused to co-operate in lessons, and started hitting other children, using bad language, damaging books and even throwing furniture. Sometimes he was so reluctant to go to school in the mornings that we had to carry him kicking and screaming up the road; in the afternoons, when I collected him, he was so stressed that he’d become verbally and physically abusive to me, extremely demanding and controlling.

A lot of adopted children have problems at school. If they’re feeling insecure, then classrooms and playgrounds can be very scary places. They often don’t trust adults – why should they? – so teachers and support staff seem like enemies. With all the noise going on in their heads, they find it difficult to learn, and so they don’t do well at lessons; this can feed their low self-esteem, and feelings of being ‘stupid’ and ‘a failure’. It’s a vicious circle, which can only be broken with good support at school and good teamwork between parents and teachers.

Support costs money, of course, so the first step is to make sure your child is registered for Pupil Premium – £1900 which goes into the school’s budget to support children like yours. This means the school can provide tailored interventions like one-to-one teaching, breakout sessions, counselling and so on. In some cases, this will be enough to make a child feel relaxed and ready to learn. My son needed more: his behaviour was escalating to the point that he was spending more time out of the classroom than in it, and was rather too familiar with the box of toys in the headteacher’s office. The school recognised that his needs were emotional, rather than educational – he’s a bright boy, quick on the uptake and good at problem-solving, but was finding it impossible to sit still and do as he’s told. The teaching assistant in his class couldn’t give him enough time, as she had other children to work with, and so the school made the decision to employ a full-time one-to-one teaching assistant just for him. This has made all the difference in the world. With consistent emotional support, he feels safe enough at school to relax and learn. He looks forward to going in every morning, usually with some little game or joke to surprise his TA with, and when he comes out of the gates in the afternoon he’s skipping and chatty. He is making good academic progress.

It’s not always easy to get the support your child needs. We were lucky: our school anticipated our needs and put the support in before we had to ask for it. In other cases, you’ll have to fight for it. You may have to get an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in place to ensure continued funding and support. What’s important through all this, in all your discussions with teachers and SEN co-ordinators, is that they realise your child needs emotional support as much as (or more than) he or she needs educational support. A scared, stressed child won’t learn, and will do everything in its power to remove itself from the stress, even if it means being punished. A calm, supported child will open itself to new ideas, and make good progress. Children from traumatic backgrounds may very well make slower progress than others, but, with the right support, they’ll get there in the end.

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