In this article I want to share some thoughts I am having about poor behaviour in schools not being seen as a cry for help and how when this happens a child actually gets held back in releasing their potential. With a change of perspective our schools could really make more of a difference to the lives of dyslexic kids.
I am sorry it is going to be a rant…
Last night I volunteered to cook up a BBQ for a group of young people at a residential retreat in Cambridgeshire. The organisation I volunteered for, Romsey Mill Youth and Community Centre, was set up in the 1980’s to work with families and young people with the aim of creating opportunities for young people and families the local area.
So I took my convalescing dog, Penny and my wife (who works for Romsey Mill) and cooked up what seemed like hundreds of sausages and burgers.
When you cook up a BBQ (which I do a lot) you find that it is a magnet for people who want to talk.
I met a young lad who came over to me who was 16 and was transitioning into Further Education. He started to tell me about how he struggled at school and how he couldn’t really concentrate and the way that he was being taught was so boring. He said that he believed that he would have been able to learn more effectively if his teachers could have taught him in the way that worked for him which he believed was more of a visual or doing approach. He shared with me about how this affected his self-esteem. What REALLY got me cross, was that the school had identified him as being dyslexic (they hadn’t done an assessment or encouraged him or his parents to get one), they had tagged him on their database as dyslexic but didn’t provide reasonable adjustments during his time in class. At the time of exams he was offered extra time and a PC but he didn’t really understand what that was about and declined it. To be honest, why would he know or understand if it wasn’t a part of his day to day experience at school. That lad went on to tell me that he would use humour as a deflection / distraction technique. He was extremely self-aware and also smart. He started to help me with the BBQ and told me how he loved cooking. He was good too as he know how not to burn the burgers!!
Then I met a 19 year old who is expecting her first child and she told me that school didn’t work for her. Whilst she didn’t go into details and I certainly couldn’t comment on her neurodiversity, her lack of engagement at school should have been seen as a communication for help, not just behaviour that needed managing.
The kids in this group are kids who want to make changes in their lives for the better having had difficult experiences socially and educationally. They are responding positively to the youth workers at Romsey Mill because they listen to young people. They also do alternative education initiatives and just by teaching kids in a slightly different way that suits their learning styles these kids are responding.
Earlier this year I worked in a school delivering my Career Compass Coaching Programme with eight young people who were regularly excluded because of their behaviour. Just by sitting with them, listening to their experiences, in that group there were two with dyslexia, one with ADHD, one EAL and definitely others with un-diagnosed SENs.
Having the opportunity to work with the kids was a privilege but these sessions got disturbed by the school exclusion officer who wanted to pull out certain young people and put them in an exclusion room. The situation was ridiculous. I was being hired to help these young people engage more with education and yet I had to make a complaint about staff whose need to punish was counter intuitive to the work that I was doing.
My belief is that the education system needs a culture change. Our education system might claim to be inclusive with their differentiated lesson plans in place, but not enough is being done at a strategic level to enable teachers to have the time and space to be able to really understand their students and support their learning or in the words of leading education consultant, Hywel Roberts, we need to ‘care for our children through education’.
As for me, I am going to arrange a chat with the youth workers at Romsey Mill and see if we can work together to listen and inspire young people to develop self-advocacy skills so that the message to teachers is unambiguous “I want to learn, but I need you to teach me in a way that gets the message through.”