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Kerry Dixon

Individual care / Whole class welfare

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Should the needs of an individual pupil with specific behavioural/emotional issues take priority over the welfare of a whole class?

In discussion with colleagues at various schools, it seemed we felt the needs of difficult pupils are slowly becoming a huge focus. Though it seems like a callous thing to say, we all felt that sometimes we need to act in a way that means one pupil does not dominate the teacher's attention at the expense of the 29 well-behaved pupils in the class...

Do forum members agree with us? Have we become so obsessed with the rights of the individual that we are in danger of overlooking the right of the whole class to learn without interruption? This issue seems to be compounded further by the fact that it's not PC to admit we can't always help with some of these students from challenging backgrounds - it seems to be expected of us that we can plan individual curricula for each child...

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I agree that too often the behaviour of specific students with emotional difficulties can impact directly on the learning of others. Do schools have sufficient strategies in place to empower teachers to deal confidently with these students should they disrupt teaching and learning? How effectively do these strategies work? I think that planning for the individual continues to be important. However, accessing appropriate support for students who cannot meet their behaviour targets, during the school day, can be difficult when pastoral staff have demanding teaching timetables.

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In discussion with colleagues at various schools, it seemed we felt the needs of difficult pupils are slowly becoming a huge focus. Though it seems like a callous thing to say, we all felt that sometimes we need to act in a way that means one pupil does not dominate the teacher's attention at the expense of the 29 well-behaved pupils in the class...

Do forum members agree with us? Have we become so obsessed with the rights of the individual that we are in danger of overlooking the right of the whole class to learn without interruption?

One of the major changes I have seen since starting teaching in the 1970s is the ability of individual pupils to disrupt the learning of others. The major reason for this is that severely disturbed youngsters are now being taught in mainstream education.

We had a case a few years ago of a boy who moved into the area with his mother (as a result of a holiday romance – her husband was in prison at the time). The boy was extremely disruptive in the classroom. An educational psychologist observed his behaviour in the classroom and described the boy as “unteachable”. Yet he remained in that class for the whole year (he was removed the following year for doing something that was so bad I am unable to describe it on this forum). During that year the education of the rest of the class suffered terribly. Some of the more aware middle class parents got their children moved from the class during the first few weeks of the term. When the school put an end to that strategy parents removed their children from the school. This process took away most of the able children in the class. It also reduced the size of the class and these places were now filled by pupils who had been causing problems in other classes. Within a couple of months this so-called mixed ability class had become a class of disaffected young people. Who can say what long-term impact this one pupil had on the education of these students.

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Generally, I would say that inclusion of such pupils works. It has to also work for the rest of the class though, and that is why the school procedures and policies for inclusion have to work. That means that pupils who need it, should be given in class support and should be subject to clearly staged behaviour programme if that is appropriate to them.

Potentially disruptive pupils need to be handled with consistency, which is why clear school procedures need to be uniformly applied by teaching staff, otherwise those pupils will behave differently from lesson to lesson which will inevitably lead to confusion of expectations.

Some children are indeed unteachable or are going through an unteachable phase which they need helping through. A decision needs to be made on an individual basis whether or not that pupil should be withdrawn from particular classes or all of them so that the rest of the class aren't adversely affected.

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