I’ve been supporting a family with issues with their school at the moment and something came up which is such a common thing I hear from schools. The issue is that the child in question took half the year to settle in the school and her class, she has now formed a brilliant bond with her teacher. She had the chance to stay with that teacher as they move up next year but the school have made the decision to put her in a different class with a brand-new teacher and new pupils too.
“It is very unusual for a child to have the same teacher two years in a row. Perhaps staying with her current teacher for a second year would make the transition to her next year even harder?”
I hear similar comments all the time..
“He won’t be allowed to behave like that in secondary school so better learn now”.
“She’ll only get used to being with the same teaching assistant and then will be upset when that person isn’t there”.
“They have to learn now that life just isn’t like that – change happens and they have to get used to it”.
All might seem valid points but they don’t help a traumatised child to heal. What does help is consistency, trust, reliability, being able to feel safe enough to learn and to heal.
When we don’t pay attention to those basic needs of safety, we jeopardise any chance of a child recovering from their early trauma experiences. Why wouldn’t we want to make things easier for a child, instead of harder? If you continually treat them like a secure child, in other words assuming they can cope with constant change and unpredictability, then you dismiss their experiences and don’t allow them to fill in the gaps they have missed.
When I hear these kinds of attitudes from primary schools it saddens me. Primary schools are best placed to make the most difference to a child who has experienced trauma before they came to them. The building blocks for an insecurely attached child are missing or wonky at best. If you imagine a wall with all the good things a child should experience to help them develop – adequate food and water, sleep, love, affection, attention, encouragement, good hygiene, safety and protection. All normal things that children should experience. When they haven’t, they need to at later stages in life.
So nurseries, pre-school, primary schools can provide those and the more they do the easier it is for the child to develop and decrease the gap between them and their peers. My youngest son is a prime example of this. Whilst his older brother and sister were older and it was difficult to fill in those gaps they had missed, he was able to experience those things. He was seen as immature and emotionally younger but at 4 and 5 years old that was ok. The school worked with him and we did to make sure he had those experiences he might’ve missed and as a result that gap decreased over time and he now at 19 is like any other typical 19-year-old.
Not so for his sister and brother. It was harder to help fill in those gaps and needed more understanding from their primary school on how to help when they regressed. Relationships were key. Making sure the trusted adults followed them through the years was crucial. Maybe not as their class teacher, but access to them and to understand that if you just take away trusted adult relationships too soon it can be damaging to children and can hinder their recovery.
I truly believe that if we focus on the basic needs of children longer in primary schools, then when they do go to secondary that transition is easier. We need to consider the impact of the decisions we make and take into account each child’s needs, when possible.
When I read this response from the school in question it made me think about scarcity. When you know you are going on a holiday where you might not get the food you love, you don’t say “right I won’t eat that food for 6 months before just to get used to it”. You actually will eat more of that food because you know it will be in short supply. It’s the same in this scenario. Saying that because something like having the same class teacher won’t happen every year then we shouldn’t allow it too now, when the opportunity is there, is ludicrous. If having that teacher for another year helps the child to settle more, fill in more of those gaps, and then when she does have to change she will be in a better place to cope with that. Just withholding what is good for the child, because she won’t have that every year, won’t make the child more settled and better able to face school in the future.
I have met many schools who feel as I do and am grateful for them. I also know schools have difficult decisions to make and lots of competing needs to meet but I do wish this approach I sometimes see, that I’ve mentioned above, would change. We need to start realising how important those early years in school are. They can build or break the foundation of a child’s experience with education. Let’s focus on what helps and not what hinders recovery for our most vulnerable.