Back to school: ‘There are lots of feelings in your tummy’

As the school gates re-open, Children’s Parliament Co-director, Cathy McCulloch OBE, offers five questions to help with reflective practice and reminds us of the importance of staff-learner relationships.


For many children, the summer holidays are something to look forward to, a time filled with family and friends and lots of fun activities and free time. For other children, however, the summer holidays can be stressful; from a lack of structure, time spent with adults who have difficulties or anxieties of their own to not having enough to eat. Anxiety can also build at the prospect of the new school term; thinking about a new class, a new teacher or a move to another school, especially secondary school. Most children benefit from the better attention we give to transitions nowadays, but back at school, on day one, there will be children that need every staff member to be attentive and open to the behaviours that tell us, ‘I’m just not coping‘.  

Across Children’s Parliaments’ programmes, we acknowledge that some children struggle with school. One of our responsibilities is to capture and share their insight with educators. Some of the most powerful work children have produced is about going back to school and moving to secondary school.

There are those first day feelings: “I felt scared, shivery, worried”.  These feelings can change quite quickly: “By the end of the first day I felt more confident about myself”.  There are worries about coping with new systems and ways of doing things: “Getting to classes is really hard”; “I take too long to get ready after PE so I get into trouble”“It’s hard to fit in and be the same as everyone”. For some children, peer relationships in the new bigger secondary school environment are shaped by the fear and experience of violence: “There are so many fights”; “They are not quick enough at stopping fights. There needs to be more staff in the corridors”. 

There seems to be a growing awareness of the centrality of health and wellbeing to learning. At Children’s Parliament, we would wrap this in a view of childhood and education that is rooted in children’s human rights and the core ideas of human dignity, empathy, kindness, trust, and love. If there was ever a time when the mantra it’s all about relationships rings true it is in those first few days back at school: “It can be fun, but it depends on the teacher”. 

There is no denying that back to school might have some feeling of anxiety or dread for the educator too. High demands, feelings of stress, a real need to build personal and professional supports to sustain energy across the year. But as you learn to look after yourself, if you can, take some time to think about these questions.  Make it personal, and even better, do this with your colleagues.  

  • How do I pay attention to what might not be going well for a child? 
  • Do I know what is going well for each child, so that we can build on interests and achievements? 
  • What kind of adult do I need to be, so that a child can come to me with a question or a worry? 
  • Do I recognise and address the emotions or worries that change may bring about for the child? 
  • How is my professional practice informed by non-punitive, positive and restorative approaches? 

All the best to every educator out there. What you do every day matters.  


For more information about children’s views of life at school, Children’s Parliament has many helpful resources online that collate children’s voices from across Scotland, here are links to just a few:

Life at school (Blog post)

What kind of Scotland? Children influencing Scotland’s future (Publication)

Children’s Parliament Investigates Learning (Project)


Twitter: @Creative_Voices

Dyslexia Scotland’s Education Conference

Whether it is in our personal or professional lives, we all know the fundamental importance of relationships – but how do we encourage and enable kindness?

Helen Fleming is Volunteers Manager (and Education Conference Co-ordinator) at Dyslexia Scotland


We have come a long way in how we understand the needs and rights of dyslexic young people, such as the importance of early identification to help young people to begin to put useful strategies in place to assist their learning.  However, there are still many myths about dyslexia and a large part of our work is to raise awareness, so our annual education conference is the place to keep up to date and help change things for our children and young people.

Dyslexia Scotland’s annual conference for teachers takes place on Saturday 26 October in Glasgow and once again we expect over 200 primary and secondary teachers and other practitioners from across Scotland to attend. Our theme this year is ‘Building independence in children with dyslexia’.

We have three brilliant keynote speakers, including Dr Rob Savage from University College London Institute of Education, who will speak about preventive early interventions and effective later interventions, and one of Dyslexia Scotland’s Young Ambassadors, Hamish Holmes, who will talk about his experience of using assistive technology to support his schoolwork and other aspects of his life.  Finishing off the day will be dyslexic former Young Woman Engineer of the Year, Mamta Singhal.

Delegates will also have the opportunity to attend two interactive workshops on the day. CALL Scotland will run an interactive and informative workshop on assistive technology in the classroom, something that was requested by many of last year’s delegates who visited CALL Scotland’s information stand. There will be a chance to discover more about Outdoor Learning for primary pupils, with games to develop movement skills and physical literacy.

A ‘Playing Card Games’ workshop will look at fun ways to develop numeracy in learners with dyslexia and dyscalculia while another workshop looks at building resilience, easing stress and building success for pupils in the classroom.

The workshop on early identification and support for pupils with dyslexia is proving popular, as well as an update on the outcomes of the ‘Making Sense’ Dyslexia project, and GTCS Professional Recognition in Dyslexia and Inclusive Practice pilot.

Last year delegates said:

‘Excellent conference – well worth a Saturday!’
‘This was my first conference and I found it very helpful and informative – I definitely feel better equipped to help meet the needs of the dyslexic pupils in my caseload.’


To find out more and book a place visit:

www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk/education-conference


Dyslexia resources:

Dyslexia Scotland Helpline – www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk/helpline

Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit – www.addressingdyslexia.org

Resources for educators – Top 10 resources for teachers


Twitter: @DyslexiaScotlan

Kindness: simplicity and complexity

Whether it is in our personal or professional lives, we all know the fundamental importance of relationships – but how do we encourage and enable kindness?

Ben Thurman is Policy and Development Office Carnegie UK Trust


We recently asked a group of young people what kindness means to them. In the discussion that followed, Laura* reflecting on multiple interactions with public services asked, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if people started by telling you their name?’

It is a question that at once highlights both the importance of trust and relationships in young people’s interactions with public services and the sheer simplicity of kindness. And that, despite the significant efforts of campaigns like #hellomynameis, too often public services don’t provide the space for people to authentically connect.

We all want to be kind, and no-one would seriously disagree with the Scottish Government’s ambition for a society that treats everyone with kindness, dignity and compassion.

But our work has found that there are very real and very important barriers that inhibit professionals’ ability to act in kindness. Over the past 30 years, attitudes towards risk and regulation and the drive for efficiency, combined with the more recent impact of reductions in public expenditure, have minimised the opportunities for relationships and human connections in our public services.

For very good reasons, we have created systems with clear rules and boundaries; and our focus on performance management has enabled us to radically improve our public (and commercial) services. But in minimising risk and maximising efficiency, we have crowded out the flexibility that enables people to respond to human needs. And, at times, this can lead to some increasingly transactional and impersonal experiences for people like Laura.

Our work has led us to the conclusion that we need to do more to encourage and enable kindness; and that, crucially, we need to place greater trust in our teachers, nurses and social workers to be instinctive and responsive to human needs. But it is here that kindness becomes far more complex than it first appears. How do we do this in a way that delivers equality and accountability; that offers value for money and doesn’t depend on already-stretched staff ‘going the extra mile’?

Responding to this challenge is of critical importance for all of us – but particularly for those, like Laura, who have multiple interactions with a range of services.

These debates also map onto other important discussions about children growing up in care. The Carnegie UK Trust is privileged to be part of the Independent Care Review’s Journey group on Love. Like kindness, everyone understands the simple yet fundamental importance of love. We can all recognise that every child – including those who grow up in care – needs to feel safe and that they belong, that they are cared for and listened to.

And yet, embedding love in ‘the care system’ appears to stand in opposition to important frameworks that ensure safety and fairness for some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children and young people. How does love fit alongside professional codes that are designed to minimise risk by maintaining appropriate boundaries and distance? How can we ensure that every child has someone who loves them? Just like kindness, conversations about love show it to be far from simple. But if we are to create a Scotland where every young person knows what it means to love and be loved – and a Scotland that recognises the importance of relationships in public services – we need to embrace that complexity.


* Laura’s name has been changed to protect their anonymity

Twitter: @CarnegieUKTrust /@Ben_CarnegieUK  

Young Carers’ Rights

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force in April 2018, has the potential to change young carers lives, making it easier to identify them and allowing them to have a childhood similar to their non-carer peers.

Educational disadvantage can deprive a young carer from attaining their true potential. Education staff have a powerful role in addressing this and in advancing children’s human rights.

Máire McCormack is Head of Strategy, Office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland.


The recent Young Carers Awareness Day gives us a useful opportunity to discuss the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and the key role that people working in educational settings can play in supporting young carers.

Our office’s statutory duty is to promote and safeguard the rights of everyone under 18, or to 21 if the young person is in care or care experienced, paying particular attention to groups of children and young people who may find it difficult to make their views known, such as young carers. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is at the heart of our work as is the views and experiences of children and young people.

Numerous CRC rights are relevant to young carers, including article 28 the right to education and article 29 which states that education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.

At the Young Carers Festival last August, young carers talked about how teaching staff could support them at school. The overall view was they should be more carer aware. Some reported that school provided welcome respite to their caring role, others were less positive, finding school to be stressful and not all teachers sympathetic. Of concern was how few of them were aware of the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and the new rights contained within it.

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force in April 2018, has the potential to change young carers lives, making it easier to identify them and allowing them to have a childhood similar to their non-carer peers.

There are signs that can indicate that a pupil is a young carer – absences from school, unfinished homework, poor attainment, non-attendance at parents’ nights, limited peer networks at school and anxiety. Young carers support services, however, note some preconceived ideas of what a young carer is and does: some children with additional support needs may have brothers and sisters providing care, some will be caring for a parent with an illness, disability or addiction. Support may be practical and/or emotional.

With more than 44,000 young carers in Scotland, those working with children and young people are uniquely placed to make a major difference to these young peoples’ lives. Training and support will give them the confidence to recognise the signs – especially at an early stage, to avoid crisis intervention later – and ensure the barriers young carers so often face can be removed.

There is much good practice in Scottish schools, often when the young carers service has a staff member to support teachers and schools in their area, helping to increase awareness of the issues affecting young carers. Good practice examples include:

  • A young carers card, removing the need to explain, for example when the young carer is late or has to leave the classroom
  • A drop-in service initially marketed as helping to draft the school’s young carer’s policy, but also providing mutual support
  • A dedicated young carers noticeboard
  • Safe spaces in school.
  • Checking in occasionally with the young person
  • Allowing mobile phones to be on.

Everyone working within education can play an important role in raising awareness of young carers’ rights under this Act and of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In so doing, they will increase their own awareness and understanding of their rights obligations and be able to support young carers better.


Definition of young carer: A young carer is defined as an individual who provides (or intends to provide) care for another person and is under 18, or 18, but still attending school. The focus is now on how the caring role is affecting the young person, rather than the hours spent caring.

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland is Bruce Adamson. He works with his team to protect the rights of children and young people: https://www.cypcs.org.uk/

Twitter: @cypcs

Inclusion and Children Who Sexually Harm Other Children

Stuart Allardyce, National Manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland, describes his experience of working with children who display harmful sexual behaviour and discusses why appropriate responses, that assess the risks and respect children’s rights, must be found.


The last year has seen increasing public attention around sexual harassment, violence and abuse perpetrated by children in school. The Young Women Lead Committee recently completed a report on this difficult subject that was debated in the Scottish Parliament. It confirmed what many of us have known for some time: the issue is widespread and serious in schools across Scotland, we don’t have the right kinds of measures in place to prevent sexual abuse happening in the first place, and we often don’t respond to it effectively after it comes to light.

Most UK and international surveys looking at maltreatment in childhood find that around one-third of sexual abuse is perpetrated by children and young people themselves. In my 15 years of working with children and young people who display harmful and problematic sexual behaviour, I’ve seen many young people who have abused others in schools, as well as in family contexts and other situations. Sometimes the victims are peers, sometimes much younger children, and sometimes even adults. Some children who abuse have intellectual impairments, while others would be described as high performing members of the school community. There is no one type of adolescent who abuses; it’s a strikingly varied group.

I’ve learnt a few key things in those 15 years. Firstly, these are children, not mini-adult sex offenders. The vast majority don’t persist with such behaviours into adulthood, but grow out of it with the right support. Few children abuse because of issues around sexual deviance. Some have had negative childhood experiences themselves, or are influenced by peers or online experiences. Many are opportunistic, immature, or curious, lacking in inhibition and empathy, and misunderstanding what is acceptable, age-appropriate behaviour.

In my experience, the vast majority are temporarily or permanently excluded from school because of their behaviour. Sometimes that’s the right decision. But sometimes it’s disproportionate, and not linked to an assessment of risk. I once worked with a young person who abused small children in the community and was immediately excluded from high school when he was charged. There was no evidence he presented a risk to peers, but with both parents working, he was left unsupervised in the community where he did pose a risk.

Clearly, when the abuse is of a pupil in the school, difficult decisions must be made and the safety and views of the victim are paramount. But often for adolescents charged with sexual offences, the abuse will be of a younger child not at their school – a family member or child in the community. Most young people I have worked with in this situation are struggling with peers and often have difficulties with social interactions. Removing them from the routine of school and labeling them as a sex offender can go against the support we need to offer.

We must recognise that these perpetrators are also children first and foremost, who have a right to protection, nurture, learning, and peer interaction. Clearly, they need the right support and restrictions to ensure that these rights are realised in a safe way; keeping a child in school where possible and appropriate can be of huge benefit.

Sexually abusive behaviour perpetrated by children is an emotive and difficult subject. We urgently need more training for teachers and school staff so that they understand how education and school life can contribute to prevention. But most of all, if we are to get things right for everyone after abuse has happened, we need decisions about inclusion to be made by schools in partnership with social workers, health colleagues, police and other relevant organisations.


Stuart Allardyce is National Manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland. He is the co-author of ‘Working with Children and Young People who have Displayed Harmful Sexual Behaviour’ (Dunedin Press) and is a member of the Scottish Government’s Expert Working Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Amongst Children and Young People. 

Twitter: @StopItNowScot

Young Women Lead Committee 2018 report on Sexual Harassment in Schools can be accessed here: http://www.ywcascotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/YWL-Report-FINAL.pdf

 

Love in Early Learning and Childcare

Jane Malcolm, a final-year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Edinburgh, explains why love is central to her study and professional practice. Here she talks about her research into ‘love-led practice’.


It’s without doubt that the idea of love is very complex. Having tried to conceptualise and define love in early years in my doctoral study, I finally got to a point where I reluctantly admitted it was too complicated. However, analysing the language used by the participants in my study revealed that love is already there in practice. What needs to catch up is the language used in the policies and practice guidance that support the management of love. From my research, I have developed a framework that represents what I have called “love-led practice”. The framework defines what makes up love in practice and supports detailed reflection of how love is delivered.

Personal experiences of love also impacted upon practitioners understanding and feelings around delivering practice underpinned by love. It can be hard to turn the spotlight on yourself. However, we know love is hugely important to the child’s development, therefore practitioners must take the time to reflect upon their own experiences and understanding in order to ensure they are delivering practice which has love embedded within it.

My research showed that practitioners are reticent to admit to delivering love-led practice. Getting to the heart of the reasons for this became the core of my research study. Examination of key documents in early learning and childcare in Scotland shows that, whilst love was in evidence, there was much more emphasis put on safer words such as “nurturing” and “attachment”. This needs to change for lead professionals to be free to deliver love-led practice with professionalism and integrity.

Within Scotland there has, however, been a significant shift in thinking, with the current government’s 2018-19 programme stating that: “We want all our children to grow up in a supportive environment where we invest significantly in their future – not just financially – but also with time, energy and love”.

Now is the time to capitalise on this shift in thinking and really push to embed love, not in a tokenistic way but really get it at the heart of our early learning and childcare policy in Scotland.


Jane Malcolm blogs http://janeymphd.blogspot.com/ and tweets @JaneMalcolm7