“Working with Young People in Schools” blogpost & podcast outline

Please Note, this blog DOES NOT HAVE the AUDIO interview with Tara Gretton

Tara’s website: https://www.solutionrevolution.co.uk/

“Working with Young People in Schools” Podcast Episode 2 (c) opnmnd therapy

blogpost & podcast outline

 If there’s one thing I have an understanding of, it’s working with young people; and by young I mean six or seven years of age, up to 18 years old and in full-time mainstream, or ‘alternative access education’, and I’ll explain what those last three words imply in a moment.  Suffice to say that where a young person, who is deemed unable to attend a regular school, does attend  for their education, depends upon what the school management and Educational Psychology or CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), or an admix of all three, thinks of the efforts the individual youngster makes to fit in, and be part of, a particular school’s ethos.

I worked as what was called, euphemistically, a ‘behaviour support teacher’, working, initially with ‘maladjusted’ children; children in a secure placement and then children in PRUs – pupil referral units and finally children in their own schools.

It was seat of the pants stuff to start with when I worked in a 24/7 secure placement; then a little bit more therapeutic as the young people became more ‘SEND’ – children with Special Educational Needs (in our case, social, emotional and behavioural needs). Then onto working in an off-site Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), attached to a residential children’s setting. Then I moved into working peripatetically in schools across the city where I was based: 26 years all told and quite a spread of characters I met, and I don’t just mean the kids. I also trained school staff in the solution focus approach – of which more, later. (In the next blog, and themed, in  addition to other material, in podcast Episode # 3)

So, in all the cases of off-site educational placements, judgements had been made according to how it was perceived the individual child presented in a particular school, which was, of itself dependent upon how well they ‘fit’ within the school’s discipline / sanctions and rewards schema.  The one thing they all had in common, however, was that every child’s problems, were deemed ‘within child’; thus, apparently stemming from something innate and which could be pathologised (medicalised) and given a diagnosis… and none of which was to be attributed to poor teaching, poor resourcing, poor management and finally to National or other curricula drivers.

This, in turn, depended, to some extent upon whether the individual had evidenced some form of psychological or possibly neurological issue (Dyslexia).  Issues such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) or any of several other ‘within child’ difficulties affecting his or her (not so many hers involved, but a sizeable minority, nonetheless) ability to toe the line. CAMHS were often involved in these assessments (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), and as said earlier, so could the Local Education Authority EPS, (Educational Psychology Service).

I’m not alone in noting this ‘toe the line’ strategy that schools use to control and manipulate children. Jay Griffiths, in ‘Kin: The Riddle of the Childscape’ (2013)asserts that “… Children, strangled by ties […] are learning a covert curriculum of power relations […] they are learning a right-wing political ethos that hierarchy is inevitable, that obedience, discipline and control are all important…”(Griffiths, 2013, p206).  And Griffiths goes on to suggest that children learn that competition is the “…basis of education […] and that classification and measurement are the most important tools of thought …” (ibid, p206).

Ivan Illich, in ‘Deschooling Society’ (1971)2says these children have been ‘schooled down to size’ (Illich, 1971, in Griffiths, 2013 p207) with the result being, as Griffiths suggests, that if we are concerned with focusing on the clock and what it measures, this will teach us nothing about the meaningof time, (ibid, p207).

And as a result of the ineluctable progress of a ‘fact’ based educational policy, measured and measurable, our children are tested and assessed from the age of around 5 years – although I know there are some forms of assessment in the Early Years Foundation Stage, so children are, in actual fact, being assessed from birth to five  years of age… as evidenced by this

     ‘The Early Years Foundation Stage sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old. All schools and Ofsted-registered early years providers must follow the EYFS, including childminders, preschools, nurseries and school reception classes…’(https://www.foundationyears.org.uk/eyfs-statutory-framework/) accessed 23/02/2019

However, assessment doesn’t stop then, it carries on throughout a child’s schooling – at least until 18 (the official school leaving age in the UK). Which, some cynics might say, ensures that children and young adults aren’t competing for scarce jobs before their time.

In this way young people are ‘allowed’ to continue along two distinct routes on their journey to adulthood; either the academic route – 6thForm; ‘A’ Levels University: or the vocational route; Apprenticeships / training then work. This is, some would say, designed to ensure that young people do not appear as NEETs on national statistics – NEET is the wonderful acronym for Not in Education, Employment or Training and covers those aged 16 to 24.

Others would say that this dual track educative approach enabled ‘proper’ social mobility to take place, according to the individuals own proclivity. This notion is simply the 1942 Education Actrevisited – that wonderful piece of legislation that brought us ‘tripartite educational opportunities’. Harmful smoke and mirrors, and I have neither the time, nor inclination, at present, to deconstruct that piece of educational hegemony.

Thus, schools, as Ball suggests (2017) “… despite the incessant heat and noise of policy talk about reform (in education) and the constant stream of announcements and initiatives […] we need to be aware that the political rhetoric of reform may well exaggerate or misrepresent the effects or impact of change […] Over and against the rhetorics of meritocracy and social mobility, selection and segregation are an insistent sub-text of post 1988 education policies. […] and is evident now in the increasing diversity of types of school, in the re-establishing of separate vocational and non-school based curriculum routes for some students post-14 …” (Ball, 2017, p215).

And some of these non-school based routes were where I plied my trade as a special needs support teacher, and I even wrote a chapter about what I did when trying to reach the so called “unreachable and unteachable adolescents that have become more marginalized and subcultural …” (Avard, P. 2010, in Nelson (Ed) p104), as a result of changes in an educational system where more and more of the young person’s needs were not being met. I should also add that I managed to, successfully, study and earn my MA.Ed. on “Inclusive Educational Practice”, an education in which we could, should and ought to include ALL children, no matter what.

This failure to meet a person’s needs, has been said to lead to what Durkheim (1858 – 1917) called ‘anomie’, a state where ‘social and or moral norms are confused, unclear or simply not present…’(Perry n.d., in Avard, 2010, ibid p104). However, contrary to what might have been thought then and what certainly appears to be the norm now, this ‘deviance’ is not a result of the young person having an innate desire to be deviant; it is rather a product of the young person’s environment and their inability, for any number of reasons, to be able to manage their current situation within their current environment, including all social and cultural elements of that environment.

I emphasise ‘current’ because ‘anomie’ is not a fixed state. I should add, for clarity, that the expression anomie arose out of Durkheim’s study of suicide. And the phenomena of suicide ought to be an area of study as it seems to be something that is very definitely present across education currently, largely as a result of inappropriate use of social media but also as a result of a broken and unfit for use educational policy. Which in, and of itself, emphasises the lack of structure that encourages anomic phenomena to thrive and grow in communities such as schools.

One final note, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Karl Marx and W.E.B Du Bois are credited with the development of modern Social Science, as a science.

Sadly, we all too often locate challenging people within the idea that they are subject to some form of pathology, or have a within the person deficit, when, evidence shows that our ‘behaviour’, in its widest sense, is a product of our relationship with, and responses to, our environment and the ‘significant others’ that people our environment. This should not be taken to obviate or make the person less responsible for their behaviour, it simply means we have to look beyond the individual for the source of their ‘inappropriate choice making’. Placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of a four, five, six or seven-year-old, or even a 14 or 15-year-old is really ducking the issue, in my opinion. And that’s been formed over the past thirty years. I wish to God I was going to be proved wrong.

And, as it happens, research shows that the education system is the biggest culprit in this factor and one reason for the growth of mental health issues in school is what Andy Green states clearly as the ‘…history of working-class education [being] a history […] of control and cultural domination’. (Green, A, 1990 in Reay, D, 2017 p76).

Now, I’m well aware that not all children who report mental health issues in school are working class. Some will be middle-class. It is my contention though, throughout this blog, and to be honest, by no means mine alone, that the education system mitigates against the ‘wellnesses’ of a significant number of its charges. It is reported that children as young as three or four are being ‘diagnosed’ with mental health issues, why the hell is that happening, is what we ought to be asking ourselves.

Working class children know that they have been set up to fail. And the question we should ask is a simple one, ‘… do the working classes experience a relative educational failure that has come to be seen as “a personal lack”?’ (ibid: 2017 p75). And my answer is that those of us who have worked with children (and their parents, very often), in schools, units and secure placements know that education, for the many, has been experienced as a bad fit from day one. I have no quarrel, however, that for some others, the experience has been useful …

Jay Griffiths in her seminal book on children’s lives ‘Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape” (2013) has an apposite little quote from a friend’s four-year-old son: ‘What did you learn in school today?’ […] ‘I learned to queue up and I learned to sit quietly on the carpet.’ (Griffiths, J. 2013 p200) Now I, any more than anyone else I know, am not knocking the need for children to learn appropriate social skills, and I somehow doubt this little boy was from the cohort the blog is focused on, it does, nevertheless, throw some light on what happens from an early age. It’s as if someone has said to him ‘…this is your place, and this is what you do, and this is how you do it …’

And it is becoming apparent that a lot of rhetoric, and not much else, has gone into shaping the unholy mess that is our education system. Not least of which is that the government will need to help to address some of the stigmatising and pathologising outcomes of the inequalities that have been mentioned thus far. And, at some stage, admit to their part in this dog’s breakfast of a system.

That this MUST happen seems a no-brainer to me as the outcomes themselves are a function of what has happened (and continues to) happen to our education system as a result of ideologues being in charge of creating the camel.  It is NOT the children’s fault, it is NEVER the children’s fault. Neither they, nor us – who, I would have thought, ought to know better, are empowered yet, sufficiently, to fight back at the encroachment of a neoliberal reframing of what society is; or at least thought, it ought to be.

In point of fact, Sir Al Aynsley Green pointed out in The Guardian newspaper recently (05.02.2019), that children are not “…empowered to take control of their own lives …” (Aynsley-Green, A, 2019, The Guardian on-line, accessed 12.02.2019).

And in his new book, “The British Betrayal of Childhood” (2019), published a few weeks ago, Sir Al Aynsley-Green pulls no punches, not one. I have seldom seen such anger in print, when he says ‘…the situation for children with emotional and mental ill-health is nothing short of a national scandal. It’s a scandal because of long-standing political indifference and a lack of will to address the seriousness of mental ill health in children … (Green, A, A. 2019 p105).

In fact, he goes on to call what is happening to our children in schools ‘… a tsunami of need [for which] there is grossly inadequate provision of services…’ (ibid: p105)



all photos used with permission (Unsplash)

And like the very best serials on tv, radio, in podcasting and elsewhere, there may be a bit of a hanger at this juncture, because this theme will have its own blog, and will be continued in the next episode# 3 – as both blog and podcast.

Mentalbility; the podcastis about the ability we all have, though some may need help to find them; resources, resilience and sense of hope to source this ability; to overcome mental health difficulties. I say that as someone who has spent a long time working with people to find, realise, source such, and help them hope they have gotten it right.

Actually, I have enough ‘evidence’ to know that, many, many people can and do move on and grow through all sorts of tribulations – and next time we’ll spend time looking at these innate and supported resiliencies, resources and personal capital. As well as looking more closely at the ‘tsunami of need’ Sir Al mentions.

And it’s all predicated on a a helpful, therapeutic approach, a therapeutic alliance and not being judged are key. Find out more, in a little while, by following this blog.

Until next time



Avard, P. (2010) in Nelson, T. S. (Ed). (2010) ‘Doing Something Different’ Routledge  New York

Aynsley-Green, A. (2019) ‘The British Betrayal of Childhood: Challenging Uncomfortable Truths and Bringing About Change’     Routledge  London

Aynsley-Green, A, (2019,)  The Guardian on-line, accessed 12.02.2019

Ball, S. J (2017) ‘the education debate’ – third edition  Policy Press  Bristol

Early Years Foundation Stage  (https://www.foundationyears.org.uk/eyfs-statutory-framework/) accessed 23.02.2019

 Green, A. (1990) in Reay, D. (2017) ‘Miseducation: Inequality, education and the working classes’ Policy Press Bristol

Griffiths, J. (2014) ‘Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape’ Penguin London

Illich, I. (1971) ‘Deschooling Society’  Kindle Edition  (2013)