EBSA in a Post-Pandemic World: The Building Blocks for Student Attendance

EBSA in a Post-Pandemic World: The Building Blocks for Student Attendance

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Ever wondered why some students smoothly transition back to school while others struggle with EBSA?

Join us in this episode as we reveal the essential components that can make or break your school's EBSA support system. Discover how to boost students' confidence and pave the way for their successful return to the classroom.

For a FREE copy of our TRACKS proforma go to: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/documents/tracks.docx

Get our FREE SEND Behaviour Handbook: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/send-handbook

Download other FREE SEMH resources to use in your school: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/resources

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

Obviously there will be a lot of investigating and curiosity into what could be causing the child to feel anxious or overwhelmed and unable to come to school. But then the next step is for schools to plan how they can support that pupil and their family with some sort of return back into school.

Simon Currigan  0:22  

Welcome to the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton. And we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course, students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs, Power School Strategy, and more. All with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to another episode of School Behaviour Secrets. The aim for this podcast is to do for educators what pockets do for dresses - make them fabulous. As always, I'm joined by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  1:16  

Hi, Simon.

Oh, my goodness, you are not wrong pockets on dresses make everything fabulous.

Simon Currigan  1:22  

Are you feeling fabulous today in my pocket? So I've got a question I'd like to ask you before we get into the meat of today's show, of course, according to a recent Guardian article, so this will be in the UK. How many days off work do you think teachers have taken in the last year due to stress and mental health issues?

Emma Shackleton  1:43  

Oh, wow. straight in with a serious question today, then Simon? This is a tricky question to answer because I know a couple of facts about teachers. One is many of them are reluctant to take time off even when they are sick. And two loads of teachers are struggling with overwhelmed stress, anxiety and other mental health issues around now. So this is a tricky one to put a finger on I think go on. Enlighten me. What's the figure quoted in the article? 

Simon Currigan  2:15  

Well the answer was teachers have spent at least 1.5 million days off work owing to stress and mental health issues, amid continued concerns over the increasing pressures they are facing in the classroom. And it's interesting you were talking about mental health and stress there because I was talking to a doctor and this is anecdotal, but he reckoned the number of prescriptions that he was writing to teachers for drugs around depression, he felt was significantly higher than other professionals that came to see him for other conditions and illnesses.

Emma Shackleton  2:47  

Okay, quite a somber start to this week's podcast episode. And in a break with tradition instead of asking you what how it's related. I'm going to tell you this time Simon, because in a refreshing change, this is an episode that I've researched and written in response to a growing and worrying trend that we've seen in schools that we're visiting in our consultancy work in and around Birmingham. And that issue is emotionally based school avoidance, also known as EBSA.

Simon Currigan  3:18  

Yeah, yeah, completely agree. This is something that we're being asked about more and more often, particularly since COVID-19. Remember, when most children were being educated at home online in the lockdown well, many kids missed school and the social interaction and hustle and bustle. But you know, for some pupils, this style of learning home learning really suited them these kids flourished in the comfort of their own homes where they didn't have to navigate crowds. They weren't separated from their carers. They didn't have to stand in lines, circumvent the cloakroom crush, these kids actually thrived in a home learning situation.

Emma Shackleton  4:00  

Yeah so for some of those children, the return to full time education has been really, really tricky. It's almost like we gave them a taster of what works for them when they were allowed to work at home. And then we said, oh, sorry, we know that you learn best in that environment, but that's not an option anymore in you come back to school. And you know what a small number of children really haven't coped well with that.

Simon Currigan  4:26  

So let's have a think about the figures. What are the figures around EBSA? Then how many children are we talking about here?

Emma Shackleton  4:32  

Well that's a really great question, and it's actually quite difficult to get a definitive answer. Research shows that the number is around one to 2%. But in reality, we know that that could be even more. One problem that skews the data is the accuracy of absence recording. For example, some parents might elect to call in sick for their child, maybe because they are unable to physically get the child to come to school, for example. So that might be recorded as a stomach bug, when actually it's really down to EBSA.

Simon Currigan  5:09  

And we're not just talking about kids who fancy the odd day off here and there are we

Emma Shackleton  5:14  

No, no, no, no, no. EBSA is actually an umbrella term that's used to describe children and young people who experience severe challenges in attending school due to emotional factors. They might even feel emotional and physical distress as well as a reluctance to attend school. So you might have heard this condition referred to using different terminology such as anxiety based school avoidance, emotionally based school non attendance, persistent school non attender, not fine in school, or school phobia. 

Simon Currigan  5:53  

Yeah one important point to note here is in education, we no longer use the outdated term school refusal or school refusal, that language implies that the child is being naughty or refusing to attend or playing truant, which is quite blaming language. We all have days when we might not want to go into school or work and be reluctant. But that kind of reaction isn't going to settle into a long term pattern of behaviour. Of course, there may very well be refusing to attend. But what we're interested in is the underlying reason why they're refusing, what is driving that behaviour for these children is not so much a case of won't go, but more like they feel they can't go. And without addressing that, we're never going to make any progress. Hang on haven't we spoken about this topic before?

Emma Shackleton  6:45  

Yes, you're absolutely right. Simon, you did a brilliant interview with an educational psychologist called Jerricah Holder right back in episode 76, of school behaviour sequence. So dear listeners, if you haven't heard that episode yet, do pop back and have a listen.

Simon Currigan  7:03  

100% because Jerricah shared some great tips about supporting pupils with EBSA. So what are we going to add to what she said today?

Emma Shackleton  7:10  

So obviously, there will be a need to be a lot of investigating and curiosity into what could be causing the child to feel anxious or overwhelmed and unable to come to school. But then the next step is for schools to plan how they can support that pupil and their family with some sort of return back into school.

Simon Currigan  7:34  

So that involves looking at the push and pull factors, because in life, we're motivated towards goals, which are poor factors. So doing well in a test, that would be a poor factor for someone to study hard. If you wanted to win a race and get a gold medal at the Olympics, that might be a poor factor for you to go to the track and to run and run and run. And then we have the opposite, we have things we try to avoid to escape from. And these are push factors. You could view a child's school avoidance through two separate prisms here. Are they seeking to avoid school, which is a push factor, meaning there is something about the experience of being in school that they are seeking to avoid that makes them feel deeply uncomfortable. Or for some children, it might be that school itself isn't actually the problem, they might be being pulled towards home, they want to be there. Because say there might be domestic violence in the home and they want to be there to check their mummy's, okay, or to take a less extreme example, maybe there's lower level difficulties in the relationship between the child's mum and dad and there's talk of divorce. And they're worried that one parent may leave if they're not physically there in the home to persuade them to stop maybe the dog is ill. The same behaviour in two children could have completely different causes different push and pull factors. So it's not necessarily about it being avoiding school it might be being poor towards the home. 

Emma Shackleton  9:00  

That's absolutely right. And once schools have done that sort of deep investigation work, they're then going to need a method of recording the support that they are giving the child and family and that's where the Beacon TRACKS document comes in. This is our handy everything on one form tool. We've called it tracks and that stands for T for trusted adult, our recover and reconnect with peers, a adaptations to the physical environment, see challenging personal anxieties K keep working together, and S which stands for support and celebrate the small wins. So we're going to talk through each of those letters in order. Okay, so let's kick off with T. T stands for trusted adult. Every child needs somebody in school a key person and who they feel that they can trust someone who obviously cares about them, and will be their champion. And ideally, this would be somebody that the child themselves picks. And that's not always the most obvious or convenient person in school.

Simon Currigan  10:18  

Agreed. So the school might allocate a learning mentor to this role. But actually, if the child doesn't know that person or like them, just because there's something with the human chemistry between them, then that's not going to work. It has to be someone that the child feels some connection with. Because we're dealing with emotions here, it has to be an emotionally intelligent adult. And the human chemistry has to be right for that relationship to form.

Emma Shackleton  10:45  

Absolutely. So when we're looking at supporting kids with EBSA, we need to pick a key adult that they feel connected to. But also top tip here, it's really helpful to also have a backup person written into the plan. The reason that we've put this in is because recently I was speaking with a TA, and she told me that she'd been working really hard with a young man in their school, trying to get him back into school on a regular basis after quite a long period of EBSA. And she told me that what happened with him, just as his attendance started to improve, she broke her leg. Now, of course, that was completely unforeseen, but she was really gutted, because she ended up having to take time off work. And then the boy that she'd been supporting, actually never set foot back in school again. So where you can, it's wise to have a plan be a backup person from the start. Okay, so that's the T, now we're gonna move on to the R of TRACKS and are is about recover and reconnect with peers, I was listening to a really interesting guy who's autistic himself and a keen computer gamer, and he talks a lot about the need for children who've been out of school, for whatever reason, to feel reconnected with their peers. When kids are out of school, they feel like they're not only getting behind academically, they really keenly feel that missing out on social connections, too. So they get worried that their social circles are changing, that their friends have forgotten them and moved on. Maybe their best friend now has a new best friend. And that is a really huge barrier into setting foot back into school. If you feel like you don't know what's happening in the social climate. So what we're looking at here is helping kids to feel reconnected with their peer group before they come back into the building.

Simon Currigan  12:49  

So before we attempt to get children back into school, it's important for them to feel connected in some way with their peers and friends. So we need to think of ways we can make this happened. That could be in the form of a play date or coffee after school or via online gaming, when kids can connect with their friends without even leaving their houses. If that works, then we have to use our imagination. And not just think about inside school, but also outside of school.

Emma Shackleton  13:17  

Yeah, so the important part is that they feel part of the loop again, before they come back into the building, then they'll know that they're set up for social success, and they won't be left out before they even leave the house in the morning. So A stands for adaptations to the physical environment.

Simon Currigan  13:35  

And this is important where some schools fail in reintegrating pupils suffering with EBSA back into school is that when the child returns, nothing has changed in terms of physical cues in the environment they see on their way into school and their way through school. Now, if their brain is firing up in a stress response to their setting, and after they've been away, the setting is exactly the same as when they left, they see the same environmental cues in the same order, then logic tells us that the child's brain will fire up again, and have the exact same response to the exact same situation, mixing up the environmental cues can avoid this automatic response.

Emma Shackleton  14:17  

So as educators, we need to look at the adaptations that could be made to the physical environment, and how can we change that environment to make it more suitable to meet the child's needs. So it might be things like thinking about the door that the child uses to enter the building, maybe they need a different start time to the day where it's not so busy. We need to think about which adult greets them when they get here, maybe where their seat is located in the classroom. Simple adaptations like that can make a really big difference to successfully reintegrating a child back into school. So moving on, we're going to go on to C which stands for Challenge gently challenge personal anxieties. So in addition to changing the environment to make it more suitable for the child, we're probably also going to have to gently change the student's ideas about school, or about leaving home, for example.

Simon Currigan  15:20  

The more we can do to teach children and families about the way that their brains and bodies work, the better. Our job is to educate and empower our students. If they feel anxious about going to school, that sensation is not going to go away, maybe even ever. But what we can do is equip the student to recognize, understand, label and contain that emotion, helping them separate the thoughts and the feelings in their body can also be helpful, maybe just enough, so they can cope with going back into school for a while.

Emma Shackleton  15:55  

And when you're working with children with anxiety, you have to appreciate that we're probably not going to completely eliminate all of that anxiety entirely. Our role is actually to teach children coping skills, so that they can manage and contain those feelings

Simon Currigan  16:14  

And helping them understand their bodies and having a structured program to help them reflect on whether the worries they had about the school day happened or not, or how good their coping skills were in situations that they find difficult, can actually be really, really powerful.

Emma Shackleton  16:31  

So moving on to the K of TRACKS. K is for keeping on working together. reintegrating a child back into school who's struggling with EBSA is a long road. And it's actually never fast and easy. So we've got to be smart here and think about who else can we rope into support? What help do the family need right now, who else can join us on Team child.

Simon Currigan  16:59  

And finally, S is a support and celebrate the small wins. It's really important to remember that progress will not be linear. When you're working with a child with EBSA, sometimes schools fall into the trap of writing a plan based on a timeline. For example, the school will start on a reduced timetable, then build up their time, an hour a day each week. And after six weeks, we'll be back in full time education. In the real world, that's unlikely to happen. We're dealing with humans who have big emotions. 

Emma Shackleton  17:29  

So whatever we do, we've got to pause and reflect and celebrate the small steps of progress. Every little small win needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. For example, one school that I've been working with recently made a little 'I can' jar and in that jar, every time the child or family had a little success, they wrote it down on a slip of paper and put it into the jar. And that was a really, really nice visual to see that jar filling up with those small slips of paper. It's a real powerful reminder, that progress is being made. Even if some days it feels like two steps forward, and three steps back. So to conclude, that's our TRACKS system in a nutshell, a way that schools can formally record the support that they're giving a child and family going through EBSA. And remember, if you haven't listened to it yet, I think you'll find Jerricah Holder's episode podcast number 76 really useful as she talks even more about this topic.

Simon Currigan  18:35  

And if you're supporting a student who's having difficulty with emotionally based school avoidance, we've got a brilliant free download that can help.

Emma Shackleton  18:42  

So it's called our TRACKS system. And the way that you can get it is by going to beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/tracks,

Simon Currigan  18:45  

And I'll put a direct link to that in the episode description. And if you've enjoyed listening to today's show, don't forget to open up your podcast app and hit the subscribe button so you never miss another episode. Subscribing. We'll make you feel like a really fluffy dog that's just found a fresh fox poo to roll around in. Smells funky.

Emma Shackleton  19:13  

Pass the ketchup - if you know you know - that's one for the dog owners out there. Anyway, have an excellent week everybody and we can't wait to see you on the next episode of School Behaviour Secrets. Bye for now. Bye

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)