The Untold Challenges Of Providing Effective SEMH Support In schools (With Abigail Hawkins)

The Untold Challenges Of Providing Effective SEMH Support In schools (With Abigail Hawkins)

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Are you seeing more and more pupils with high social, emotional and behavioural needs in your school? And are you feeling demoralised trying to navigate the challenges faced in providing effective support?

School Behaviour Secrets is back with another insightful episode, and this time, we're delving into the top three challenges faced by schools in providing effective SEMH support. Get ready for an engaging conversation with Abigail Hawkins, from SENsible SENCO, that could transform your approach to SEMH in your school.

Important links:

Visit the SENsible SENCO webiste for more information

Get our FREE SEND Behaviour Handbook

Download other FREE SEMH resources to use in your school:

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

Are you seeing more and more pupils with high social, emotional and behavioural needs in your school? Then if you are this episode is for you, because we're going to discuss the three biggest S E M H issues facing real schools right now, and what sencos school leaders and teachers should do to manage them successfully. Want to know what those three issues are and how they relate to your school and your children? Well, I'm going to be a tease. I'll reveal what they are in just a minute.

Simon Currigan  0:35  

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to another exciting episode of school behaviour secrets. Just thought I'd share some personal news Emma, this week I bought a battery hen. The eggs were great, but the downside is it needs recharging at the weekend.

Emma Shackleton  1:28  

Oh dear, very poor, very poor

Simon Currigan  1:31  

Dad joke! If you haven't heard that voice before, I should formally introduce you. That's the voice of my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  1:38  

Hi, Simon. 

Simon Currigan  1:39  

And before we get into the meat and two veg of this week's episode, I wanted to ask you a quick question 

Emma Shackleton  1:44  

Go on. 

Simon Currigan  1:45  

This one is about a 2022 survey in the US. And they asked as a percentage, how many Americans would recommend teaching as a career for young people?

Emma Shackleton  1:57  

Okay, I actually think that this figure is going to be quite low. It feels to me like teaching is getting harder and harder. And I read a lot of stuff on social media. So it must be true about how unhappy a lot of American teachers are with the bureaucracy associated with their job. So my guess is the figure is going to be quite low, I'd say 25% of Americans would recommend teaching as a career.

Simon Currigan  2:27  

Okay, so the answer on this one is fairly shocking. You went low, you did not go low enough. It was less than 1/5 of Americans just 18% Who would encourage a young person to become a teacher. And they mentioned inadequate pay insufficient resources at school, large workload, stressful work environments, all of those things were the key factors in their decision making. 

Emma Shackleton  2:50  


Simon Currigan  2:51  

 I know, I think the statistics on this side of the pond are similar. The NASUWT union ran a survey in 2022. And found, get this, only 14% of teachers would recommend teaching as a profession, with their top concerns being workload, pay and pupil behaviour. Interestingly, 96% of teachers said they are currently teaching pupils that have mental health challenges. So worrying numbers for the profession on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Emma Shackleton  3:22  

Yeah. And that's certainly what we see in our day to day work with schools, isn't it? I think pretty much every school pretty much every class now. They're trying to support children who are really struggling mentally.

Simon Currigan  3:35  

And that creates a big workload for schools finding about how to respond to those needs and put in place appropriate strategies. And that's how we support schools in the Midlands that we work with. 

Emma Shackleton  3:44  

Absolutely. So this sounds really relevant. How is it related to today's topic?

Simon Currigan  3:50  

Well, today we're going to share my interview with Abigail Hawkins from Sensible Senco. And we're actually going to dig into the key challenges facing Senco's in school right now about SEMH and behaviour. But I do want to emphasise this, this conversation is relevant to anyone who works in a school, not just Senco. So if you're a teacher or a school leader, there's information here that will be 100% relevant to your role,

Emma Shackleton  4:19  

And maybe parents too. 

Simon Currigan  4:21  

Absolutely, I know we've got a growing number of parent listeners and I think this will help you if you're a parent understands how schools are approaching supporting kids with social emotional and mental health needs.

Emma Shackleton  4:31  

Just before we get to that, if you're working with children who present behaviour that you find challenging or difficult to manage in the classroom, and you're really not sure why they might be acting in that way. And you are looking to dig into the root cause of that behaviour. Then we've got a free download that can help. It's called the S E N D handbook, and it will help you to link the behaviours that you're witnessing firsthand in your classroom with possible underlying causes things like trauma, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Simon Currigan  5:10  

The idea here isn't for teachers to try and make a diagnosis because we're simply not qualified to do that. But if we can link behaviours to possible causes quickly, it means we can get the right help in place the right agencies and get early intervention strategies working in the classroom to support the children

Emma Shackleton  5:26  

And the handbook even comes with a set of fact sheets for conditions such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and developmental language delay. This handbook is a completely free download. We'll put the direct link in the episode description. So all you've got to do is open up your podcast app and click directly through to get your copy. You don't even need to type anything in and search for it.

Simon Currigan  5:53  

Let your fingers do the walking as the advert used to say and final thing if you're finding this podcast and this information useful. Don't forget to subscribe to the show by opening and clicking in your podcast app so you never miss another episode. Subscribing feels like becoming a world class cheese sculptor overnight your your newfound mastery of dairy artistry will amaze your friends and family who wonder how you became the Leonardo of Red Leicester, the Gauguin of gorgonzola, or the Michaelangelo of mozzarella. So if you're on the fence when it comes to subscribing, something to think about

Emma Shackleton  6:25  

What cheese?

Simon Currigan  6:26  

 That's how it feels!

Emma Shackleton  6:27  

How very apt! And now here's Simon's interview with Abigail Hawkings from the Sensible SenCo. 

Simon Currigan  6:35  

Today, it's my pleasure to welcome Abigail Hawkins to the show, with over 25 years of experience as a seasoned SenCo. Abigail is the driving force behind SENCO solutions, and Sensible SENCO CIC which is a community interest company that gives its profits back to the community. She also advocates for inclusive education with a background Teaching Diverse subjects he is developing SEN tools and leading a network of over 12,000 SenCos. She is a prolific influencer in the SEN space. Their innovations include a popular YouTube channel, impactful webinars and several authored resources showcasing her deep dedication to education and leadership, Abigail, it's a pleasure to welcome you to school behaviour secrets.

Abigail Hawkins  7:19  

Thank you very much, Simon.

Simon Currigan  7:21  

So this is gonna be a really interesting discussion about what's happening in terms of SEND in schools at the moment, in terms of SEMH needs in schools right now, what are you seeing and how are those needs changing over time in terms of supporting kids with SEMH?

Abigail Hawkins  7:35  

So I think there's a big problem in that definition of SEMH in that it seems to be a bit of a catch all at the moment of when they don't really fit that, they don't fit that, we'll throw it under the SEMH category. I picked up the book off my shelf. And in fact, it was two books, they've both been published by the same author in the same month. They're different books. And in one book, she defines it with 10 different categories that encompasses SEMH. And then the other book, there's 16 different categories. So even a single individual can't decide what is SEMH and now we have all of that information coming at us saying you know, we've got an increase in SEMH. Yes, we have. But we were also saying external factors are impacting on things. And I don't disagree with that. We thought we've always had external factors that impact on us in different ways. And yeah, okay. Social media is a massive issue. And I run my network via social media. So I know exactly what it's like even adults struggle with things nevermind children, but it's not for me, the social media, it's actually the increased communication. 

So I just want everybody to imagine back in the 16th century, 17th century, I'm not a history person, we have the plague going on. I imagined that individuals at that time, were also under a lot of pressure, a lot of anxiety, a lot of things going on. But the individuals in London, didn't know how the individuals in York or Liverpool or Edinburgh, were reacting to those situations, or even over in another country, what's happening in France with regards to the plague or anything else. So what we have is this influence of not just social media, but communication in general, that raises everybody's awareness. And instead of, and I hate to say it, but instead of just getting on with it, which is what we would have done in the 16th century. We're almost blowing it up a little bit. I think. Now I'm not dismissing any needs. Needs exist. But what I'm saying is some of those are being blown a little bit out of proportion sometimes. And that's where I got a little bit politically incorrect. So I know there will be people who disagree with me at that point. However, that is what I'm seeing. And I don't think it's just our children. So we have got parents, we have got external professionals, external professionals want to keep themselves in the job. So the end of the day, if you go to an external professional and say my child is struggling with this, they're gonna say yes, they probably are, because they're going to want to keep their job and have more work coming through. If a parent is saying, I think my child has this, they're saying it because their heart is the right place. They think their child needs support with that, actually, their child is probably thinking, No, I'm just going through a phase give me another two weeks, I'll be okay, I'll have come out the other side. But because we then put everything in place for it, they feel that they've got to keep it. As some people will be feeling this is resonating with them. 

Simon Currigan  10:39  

It's this kind of like the over medicalisation of things like you have children that have worries and all children have worries. But we don't use the word worry. We use the word anxiety and sort of push them towards this medicalisation. 

Abigail Hawkins  10:49  

Yeah, absolutely. My eldest son was talking the other day, he's coming home and his girlfriend was using the word anxiety. Oh, that makes me anxious that makes me this. He was like, No, you just don't like spiders. You're not anxious about spiders. You just don't like spiders, which was the thing that we're talking about? Yeah, as you say, is blowing it out of that proportion and giving it that medical label rather than this is normal. This is part of life. Let's move it on.

Simon Currigan  11:17  

I'd like to get your perspective on something. Actually, if you don't mind me asking. There's a book by a guy called Mark Mason. That's called The World is xxxxxx, A book of hope. And in that book, he talks about how our world is actually incredibly safe. But our bodies and minds were tuned to look for threats. And we started to see threats where there aren't any threats. And one of the statements he makes, I'm going to misquote because I don't have the book with me. It's almost as if the whole world has become this massive dish of spilt milk, and everyone's getting upset over nothing. And we've lost all sense of perspective. Is that kind of where we're going?

Abigail Hawkins  11:17  

I think that sums it up perfectly for me. Was in my brain at the time?

Simon Currigan  11:52  

It's a really good book, I recommend people get it, it's a really interesting take on how people's brains work, and how they misinterpret the world.

Abigail Hawkins  11:59  

That really does sum it up, actually, you know, let's go back to caveman. Caveman had threats. He had his wild boars coming at him and his lions, and he's dying because he has to fight for his food. We're now in a society where generally speaking, we don't have to fight for food, not going to go down the poverty line and deprivation, things like that. At the moment, we've not got to go fight for our food, we can go to a supermarket or a food bank. So those instincts have been pushed down. Our bodies are naturally tuned to go and find what is our next threat.  In schools, what are we seeing, we're seeing this increase in SEMH, but I do feel it's being used as a bit of a dump all category, I do feel that in some schools, we're seeing behaviour and that behaviour then gets categorised under SEMH. But nobody is exploring where that behaviour is coming from. So is there a cognition and learning need? Is there a speech and language need? And actually, majority of the time it's one of those two. You know, schools still don't really understand what is SEMH, I go into lots and lots of schools and you look at their provision, what have you got in place to support these students, let's say ADHD, because ADHD falls under SEMH, this child who's got a diagnosis of ADHD, and you look at their diet of intervention and provision, and you find this great big long list of literacy and numeracy, nothing is being done to address the SEMH, but everything is being done to address the other two. And I'm not saying there isn't an impact on the other two, because there is in that, yes, they probably are behind their literacy and their numeracy. But if we addressed their ADHD needs, their executive functioning, their ability to focus their attention, the environment, then literacy and numeracy probably wouldn't be quite as far behind. And those interventions that are running are probably not being successful, because we're still not actually addressing the underlying need. 

Simon Currigan  12:03  

One thing that I find when I talk to SenCo's often is they understand a graduated approach. So for listeners outside the UK, the graduated approach is we don't jump in all guns blazing all strategies because that's very expensive in terms of supporting every child. So we start with reading for example, child then goes to small reading group, group of six, bit of extra support. I find SenCos are often, they find the graduated approach for learning needs, easy to grasp, but when it comes to SEMH, what's your experience in terms of putting in a graduated approach for SEMH,? Often, I think schools struggle with that more often.

Abigail Hawkins  14:29  

Yeah, absolutely. I think they find it woolly, because approaching a child who has a need that we've categorised underneath that SEMH very broad banner is very, very unique to each individual. You can't just pick up an off the shelf phonics scheme and go and deliver it. All of the SEMH interventions that are out there. Generally, the online ones are not brilliant, they're useful, and they may teach some skills, but generally speaking, you need that one on one relationship to deal with SEMH And relationships are tricky because you've got to get the right person with the right child. That person's got to be dynamic enough to change things and be adaptable and flexible. And we have a problem in schools at the moment. And I know you've got a question for me a bit later on, but I'll touch on it. Now, we have problem with recruitment and retention. At the moment, we don't have stability of adults in school to provide some of those things. Even if we do have a stable person in school, it might not necessarily be the right person for that child. It would be nice if we were working with robots, but we're not, were working with humans. And every human is different from the child that is sitting in front of us to the adults that are working with them. 

Simon Currigan  15:40  

Ok, let's jump into that then because we're going to talk about three specific areas and challenges in school. You brought it up already. So let's dig into that. Tell us about what's happening with recruitment and retention. We're not just talking about teachers here are we? We're talking about teaching assistants, learning mentors, pastoral staff, that kind of thing. 

Abigail Hawkins  15:55  

Yes, there are individuals that we rely on for the implementation of whatever it is we're doing. And well, there's a massive teacher shortage at the moment. But there is an even worse crisis with teaching assistants, I work on the Teaching Assistant apprenticeship programme. It's difficult to recruit people to that because of course, with an apprenticeship, you have to give them the 20% time and we haven't got enough stuff in the school to cover what we need to do. We can't give them the time to do this, which means we're not investing in their qualifications in their future in their potential if you like their training, but also its getting those staff in. So Costa, Tesco's, Lidl, they're offering some pretty good contracts at the moment where it might be the same rate per hour. And previously, you would have had to work  through the summer holidays, and which is why people didn't want those jobs. But now they're offering contracts that are term time only, you know, we're competing against that. And the other bits of that is that if you use Costa as an example, because I really fancy a coffee at the moment. Over in Costa, you haven't got all of those things that go on in school, you haven't got the bureaucracy, you haven't got the paperwork, you haven't got, generally speaking, somebody kicking off at you because their needs are not being met. You haven't got to build relationship with every customer. You can't do that in the school, a lot of those pressures are taken off, we talk about the SEMH of our students, but actually, it's the SEMH of our staff as well. There's social, emotional and mental health needs that go with it. So I touched on the fact that we have the poverty crisis at the moment, I've got TA's who desperately need to earn more money, and the school may have found enough money in the budget to offer them a couple more hours. And they can't take it because it means they're not eligible for their Universal Credit. It's just a really vicious cycle at the moment, and I can't see your way out of it. I don't think the answer is just increase wages, because you could pay somebody Ã100,000  a year, but it's not going to change the circumstances in which they're working. And sometimes I think that is a part of the issue. And not all staff, but some staff who are under qualified or under experienced for what they're being asked to do. They're the ones that we want to implement these wonderful SEMH interventions with our students, but they haven't had any training in it. We can't afford to send them on the training. And I don't just mean money, we can't afford to send them for the time perspective. And very often they don't want to go and do it either. Because they're like, well, that means I'm going to be pigeon holed into working with all of those kids. So yeah, recruitment, retention. There's just so much going on.

Simon Currigan  18:35  

And can I just say here, when you think about the impact of that, I'm just thinking about schools that I work with when the TAs have drained away, because school budgets tend to be on the downward trajectory, whatever the government says in real terms, budgets are going down, then the very adults that would be supporting kids with SEMH needs however you define that forming those relationships that are so important, there's fewer and fewer of those. So then in class, we're seeing the needs heightened because we're driving away the very people that we need to support the kids. It's this kind of vicious cycle, and then working conditions get worse for everybody else, you know, it's this downward vortex.

Abigail Hawkins  19:11  

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I'm currently studying a master's degree alongside everything else I'm doing, I must be totally insane. But I was doing some research on cognitive overload. And as teachers in the classroom, you know, you walk in, you have to take the register, it's a legal requirement. So you've got to take your register, if there's any safeguarding concern, you've got to go and record that on your system, you've got to be vigilant for that. You've got to deliver the content of the lesson, which means you've got to keep that content in your head and remember what it is you're supposed to be doing and the progression, you've got to meet the needs of 30 different individuals who may be sitting in front of you, plus the needs of any adults that are in that classroom, because of course you've got adults there too. But they've got all of those things going on. And then we've got little Freddy in the corner or Simon in this case, who is not necessarily doing what we want him to do, and we can't build a relationship with him because we've got the other 29 to look after. And we haven't now got the spare TA to go and do that for us. And we've just have a whole system that is exploding imploding, probably both at the same time. To be fair, we're gonna have a black hole at the end of this with no staff to fill it.

Simon Currigan  20:21  

I want to pick up on one more thing that you mentioned actually, that I think's worth sort of digging into that this is not necessarily a Pay Issue. Certainly at the teacher level, we see more and more teachers exiting the profession after just two or three years actually. Well, a lot of politicians will slowly say to the side, well, you get the holidays. And then they'll say, Well, they're starting salaries, they start, actually, it's the working conditions, people just saying, I'm not making a difference. I came into teaching to support kids and make a difference in what I wanted to make a dent in the world. I'm prevented from doing that because of the condition. So I might as well go elsewhere.

Abigail Hawkins  20:57  

Yeah, absolutely. I went into teaching for completely the wrong reason. I went into teaching because everybody told me I've been rubbish at it. 

Simon Currigan  21:03  

To prove everyone wrong?

Abigail Hawkins  21:08  

Plus the fact that they weren't taking anybody to the Antarctic that year. And I desperately wanted to go to the Antarctic as well. I did my science degree, went to go and do teacher training, was determined to prove everybody wrong and went into teaching, I didn't go in with that image of I'm going to change the world, I'm going to pass a little bit of me on to children. It was literally I need to make some money, but I fell into my roles. So I fell into my SenCo role. EAL coordinator, eventually Pupil Premium. And that came out. And I loved it, because I felt I was making a difference with those students I was working with as a teacher working with them. So of course, as a teacher working with them, you then get syphoned off into that SenCo role. And then they don't let you work with children anymore than that you work with paper. Instead, they'll take the children away from you. And they say, Oh, you need to be strategic. So you go and work with adults who let's face it are worse than children and pieces of paper that you have to shuffle and fill in sentences. Where you thinking what's going on here? It isn't. Pay, I was paid pretty well as a SenCo. Do we get the holidays? Do we heckers like, we work our holidays, I've worked every week of my holidays. So we worked really, really hard. It's not the pay, it's not the holidays, it is the working conditions. And that ability to make, I suppose to say a difference to feel valued for what we're doing as teachers as TAs, and to not have to try and balance 360 plates of jelly, you know which one am I going to let slip because I know I'm gonna have to let one of them slip today, because I can't manage all of them. 

Simon Currigan  22:35  

You care about your job, you don't want to see those plates fall. That's frustrating. So instead of just let's let's just complain about the situation in terms of what this means for people listening, school leaders and teachers. I guess this means we have to be more intentional than ever before about how we deploy our staff, what roles we give to them, how we plan interventions, and our the teaching assistants and the teachers we have got left are working with those individual kids. Is that right? 

Abigail Hawkins  23:00  

Yeah, absolutely. So the second kind of focus area for me, I suppose, is around intervention. What are we doing? And I alluded to a few minutes ago that I go into school, I'll look at their SEMH provision. And for those SEMH students its full of this diet of literacy and numeracy rather than the SEMH. We've got to go back to the drawing board, we've actually got to go back and go okay, what is the need that is presenting and this is code of practice stuff? What is the need that is presenting? How do I address that need? Not, what interventions have I got running that I can slot Simon into? What is Simon showing? Simon is showing me that he is dysregulated. But how do I support him with that dysregulation? What can I put in place, and I think, you know, that's gonna take time. But I think if we start doing that, we'll start to see a change, we'll start to see things trickle through. Because we're not going to change Simon's behaviour overnight, we can go in that we can put all of these things in place, but it won't happen overnight. Because Simon's got to want to be a part of it, Simon's got to want to change and you might not want to change at the moment, because he quite likes it. Once we get there, we'll start to see things trickle. And I think that is when will then start to see that classroom impact. And that then will support our teachers who are leaving because actually Simon's not shouting out at them whilst they're trying to deliver their five minute bit at the beginning of the lesson or whatever they're doing. 

We missed a massive opportunity at the end of COVID. Not that we're at the end of COVID. But when we had those COVID lock downs, and everybody shut the schools, we had a massive opportunity at that point to overhaul our education system and our exam system and our SEMH system as well as save time and we let it slip by and then we brought everybody back and we kind of expected everybody to do this and jump straight back into what we had previously. And what we're seeing is some kids who are like, No, I actually quite liked it working from home. It works for me and I was still learning. Why are we still not doing that for some of them? I get that it's difficult to have part of the class in the classroom and part of them at home. But if it was meeting their needs, can we not work this out somehow?

Simon Currigan  25:13  

And that's really important too actually because I can think of quite a large number of students that we work with that find the busy social environment are really tricky experience, they genuinely do get a high levels of anxiety in that environment, who were perfectly able to learn from home, get through the curriculum, and do what they needed to do without going into that threatening environment. And I think now there's great resistance still from a lot of them saying, Well, if it was good enough, two years ago, and I was getting the grade, and I was doing the work, why am I being dragged into this unpleasant social, you know, fight from their experience, fight or flight every day?

Abigail Hawkins  25:47  

Yeah, and I'm absolutely with them, I get very socially anxious when I'm with individuals, I deliver my teaching assistant programme online, I'm fine with it. Because I can be me, we're doing this now we're remote from each other. I'm okay, I can be me. If I was in a room with you, I'd actually be sort of quite rigid and quite scared and quite nervous and panicking a little bit. So why did we not at that time, let's overhaul GCSEs. Let's let's make changes to that so that it accommodates every child, let's make changes to the way we teach. The Australians, theyve had a fantastic system in place for what 60 odd years, the radio schools, those children in the outback who can't get into a physical building, it's worked for years, we know it works. And that's what I'm trying to say with that with our interventions. We have them, but we need time for them to work. And instead of just going, Oh, it's not working, scrap it, actually, we need to embed it. And we need to look for proper SEMH interventions and training for staff to be able to deliver that. And it isn't just about being trauma informed, or whatever the current phraseology is for it.

Simon Currigan  26:58  

Can I ask you a question here, because I find there's a tension between schools are looking for evidence based interventions. But also what we're saying is unless there's some personalization and relationship building with a child, they're unlikely to want to engage in it and that interventions and like to be effective, and we're going to have to kind of massage that intervention around their own interests. And so there's a tension there between once you start mucking around with it, it's no longer evidence based. But we need to do that. Where do you stand on that? That's what I'm saying. Maybe it's like a Gordian knot, and you can't ever quite untie it. 

Abigail Hawkins  27:29  

But evidence based to me does not mean that six university professors have glanced over it and gone Oh, yes, this is fantastic. And it's been published in the EF and all the rest of it evidence base, to me means I've done a baseline in my school, I've put something in place. And my evidence is it works for that child. That is evidence based, not it's a fantastic publication that's got millions of pounds sitting behind it. So I think you can have that human approach where you've trained somebody, you're doing something that is out of the box, it's blue sky, thinking that you have got your evidence that it works for that child or group of children.

Simon Currigan  28:10  

Another important point there, we need to assess the needs of the child in some way that's measurable, run the intervention, make sure the child is invested and wants that intervention to make their life better, and then perform some sort of measurement at the opposite end of the impact. And then we can track progress. And if it's not working, actually, we can look into it and say, Well, why isn't it working? Perhaps some other form of intervention is different rather than just being anecdotal and saying, I think they're in less trouble on Wednesdays on the play time when it's football on the playground and that kind of thing?

Abigail Hawkins  28:39  

Yeah, you know, we need the quantitative data as well as the qualitative data, if anybody is struggling with quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative as an N in it, which means it's got numbers. Qualitative as an L in it, which means literacy, we're writing about it, because I still struggle with those two words. But we need both of those bits of data. And it is possible to gather them, you know, we can use something like the SDQ to go and get some information about the SEMH is something called a Mel's profile, which is myself as a learner scale, you can use that you can use that soft data that you've just referred to. So we can look at, you know, behaviour incidents, are they reduced over a period of time, we can look at attendance, we can look at how many times I've been told off for not wearing uniform this term, or perhaps they are wearing uniform this term because they feel a bit more relaxed in it, whatever it is, that data is all important, and demonstrates an impact. 

The difference between that evidence based that I'm talking about and the evidence based that we find in something like the EF or the Brooks guide for for literacy interventions is that what we're doing isn't always research based. It's our gut instinct that we've read something on the monkey lie approach, and we're going to go and try some of those strategies and put them in place that child or we've done a bit of research on trauma informed schools, we've grabbed Louise Bomba, and read it from cover to cover and gone. This is brilliant. I'm gonna do X Y Zed, and you think that x and y work, but Zed doesn't, does our research basis for it, but there is no research base for what we're doing. And I think that's where people are getting a little bit confused. Does it have to be research based I'm using in my school, or does it have to be evidence based. And I say, for me, it's evidence based, if it's having that impact, I don't care what you're doing, if it's having the right impact for those students. 

I have an example. Actually, I used to have a year 10 class, and a student in there who couldn't read and I had tried everything with him over the years. So we've used every single literacy intervention you could possibly imagine from the online versions to the one to one to sitting down with him and going back to basics or whole word approach phonics, it didn't matter what I tried, I just could not get him to read. He hated books, and we had a flood in my classroom and the back of my cupboard had got wet, so I had to empty out my store cupboard. And I'd got some rather mouldy foisty smelling books at the back of that store cupboard, which I admit, I hadn't seen them. I've been in that room three years, I'd inherited the room. I pulled them out. And it was the old Wellington square reading scheme. And I pulled them out and I looked at them and it was smelly, and they were growing and I threw them in the bin. My student's came in for a lesson that afternoon, and we were doing an alternative curriculum. They wandered in and the young man Dominic walked past them and looked at them and what are they miss? Why are you...? because he knows I'm a hoarder. Why are you binning books? I went, Oh, because they're a bit mouldy, a bit smelly No, use now. It's quite an old scheme. And he went, can I have a look at them? I'm thinking you're about to pick up a book. Are you feeling okay? Your temperature? Yes, of course, you can. Picked it up, sat down, read from cover to cover on a book. Now. That's what I mean about evidence based, it worked for him. It was what he needed. It was what he wanted, he chose it as well. There was an investment from him. And I quite fancy reading this book, therefore, I am going to read this book. And it worked. So there's our interventions, that's what we need to be doing. We need to be finding what works for our students, putting it in place, but giving it time as well. 

Simon Currigan  32:13  

OK so in terms of the first two challenges we've got the first was around staffing and staff retention. The second was about finding the right intervention for the right pupil at the right time. Number three, I'm enjoying this, I'm finding this therapeutic. So what's number three? 

Abigail Hawkins  32:27  

Number three for me is identification. So as I said earlier, you know, we've got this very vague label for SEMH. And we have lots and lots of different people saying, this child just got a need, put them on your register, go and do something with them. Like, don't tell us what to do that just put them on there. I think it's early identification of needs. And it's crisis identification of needs, because I think both of them exist in parallel to each other. So early identification is identifying our students, as soon as they're starting to struggle with something crisis identification for me is those students where it comes out of the blue. So perhaps there's been a death in the family over the weekend. And we've got an issue that suddenly arises, or we've got a PTSD type thing where we weren't aware of anything having happened previously. But something is now triggered that PTSD that to me is crisis identification, and identifying when a student's in crisis, because actually, our interventions that we then put in place for both those groups are slightly different. Our student for the early identification, it's all about digging into where exactly are our strengths? Where are our barriers? what do we need to do? What's going to be the best thing to support them? and putting that holistic package in place. For our student with a crisis, I'm not bothered about gathering any data on it, I just need to deal with it. I need to go, like, Okay, you're distressed today, you're dysregulated. Let's go and do this. I haven't got time to do an assessment for it.

Simon Currigan  34:00  

And I think a lot of teachers listening to this will relate to that. They'll feel it because they're seeing children who are having crises in school. And sometimes you just got to jump to what they need. 

Abigail Hawkins  34:11  

I dont see any different to teaching. If I'm honest, your students walk into the classroom, and you make that judgement call. I started as a science teacher, so they walked into the classroom, and I would make that judgement call whether or not that practical lesson I had got planned for today was going to be successful. And sometimes if they came in completely off the ceiling, then there was no chance I was going to get the Bunsen burners out and start setting fire to sodium or whatever else had got in the classroom at the time. So I would adapt my lesson so maybe I would put a video on of it instead and try and get them calmed down if we adapt as we go along. And actually when our students walk in this isn't to do with our teaching, but when our students walk in and something has gone off, we can't just ignore it just like I couldn't have ignored those students who are just not ready to light a Bunsen burner. I can't ignore students who are coming in who are in crisis. I have got to adapt and change. I think the problem there is, and it gets back to, again, what I said earlier, everyone goes around the circle. I've got one teacher, and I've got 30 students, what am I doing with the other 29? While I'm dealing with the one two, or three who have got a crisis going on? Primary schools, do they have it easier? Probably not, because they're stuck with the same teacher all day. And that teacher then takes on some of that load. In a secondary school Is it any easier? No, not really, because they then go in between different teachers and that we might think that that fresh, broken move into somebody else can help and yes, it can for some students, but also for other students says, I'm starting afresh again. Because my crisis now restarts again, my issue, I've got to re explain it. 

I'll use the example I had a student once whose stepfather shot himself on the Saturday she came to school on a Monday morning and didn't tell anybody I only actually knew because her next door neighbour was friends with my husband's dog. Not my husband's dog. That sounds wrong. Friends of my husband, and theyve seen him while they were walking the dog. So we've got this kind of third party information about l Did you know such and such a shot himself and his girls in school on Monday morning, acting completely normal, didn't say anything to anybody at break time. Because my husband's messaged me, I go to find her and have this quick chat with her. And she went, Oh, yeah. He's in the hospital don't know what's happening. Are you okay? Do you want to come sit in my very nice office and changing but she didn't want to change. She wanted everything to go on as normal. And we have to respect that we cannot make assumptions about what our students want and need. And that's that relationship thing I can I've got that relationship with her, I could go to her and have that very genuine chat and go. Really sure you should be here today. But if you want to be here, that's fine. You know, where my office is come and find me. Knowing that we've got that relationship, she would come and find me. I've got other students, I would never have been able to do that with because I didn't have the relationship to go and do that with them. And that's just so tricky in schools, because it's not GDPR is not data protection is nothing to do with any of that. How much of it is their right to keep hold off themselves? And how much of it do we actually need to know in order to support them. So along with everything else we've talked about, we've got that very tricky kind of situation isn't a sticky situation. But going back to the third category of spaces, that identification, if we don't identify things correctly, we end up doing the wrong thing. 

Going back to early in my career, I had a student who had a very tentative diagnosis of autism, and I say tentative, because it actually hadn't been signed off by anybody. But she also had an eating disorder. She was very low cognitively. So she couldn't read, she struggled writing, she's in second grade. And we all kind of jumped on those labels that we knew that we understood. And we went down those routes. So we've got literacy intervention in place, she had early exit paths, so she didn't have to walk in the corridors with everybody else. We've got all of those things going on for her, which was fantastic. It was brilliant. We thought we were meeting her needs until one day she broke down. And it turns out, it had nothing to do with that it was actually a safeguarding issue, and there was something entirely different going on. And her response to it was to lock herself down to hug the walls as she walked around the building, because that was the safest place to be. It had nothing to do with these labels we had assumed but we were addressing those labels. Did we do her any harm? Probably not. Because she felt safe. She was opening up to us she was learning something. We're okay. But did we forget to explore what the actual reason was? Yes, because we made those assumptions.

Simon Currigan  38:56  

I find that really, really interesting because and often we see this in our going into lots of schools, the same behaviour can have many different causes. And it is important to dig down into what's driving the behaviour, because you can go down like a dead end street that lasts three years. And it's only three hours later that you realise, oh, actually, we need to track back and yeah, information is so important. Abigail, I have loved this conversation. I feel like we're just getting started. If you're a SenCo or a school leader or a teacher or even a parent actually listening to this podcast, the what's the first step you can take today to make sure that you're getting your SEMH provision in your school, right.

Abigail Hawkins  39:36  

I think there's five things that like prioritise professional development of everybody in your school, from the school receptionists through to the head teacher, via your teaching assistants, your lunchtime supervisors and your teachers. That's got to be there, not just because it then allows you to provide something better for your students, but also because it can help to also psychological to help to contain that staff as well, because they then have an understanding of what is going on and what they can actually do about it. What is in their power to do it to prioritise professional development. The second one is look at collaboration and that holistic support. So it's not about one off little things. It's about the bigger picture. So instead of us doing something for Simon's dysregulation, what can we do that would support all students in that classroom that become dysregulated? And that might be an environmental change, it could be taking down those very bright primary colour displays. I'm talking through gritted teeth, and those dangling murals on the ceiling that drive me insane. Take them down, it might actually help him to focus. So what can we do that supports more than just the individual? What's the holistic approach we can take? Because actually, your staff will then feel I'm not having to do it. For one, I'm doing it for lots and I'm benefiting lots of people, and you'll see a much calmer score. My third one is look at your resources. What's available? Where's your Wellington square? Is it hiding in your cupboard? What can you use to support your students? And yes, this is all about relationships. So it can also be about who can you use, I have used my school caretaker before, because they had the best relationship with a particular student to keep them out of trouble at Breaktime, they couldn't survive unstructured times without getting into trouble. My school caretaker gave him the litter picker and would go around with him at break time and go and do the litter picking any stayed out of trouble every single time. But if you're not aware of that, and you're not aware of those things. Use technology. So I'm a massive fan of assistive technology. I do love my assistive technology. So whether that's speech, text, text to speech, whether it's a talking turn, whether it's, you know, whatever it is that supports our students. And by that I'm not, you know, that it sounds like it's a cognition and learning type solution. It can also be an outlet for a student who doesn't want to talk to a human to give them a laptop to go and do kind of similar to what we're doing, but to go and record how they're feeling. So they've not got to sit with you face to face. But you can then watch that recording later. And then maybe you do a recording to give back to them so that it takes away some of that pressure of have I got to give them eye contact? Or how have I got to behave while I'm with them? How can we use technology to support our students? But it also goes to, if that student can't come into your school? What can we do to take the school to them? So can we put teams meetings back on again, can we use things like kit or the other robots called that sit in the classroom that actually allows students to access that classroom environment without physically being there. And then the fifth thing for me is adapt. We cannot take a very blinkered approach, it has to be flexible, we've got to have more than one playing card hiding up our sleeve, I suppose. So that when that one doesn't work, rip out the next one and try something else. And you've got to be prepared to do that. I've seen far too many times, teachers, usually senior leaders to be fair, who get themselves backed into a corner, where they've only got one strategy to deal with something. And the students not responding to that strategy. So their instant responses, they start raising their voice, they start making threats, I'm gonna put you in detention, I'm going to exclude you, I'm going to do XYZ, that's not going to work. What are your strategies? What are your backup strategies, be prepared to adapt, and also be prepared to be the adult, be prepared to go I'm wrong? I'm ever so sorry. Let's both walk away from this for five minutes. And we'll come back and have a more mature conversation.

Simon Currigan  44:01  

Yeah, how can our listeners find out more about your resources?

Abigail Hawkins  44:04  

My resources are over on the website. But you can also join our Facebook group, if you are a SENCO, or Sen professional, which is over on Facebook, just go and look for Sensible SenCo. And you will find lots of support over there. We're also this You're the first one to find out about this as a public announcement. We're also just about to launch our Sensible Senco conference, the first one we've actually done, which is in February next year, and tickets will be going on sale soon. 

Simon Currigan  44:33  

Very exciting. And I'll put direct links to all of those in the show notes. And we go we ask this of all our guests who is the key figure thats influenced you or what is the key book that you've read, that's had the biggest impact on your approach to working with kids?

Abigail Hawkins  44:49  

Now you did warn me you were going to ask this. I sat there that I can't answer it. I really can't because it isn't a single individual. As I say I'm doing my psychology Master's conversion. The moment I love psychology, so a bit of Piaget in there, the divine got speakers, comfort zones, and things like comfort zones really fascinate me, and Bronfenbrenner, they all really resonate with me about supporting our students. But actually, I think my biggest influence is the real world. It's not a book, it's not a person. It's that real world, taking it from all theoretical stuff that people spout and light about, into actually, that ain't gonna work in my classroom, because you ain't got my mix of kids. That just real world experience, and what happens and all of those things that come along to try us, and how we actually come out of the other side of it, having learned something. And I do believe that every day is a learning experience, you might feel you've learned something, but every day you experience something that reinforces your knowledge and your understanding. And actually, when that thing happens again, or something else comes along, you can apply that knowledge. So live your life and take your experiences from it, because the real world is where it all comes from.

Simon Currigan  46:10  

I think I'll take that. I've really, really enjoyed that interview. Thank you for sharing your time and your expertise with us today.

Abigail Hawkins  46:17  

Thank you very much.

Emma Shackleton  46:18  

Wow, Abigail certainly doesn't pull any punches. 

Simon Currigan  46:22  

I know. 

Emma Shackleton  46:23  

But that's good, isn't it, it's really important to be honest about the difficulties that schools are having on the ground, meeting the increasing needs of their kids. And of course, she had some great tips and strategies there for how to meet those needs at a school wide level.

Simon Currigan  46:40  

And if you want to hear more from Abigail, I'll put direct links to her website, the Sensible SenCo in the episode description and her social media. So you can open up your podcast app and tap directly through 

Emma Shackleton  46:51  

And while you've got your podcast open, remember to hit the share button to spread the love and let your friends and colleagues know about the podcast so that they too can access these important information and get their hands on all of the strategies and ideas too. That's all we've got time for today. Thank you for listening, and we can't wait to see you next week on School Behaviour Secrets

Simon Currigan  47:14  


Emma Shackleton  47:14  


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