Every day in my job I encounter funny, resilient, caring, talented, articulate, inspirational young people. They give me hope for the society my own children will share with them. These are not the elite. These pupils are the ‘naughty’ ones, the behaviour ‘problems’, the disruptive, should-know-better, need-teaching-a-lesson ones.
Young people in schools who display ‘behavioural difficulties’ are trying to solve a problem, not be one. One type of problem can be dealing with trauma, loss and anxiety. An adult in the same degree of distress would be signed off from work. Yet they arrive daily at school and attempt to learn. They can’t show us their emotional injuries in the way they could physical ones – so acting out is a way of trying to demonstrate how broken they are.
Other causes of difficulties for this group include clinical conditions, in particular autism and social communication issues. Speech, language and communication difficulties are also becoming increasingly prevalent. Both conditions represent significant disabilities because they deprive people of the ability to respond effectively to the world around. Most of us, faced with the frustration of being intelligent but placed on such an uneven playing field, would either withdraw completely or make our feelings pretty clear in other ways! Facing these barriers in school is like being dropped into a foreign country and expected to interact perfectly in the local language.
We all learn best from our mistakes, and so the wider community has a critical role in helping them to learn, grow and move on to successful adult lives. With tolerance, patience and a little bit of looking behind the behaviour we can allow them to rehearse the skills they need to become the citizens we want them to.
None of us would like to be judged by our behaviour on our worst day. Let’s not to do it to our most vulnerable young people.