THE number of children being permanently excluded from school rose to almost 6,000 last year.
And in Sheffield, the story is much the same, according to one expert.
Ruth Adams, 59, from Aston, has been specialising in helping teachers and parents deal with problematic teenagers and children for more than ten years.
But in spite of the rise in the number of children with behavioural problems, Ruth believes this isn’t a problem. “It’s really just a case of understanding why the children are behaving the way they do - for many children, behaviour is a substitute for words.”
Based on this belief, Ruth travels all over South Yorkshire and throughout the UK to help teachers, parents and carers about why teenagers and children behave the way they do. And it’s a lot more complicated than you think, as Ruth explains.
“Children who have had abuse very young are affected by it very deeply later in life. People say ‘they were babies so they won’t remember’ but babies are born with only 15 per cent of their brains formed, the remaining 85 per cent is formed in the subsequent two years so any abuse becomes hard-wired into those neural pathways, and hard to fix in later life.”
According to Ruth, when a child has behavioural problems, it is often because of an earlier traumatic event in life. “This can be anything. We know with children in care they are there because of awful circumstances, but there’s no reason why a middle class child isn’t also facing difficulties, it’s just not as visible. I wouldn’t want to lay blame on anybody - I’m not laying blame on parents but there is usually a reason for a child’s behaviour.”
“But what I see in schools is that some teachers are triggering bad behaviour because these children need a different approach to behaviour management. Teachers get stressed with children and then that causes the children to get stressed so there are all these stress levels.”
Ruth believes that the best way to deal with children with behavioural problems is by being understanding and positive. “A lot of these children have dealt with such horrendous circumstances - like sleeping in a urine-soaked bed or no food - so taking their Ipod off them isn’t going to make any difference. They’ve dealt with much much worse - a uniform strategy doesn’t work.”
One of Ruth’s strategies to assess children’s different personality types.
“It’s really interesting, we live in a culture that embraces diversity - whether age, race or gender - yet we don’t acknowledge different personality types.”
Ruth, through her company In Your Element has run numerous projects in school across the country about different personality types.
“I divide personality types into earth, wind, fire and water - what better words to help us understand the essential make-up of our own personalities than the building blocks of the universe?”
Ruth describes ‘fire’ personalities as those who are direct, like to control, want to improve things and make changes. ‘Water’ types carry a greater burden than people think but like harmony and aim to fulfil people’s needs - in the same way a river reaches both banks. ‘Wind’ personalities are fleeting, creative, airy - good at starting things but not so good at finishing things and ‘Earth’ personalities have hidden depths.
“I run these courses to try and help people, the number of children with behavioural difficulties is growing yet no-one is trained to understand that behaviour.
Ruth - a mother of three birth children and two foster children - would know. For more than a decade she has been fostering two girls she refers to as her forever daughters. “They were both deemed as unadoptable because of their past but we learnt to understand them.”
With many children and teenagers with behavioural difficulties it’s about filling in the gaps.
“Many of these children didn’t have a childhood so in many ways you have to treat them like babies and fill in the gaps because they didn’t get the love they needed as babies. If babies don’t get that person-to-person contact it can be detrimental. Sitting a child in from of the TV all day can do great damage - it’s better that babies are interacting with people.”
Last year there were 5,740 permanent exclusions of children in mainstream primary and secondary school across the UK. Many permanently-excluded children complete their education in behavioural specialist schools such as Pupil Referral Units or EBSD (Emotional Behavioural Difficulty) Schools. The number of children being excluded permanently started to rise sharply in 2010, when nationally the number of young people classified as having behavioural problems was 150,000 - a 25 per cent increase in four years.
And it’s for this reason why Ruth believes we should embrace new approaches, assess the individual personality types of the children instead of applying a uniform behavioural management model.
“It’s fascinating,” she says. “And it’s so important if we want to understand children.”