Dr Lynne Guyton’s Blog

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The Link Between Emotional Wellbeing and Behaviour in Schools

December 2018

No child should have to face the social isolation so often caused by a lack of provision for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), or by pupil exclusion from schools. There have been many stories in the media in recent weeks about the number of children with SEND needs rising, an increase in pupil exclusions and the importance of focusing more on children’s mental health. The three are directly related and more time should be devoted to looking at the whole picture, rather than compartmentalising the issues.

Growing up is rarely a smooth journey and often becomes more difficult when children are faced with the challenges of an unstable home life, bullying and the weight of expectation in the face of learning difficulties.

All these can hinder a child’s ability to access and engage with educational opportunities to help them reach their potential. A stable home life contributes significantly to a child’s successful emotional and psychological development. Disruptive and negative behaviours at school can often be rooted in challenges experienced at home, or not be recognised as developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD.

Pressure on schools and other organisations to find creative ways to cost-effectively compensate for the lack of SEND or mental health services is increasingly prevalent. John Lyon’s Charity supports a variety of organisations and projects that provide parenting skills training, practical advice and support services to families both in and outside the home before they reach crisis point. These used to be ‘value added’ services within our Beneficial Area comprising nine boroughs in North and West London, but the last eight years have seen an increase in grant requests, as government spending has reduced. Rising thresholds for statutory services have seen John Lyon’s Charity’s Emotional Wellbeing expenditure alone increase almost nine times in as many years (£900,000 in 2017/18).

A rise in the number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities is putting pressure on schools, prompting concerns that children are missing out on classroom support and leaving mainstream settings. The most recent school census data shows the number of children with special educational needs and disabilities rose by 15,470 in the year to January 2017 to a total of 1.24m.

What is not just worrying, but terrifying is that every day in our work we see the effects of this rise; if you have a child with a SEND or a behavioural problem, they are more likely to require some type of emotional support, or counselling, but are less likely to receive it than ever before due to increased demands on local government funds. They are far more likely to be excluded from school, causing more distress to the child, putting them in a vicious circle that becomes hard to break.

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB), the National Education Union (NEU), Coram and the Child Poverty Action Group, among others, have urged Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond in an open letter to “put children and young people at the heart of government spending”. The letter quotes NHS figures that suggest less than a third of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health problem will get access to NHS-funded treatment this year. It also points to problems within schools, citing government data that shows the number of children with SEND who are waiting for provision has more than doubled since 2010.

Added to the anxiety around special educational needs and disabilities, a report published last week by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that permanent exclusions in England have gone up by 40 percent in the last three years. There were 6,685 last year, but the report said this was “just the tip of the iceberg”, as children are increasingly being removed informally from schools so they do not feature in official statistics. I must pause at this point, to consider how unbelievable this is: children are being excluded from schools off the record, so they don’t ruin a school’s statistics.  How have we got to this point?

A total of 48,000 children were educated outside mainstream last year in what is known as alternative provision (AP). It is worth pointing out, that while at results time each August, the media focus on those getting the top grades and ‘result inflation’, only 1 percent of excluded children, get the five good GCSEs needed to access post-16 training and apprenticeships.

A BBC Report just published says more than 200 pupils spent at least five straight days in isolation booths in schools in England last year and claims more than 5,000 children with special educational needs also attended isolation rooms at some stage. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, says school isolation can be “distressing and degrading” and she is concerned it is being used “as a gateway to excluding and off-rolling”, where pupils are removed from a school’s register. Once children are off the register and in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), the regulation, reporting and accountability falls away.  Our own experience as a leading grant giver to children and young people in North and West London is that, once pupils are in a PRU, they can become an easy target for gangs wanting to exploit vulnerable children. The vicious circle and spiral of decline is then much harder to end.

There are many charities like us across the UK that will continue to support children and young people’s mental health and support children with SEND.  However, the ‘thread’ of connection between SEND, school exclusion and the need for support and counselling is missing at a policy-making level.  Government needs to make the link and understand that the cuts in services during austerity has led to a host of problems that schools are now expected to solve. Additional funds are required to deal with issues highlighted here, but – more importantly – a comprehensive review of and a clear policy on how intervention and support in the early years of a child’s life make a remarkable difference to their ability to achieve and also be a much more cost-effective approach to mental health and good behaviour for the long term.

Why we need a Minister for Young People

November 2018

Last week Amber Rudd condemned the UN inquiry into poverty in the UK.   While the language of the report is indeed both political and critical of the Government’s approach to austerity there is no denying that around 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty.  Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7 percentage points between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%. It feels like Groundhog Day: another day, another report on child poverty and the alarming decline of funding in children and youth services in the UK.  More news stories about another stabbing of a young person in London, the 119th this year. These stories are related.  As the leading North and West London Charity funding this sector for the past 30 years, our first-hand experience shows us that the need for a Minister for Young People; a voice for this group, has never been greater.

The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on youth affairs recently reported that as a result of major financial cuts to services over the past decade, universal youth work has disappeared in some areas, with funding being diverted to short-term and targeted provision. Increasingly high thresholds for support were also leaving young people behind, it said.  Fully, between 2009/10 and 2016/17 spending on youth services fell by 62.3 per cent (without accounting for inflation) – from £1.028bn to £0.388bn. The impact has seen the loss of 3,500 jobs, more than 600 youth centres and 130,000 places for young people.

Just think about that: a 62.3% reduction in spending on youth services over the past 8 years.  If you go onto the Department of Education’s ‘Youth Service’ page, the last time anything was published on Youth Priorities was in 2013.  It feels as though it has been left behind as a sector and no Minister is solely responsible for this.

Just three months ago, we were hopeful as the DCMS launched its Civil Society Statement: ‘The Government recognises that despite the pressures on public sector finances, new thinking has emerged supporting innovation, new partnerships and collaboration, spanning public, private and civil society partners.  One model is local Young People’s Foundations, where imaginative local trusts, such as John Lyon’s Charity, local government, business and the independent youth sector, have come together to develop new partnerships and services for young people.’ Civil Society Strategy: building a future that works for everyone, DCMS 2018.

The DCMS set out their proposals for how they should interact with the wider charitable sector though a tried and tested model used in seven London boroughs by John Lyon’s Charity. However, roll forward three months and the one DCMS Minister – Tracey Crouch – who showed real interest in young people and youth services resigned last week, over the delay in the reduction in fixed one-time bets; something which has an enormous impact on the lives of young people and their families.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (and Loneliness, Charities, and the National Lottery) is already a hotchpotch of bits of other departments that don’t fit in anywhere.  Its brief is to “drive growth, enrich lives and promote Britain abroad.  It is also to protect and promote our cultural and artistic heritage and help businesses and communities to grow by investing in innovation and highlighting Britain as a fantastic place to visit. We help to give the UK a unique advantage on the global stage, striving for economic success.”  Mmm, this is all very well, but what does this have to do with youth services or promoting early intervention work on knife-crime or supporting youth clubs?  Apparently the DCMS is also supposed to cover Youth Policy, but given its vast brief, it is doubtful that the new Minister, Mims Davies, will have the necessary time to devote to the youth sector.  This will be the seventh minister with responsibility for youth policy since 2010.

Young people’s views matter more than ever and need to be heard across government.  Currently, no one in government is championing their cause or need.  As a part of the Civil Society Statement, the Government was committed to undertake a review of statutory guidance that requires local authorities to provide youth services.  However, this is now called into question given the change of Minister with an ever growing brief.

Our long experience of working with young people in London means we understand what good youth work looks like and the beneficial impact this can have on young people’s lives. Our current 500+ live grants show that what previously used to be considered ‘core’ in state provision has shrunk rapidly and our funds are in demand for far more than just value-added services.  We fund a range of activities from youth clubs to supplementary schools, from in-school counselling to apprenticeships – all charities that work with and for children and young people in North and West London.

We grant by focussing on the positive through directing our efforts on providing opportunities for young peopleIt is the potential to learn, grow and become that drives our grant giving.  We see the benefits of investing in a youth club as a safe space to hang out with supervised youth workers; we see the results of supporting boxing clubs that channel aggression into something positive; we see the impact of participating in front line counselling in London’s major trauma centres.  It is not circumstantial evidence or coincidence that we see a reduction in crime in certain estates where we have invested in youth charities.

What we and other young people’s charities have is the ability to show what works effectively and where resources are needed.  But we cannot do it alone and need a Minister for Young People to work with us to ensure that the young people of today have a future for tomorrow.