"A child's perspective of the world is different from yours, try to understand a child's perspective before you expect them to master yours." unknown
A quote that couldn’t ring more true to my core ethos and values when it comes to children, and more specifically education and nurturing a child’s development.
I have spent more than 20 years of my life supporting and educating children. During these years I have found myself interested and enthusiastic about working with children with behavioral difficulties, or as I like to call it misunderstood. It wasn’t until studying for my Bachelor of Education that I recognized my passion for working with children with special needs. At that time children with autism specifically.
My interest and passion grew as I spent more time in different settings with children that I felt a connection with. By considering and understanding their perspectives, I was able to build trust and strengthen our relationship. I worked across many nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools. This allowed me to observe the effect of education on children through an array of ages.
I hold an Early Childhood Education Diploma, Bachelor of Child Studies and my Bachelor of Education. Naturally, these qualifications sent me on a path of teaching. I specialized in early years when I started my career, but was drawn to the children with Special Educational Needs (SEN).
I was given an incredible opportunity to see some of my ideas of how to educate children with autism come to life in London. There was an educational campus in central London which included a Mainstream Primary School, Pupil Referral Unit, Adult learning Centre and a Centre for Autism. This school was in a very underprivileged area and was deemed ‘requires improvement’ by the government scheme: Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (OFSTED). There are four gradings in this scheme; inadequate, requires improvement, good and outstanding. This center was in extreme need of appropriate leadership. The executive headteacher at the time had confidence in my passion to improve this center and develop a new and meaningful educational program. In my first two years at the school, OFSTED's assessment improved to a 'Good' rating and in the following year was graded 'Good with Outstanding features'. During this time I learned how the school systems approached education and even more so; education with SEN pupils, which was coming across with many failures. Children were often misunderstood and were nowhere near meeting their full potential. This became a project that I felt deeply passionate to get right by helping not only the children who attended the school but also their families.
In my third year at the school I was funded by the British Council to travel to 6 countries in Europe to observe their SEN schools – including both Finland and Sweden who are well known for their education systems. This was an incredibly valuable and enjoyable experience. I also hosted all 6 countries, 32 professionals, to the center in London.
I worked closely with the Local Authority and sat on many government panels to support children and families with their journey through the educational systems and making changes to long term planning. I ruffled many feathers and ensured that the voices of those who used to be voiceless were heard. I fought and fought to get children what they needed and deserved from their education and social care. I made many waves in the system, so much so that word got around to The Economist magazine which led them to interview me for their autism cover story.
My next endeavor was to work with and fight for children who didn’t quite fit the special needs school cohort but were struggling in the mainstream setting. Children who were struggling with anxiety, social skills, behavior and consistently being misunderstood. The more I immersed myself in this cohort of children, the more I realized how these children were the ‘forgotten children’. Many of these children didn’t have a fighting chance to reach their fullest potential. They were also at risk to an array of mental health issues. Challenge taken! I lead a team in opening a school specifically for this cohort of children and managed it for 3 years. After the first year, the school was deemed 'Outstanding' by OFSTED; only 3% of independent SEN schools in the country achieve this rating. Our teaching methods and values around how to teach these children attracted those well known in the field of SEN such as Prof. Simon Baron Cohen. New challenges arose around getting the government to understand the importance of the declining rates of mental health in children and the vulnerability as teenagers and adults that that caused.
I have always had the view that behavior is communication. Children don’t want to be ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ but are continuously using behavior to express their anxieties. Anxiety seems to be the one consistent trait through many of our children. An epidemic in children in general – and something that I have had huge success in supporting and changing the trajectory of these children’s lives. There are many children out there with these challenges in life and I feel that us, as the adults in their world and educational establishments have the responsibility of supporting them to enjoy the one childhood they have. Something that has become very apparent is that happy children learn and children shouldn't be carrying so much anxiety in their daily lives. Reduce the anxiety, give children their happiness back and the education flows and genuine potential is seen.
We have a responsibility as adults to protect, educate and take care of the children in this world. Not only those with Special Educational Needs, but all of them. Children carry too many adult problems and this needs to change.
Mental health in children is at a crisis and my journey will be to ensure that they are heard, helped and loved.