Joanne Gray is the headteacher at Battle Primary Academy in Reading, part of the National Education Trust Academies Trust (NETAT). She has 15 years’ experience in advisory work and school leadership across a range of educational settings, both in the UK and internationally. Joanne is dedicated to ensuring that every child is able to succeed, regardless of their personal circumstances, through high-quality programmes of personalised learning and an approach that places the child at the centre of every aspect of school.
I have been involved in school leadership since 2007, working mostly with inner-city schools in challenging contexts. Now based in Reading, I work at a school with many children who are experiencing difficult home lives and various types and degrees of deprivation – financial, social, familial, cultural, and so on.
It is my opinion that the current education system is not fit for purpose. Children are coming to school stressed, under-nourished, carrying complex burdens from home, and little is being done to help them once they cross the school gate. All too often, these are seen as troubles which exist outside of school, within the child’s family or community, and so, not the place of the school to play a part in tackling these issues. However, to me, it is inconceivable that a child would be able to detach themselves from troubles they are facing outside of school the moment they enter the classroom, and all of a sudden become a fully engaged and content pupil.
Stresses from home will inevitably seep into school life and inhibit a child’s ability to learn, interact with their peers, and achieve their full potential. We see this all the time at the schools I have worked with, where children who are dealing with all manner of strains and stresses outside of school come into the classroom like bubbling saucepans, just waiting to be tipped over the edge. Carrying so much stress and dealing with such complex issues, and all at such a tender age, means it is only a matter of time before things start to spill over for these children and cause trouble for the child, their peers and teachers. Often, the result of this will be punishment for the child, truancy and even expulsion, putting them even further behind their peers.
Therefore, I believe that social care and attention to children’s wellbeing must come before education, as the latter simply cannot be achieved without the former. School staff need to be trained to look out for the individual and varying needs of each child, and to identify when specific interventions – such as social care, counselling, language therapy and so on – need to be made. But of course, this is only the first step. It is then imperative that schools have the resources to provide this support, through a team of mental health professionals, care workers, therapists and advocates who work in, or at least closely with, the school and its community.
In my view, the best way to break down barriers to learning is to put the impetus on schools to help children and their families to tackle issues which are preventing them from reaching their academic, social and personal potential. By raising awareness of the ways in which deprivation, mental health issues, and a troubled home or family life can affect a child’s ability to commit to their education, and ensuring schools are able to offer support for these issues within an educational environment, we can have a real impact on social inclusion and make education accessible to all our children.
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