As a practising clinical psychologist and experienced teacher I have become increasingly concerned about the levels of stress I am observing amongst my education colleagues in schools. This last half term it seems that staff are more stressed than ever before and we are just at the beginning of the school year.
Teachers are by and large an extremely conscientious and hardworking bunch. My concern is that the expectations of what class teachers and senior leaders should be able to achieve have grown and grown and grown, to beyond what is reasonable and healthy. The resulting imbalance between the demands of the role in hand and the capacities or resources that the class teachers and senior leaders available to them is seriously out of balance for too many.
Symptoms of stress arise when there is an imbalance between demands and resources: As anyone who starts to study the content covered in the Level 1 I Matter Courses, will quickly come to appreciate, it is quite clear that excessive imbalance between demands and resources can lead to predictable physiological and psychological impact on children and on adults. One of the most important of these is that stressed adults and children all tend to become more reactive, and impatient and intolerant. This is of particular concern when those same stressed adults are interacting with highly reactive and stressed children and parents.
There is some amazing practice in our schools with committed staff seeking to offer every child an opportunity for an education. Learning I Matter principles can really help a lot. However, there comes a point with too much top down pressure to deliver results that are out of line with what these same professionals, children and parents can realistically manage, then what I have seen is that the child can become the barrier to the teacher and school delivering the required results.
The personal and professional impact of excessive demands In this content, the sheer level of stress I observe that is being experienced by too many schools in connection with the Ofsted process is an indicator of something that is seriously out of touch with the reality and needs of what is actually happening. I am appalled when I get to hear about yet another experienced head teacher or class teacher reaching total breaking point, but in the last months I have been hearing these stories more and more often. I think this is a result of an unfair and unreasonable amount of pressure on adults who deserve our support.
Not only are some personal tragedies involved for highly committed individuals, but this relentless pressure on already committed adults has in my view very serious potential impact for our most vulnerable young people. What these young people need more than anything is time to develop within the context of supportive emotionally attuned relationships with adults who are not overwhelmed. Learning to relate to other people takes time and is very difficult to learn if the task demands are developmentally insensitive and the people being interacted with are pushed to breaking point.
My greater concern is that these issues played out in the classroom with our young people have really long-term significant impact. When children who have significant delays in their social-emotional development are not given time to learn these skills because the curriculum is insensitive to the need, and when the teachers are being pushed and pushed to deliver literacy and numeracy results regardless of their pupils capacity and readiness for such formalised adult led learning, the result is not neutral. The consequence of such a mismatch will inevitably be felt in too many stressed and disengaged young people who are difficult to teach, and genuinely do not understand themselves or other people, having little or any motivation to learn.
Symptoms of stress and the issue of diagnosis The symptoms of stress are observable in quite specific patterns of brain functioning characterised by much more immature long lasting functioning. The symptoms are those that commonly come to be described with psychiatric labels: anxiety, depression, ADHD, ASD, ODD. The labels do not adequately highlight what is really happening but it is serious because these same difficulties mean that that the given young person is likely to be much less employable and much more likely to have difficulties in their own adult relationships.
I believe that this dynamic is a vital player in the rising concerns about child mental health, challenging behaviour, and crime statistics. Importantly these dynamics cannot be addressed through more and more pressure to deliver unrealistic educational results.
What's the alternative? What is needed in my view is a collective step back and a reconsideration of what we are observing. What is needed is policies and practices that give much better appreciation of child development and the adult role in the developing brain. It needs us to wake up to the extent of the real difficulties experienced by so many children in our schools in their social-emotional development and to think hard about what really needs to happen.
We as adults need to make some changes.
This project wants to campaign on these issues so if you have ideas about how this could be achieved please contact us or join a course click here
Copyright CBetoin2015 All Rights Reserved.
First Annual Conference: How Can We Really Work Together to Improve Mental Health and Educational Outcomes? Prioritising Parent Understanding and Competence
The seeds of this conference started a long time ago from a sense of confusion and overwhelm experienced in response to the ever rising tide of need I have seen in day to day practice in health and education settings over my career of the last 20 years. How do you turn frustration into something constructive, how do you turn this sense of overwhelm and hopelessness into something that feels worth doing?
The final trigger for this particular conference taking shape was a sense of exasperation about the NHS Future in Mind and 'transformation' process. Then the exasperation became an idea. So why not run a conference sharing what my colleagues and I really think? And we did it! The I Matter Project in partnership with the Centre for Adoption Support (CFAS) ran a half day conference in Lancaster on the 8th October 2015. It took us 2 1/2 weeks from idea to reality with lots of really good conversations, and a final diverse turn out of colleagues from education and health from both North Lancs and South Lakes for the event itself.
I felt we were on track when just prior to the conference when I was sent a list by a local teacher describing the Y5/Y6 pupils in her local lancashire apparently privileged school. Of 34 pupils only 6 had uncomplicated home circumstances. The rest were facing a catalogue of challenges in their home lives involving child protection investigations, parent alcohol, and drug abuse, complex divorce cases.
I guess this confirmed in black and white my concern about the scale of the challenges that I have been observing in day to day practice. The professional and personal challenge is how to respond. It is easy to grumble about what is not happening, and much more challenging to work out how to do something positive. This conference therefore set out to offer a critique of the current rhetoric on outcomes and evidence based practice in services to children and families with a view to offering a small glimpse of what a future 'really evidence based vision' might be. My belief is that we are failing to see the wood for the trees. The scale of the unmet need for children and families is in my view enormous but the biggest contributing factor in poor mental health and educational outcomes is not poor services per se but a collective failure to recognise the critical importance of child development, brain development and the adult role.
I believe that the only way to really shift this is to give these issues much more value in the fabric of how we make policy and practice decisions. And for this a clear educational approach is needed and a clear strategy.
Somehow if we are serious about helping children, we have to get to grips with the important role of the adult. We need to start to develop strong shared understandings and we need to think strategically
This first annual conference was a satisfying start. Click here for one of the Conference Handouts. If you are interested in working with others to tackle these issues, please get in touch!
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Dr Cathy Betoin
Dr Cathy Betoin
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