Review by Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

Deputy head, Robson House, Camden

11 Nov 2023, 5:00

Blog

The Conversation – with Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

Anti-bullying week

This week, I led assembly for the first time since joining my new school. It reminded me of Francis Akinde’s entry for this column just before half term on October’s surfeit of awareness days. Over the coming days, we will be thinking about bonfire night, Remembrance Day, anti-bullying week and Children in Need. October may be over, but the awareness calendar is still full!

Anti-bullying week is particularly close to my heart, as a teacher and as someone who spent several years carrying out research in the area. For others who may not see its importance so readily, this resource could make a useful addition to the staffroom display board or briefing slides.

These are sobering statistics. We all know that bullying is unpleasant to experience, but its long-term impact is no less frightening. For example, adults who experienced bullying as children are more likely to experience mental health difficulties. There’s enough here to arm any inured colleague with a renewed determination to notice bullying and work to reduce it every day.

Language matters

Oasis Restore is a project by the group that created the Oasis Community Learning Multi-Academy Trust, working in partnership with the Ministry of Justice to create the country’s first secure school for young people in custody. The latest blog by Oasis Restore’s SENDCO, Danielle Dunlop reflects on the impact of serving children who have often been under-served.

Learners in such settings need a reflective, restorative approach, and Dunlop’s commentary on the use of language when working to support children who display ‘behaviours that challenge’ shows a clear focus on understanding the reasons behind these behaviours in order to equip young people with the tools to manage themselves. In what is a short post, Dunlop also manages to acknowledge and address the needs of those who work with these children too. The value of psychological safety for all is clear.

Disbelief of suspension

While we’re reflecting on the needs of children outside of mainstream, it makes sense to dwell on those of children who are still within it. This X thread by Aaron King, director of SEND consultancy, 9,000 Lives highlights some distressing patterns in relation to suspensions. These include a large increase in suspensions between years 6 and 7 and patterns indicative of positive correlations between suspension and SEND, ethnicity and eligibility for free school meals.

King makes a point I have emphasised myself more times than I care to remember: if sanctions like suspensions worked as deterrents, there wouldn’t be many in year 11. And yet, the charts show nearly as many in year 11 as in year 8.

Encouragingly, there may be a shift in teachers’ willingness to accept such systems, with reports this week that teachers are preparing to strike in opposition to new rules brought in by their school’s leadership, ostensibly to support students and teachers. The policies, relating to student behaviour and monitoring of teachers’ performance, are described as ‘draconian’ as well as ‘damaging’.

Time to care

In stark contrast, Keven Bartle’s post about the need for reflective supervision speaks to my values. I feel the impact of a truly supportive supervisory relationship, and I remember the times it was absent when I needed it.

For leaders to prioritise the wellbeing of their staff team, we must be able to identify what wellbeing means for us. Appraisal and therapy have their places and fill important roles, but effective reflective supervision brings something additional and different to the table.

More than that, we must make the time for it, and Helen Tarokh’s article describing the problems being busy can cause for those around us – something I am sure we are all guilty of at times – is a reminder to zoom out, see the bigger picture and understand the experiences of those who are in the classroom. She touches on professional vulnerability, and the value she places on coaching chimes with Bartle’s thinking on supervision.

Whatever model is most appropriate for settings or individuals, school leaders need to be confident that they can locate their own oxygen masks so that they can support their staff and create environments where they, in turn, can support our learners.

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