Nicola Marshall on the importance of investing in our most vulnerable children

Nicola Marshall, director at BraveHeart Education, discusses the importance of investing in our most vulnerable children

Social mobility seems to have become a buzzword in education, but if we don’t provide our most vulnerable children with the support that they need – and deserve – it will never be realised. Here Nicola Marshall, director at BraveHeart Education, discusses the importance of investing in our most vulnerable children

For many of our vulnerable children and young people school can be a place of much anxiety. When children have experienced early trauma, or been in difficult home environments, their brains have not developed as they should and they’re wired for survival. The ‘cookie cutter’ approach to education only accentuates the emotional gap between those who have had stable foundations and those who haven’t.

In the classroom the behaviours of vulnerable children and young people can take up a lot of time and energy for the teacher, other staff and senior leaders. Understanding that behaviour communicates a need is vital they are not ‘naughty’ children trying to manipulate and control – they’re frightened children striving to survive. This makes for a very reactive environment whereas what they need is a proactive, calm and safe space in which to settle and to learn.

Pupil Premium Plus (PPP)

There are streams of funding available for some vulnerable children. The Pupil Premium Plus (PPP) was brought in to help adopted children; however, it’s concerning to hear that councils have failed to spend up to a third of this funding since PPP was put in place. In a recent article Adoption UK stated that a freedom of information request revealed that more than £2.5m of PPP was returned to central government last year because it had not been spent by local authorities.

So why aren’t we using this money which could benefit our schools and individual young people? In our training with schools we hear many reasons why this might be. It’s possible that some schools aren’t aware that a child has been in the care system at some point and are eligible for extra funding and maybe some schools aren’t sure what to do with the money to create the best outcomes. It may also be that what has been tried hasn’t worked.

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Cuts in funding in general have had a huge impact on schools and, unfortunately, the first to suffer tend to be those vulnerable children and young people with additional or special needs. One of the barriers to focusing our resources in the direction of vulnerable students is that we fail to see the possible benefits of early intervention – spending now in order to decrease the amount of future spend. Many children need a different approach to help them to learn but, if we can intervene as soon as possible, we can mitigate the need for intense (and more costly) interventions in the future and increase their chance of staying in school and achieving good results.

Here are some ways of spending your PPP which will help:

  • Whole school training on attachment and understanding vulnerable children and young people; the more people can change their approach the better.
  • Therapeutic interventions such as the Thrive Programme, Pets as Therapy, Play Therapy or Theraplay.
  • Key adults who concentrate on nurture for individual or groups of children.
  • Observations with recommendations for specific children.

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