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special educational needs


How to encourage your child to develop the life-enhancing skills of oracy

By Education, Language, Mental health, reading, Relationships, special educational needs
by Angela Schofield
Oracy Lead, Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust

If you are slightly confused about the term ‘oracy’, which has recently hit the headlines, you are not alone! To summarise, oracy is about communication skills, gaining the skills to engage with other people’s ideas and express your own ideas so that others understand them. At Excelsior Multi Academy Trust, we explicitly teach, practise and assess oracy skills, and see demonstrated how speaking and listening are equally important for effective communication.

Why is oracy so important?
Research has shown that oracy supports children in their academic learning and also in their emotional and social wellbeing. It helps to develop their confidence and instils a sense of belonging, that their voice is welcomed and valued. It is also has a key role in closing the disadvantage gap. Early language and communication skills are closely linked to attainment throughout schooling, and to earnings later in life. The earlier we start to develop oracy skills, the better.

How can you make learning these skills fun at home?
• Playing fun listening games. Enjoy games such as I Spy, 1-20 or describing an image while your child draws it and vice versa. These are all quick games, which develop listening skills too. To practise listening specifically, read a short text and then give a list of words, can they remember which words were from the text? Simple riddle games are good for this too. Try the one below. Explain that you are going to tell a story and then you’ll ask them some questions about it.

You are the bus driver. There are four people on the bus. At the first stop, two people get off and a lady with a bright red hat gets on. At the second stop, a man with a green duffle coat gets off and a small boy with a big dog gets on. At the third stop, four people get off and three people get on. At the fourth stop, two girls get on carrying a large present with a frilly purple bow. (You can continue for longer depending on the age of your child). Finally, ask the question – How old is the bus driver? (The clue is in the first five words).

• Reading to your child. Hearing you read a story, with all the different voices, is not only fun and a time to bond with them, but it also supports them to understand how tone of voice can change the meaning of words and make it more interesting to the listener. Hearing a fluent reader, while they look at the text also helps children to develop fluency in reading.

• Encouraging the expressing of opinions, agree and disagree with reasons. This develops reasoning skills and vocabulary and shows them that it’s OK to disagree. An excellent thing to encourage is changing your mind when someone has given a good reason. You can also frame questions as talking points to encourage extended responses. There are lots of ways to do this and you can choose serious or silly talk activities. We live in a world with a diversity of opinions and being able to listen, engage respectfully and come to your own conclusion is a key life skill.

Ask engaging, fun questions such as:
If I ruled the world, I would … because …
Agree or disagree, Wonder Woman/Spider-Man/ Superman (pick a favourite) is superior to …
Which is better a shark or a lion? Why?

• Engaging in dialogue (not just talk). Talking to your child at home is important, but the evidence shows that it is dialogue that helps children learn language and social skills. Turn taking in a conversation is the important part, so try to avoid the questions, answer and move on cycle of interactions. Just chatting and exchanging ideas is so important for child development and hugely enjoyable. We all have such busy lives now but setting aside a time each day just to talk with, rather than to, them will have a significant impact on their learning and social and emotional learning.

• Playing with and exploring vocabulary. Begin with one word and find opposites or as many synonyms as you can, or find out where words come from. Biscuit, for example, comes from the French for twice baked. Before the introduction of effective food storage, baking twice reduced the moisture in the biscuits making them less likely to attract weevils! Children find these sorts of facts fascinating. There are lots of examples online but for older children, the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins is a useful resource as is the children’s book The Dictionary of Difficult Words.

By starting when your child is young, you’ll not only be helping them to develop their communications skills, you will be giving them a priceless gift that will serve them well throughout their lives. A gift they can, in turn, pass on to the next generation.

Angela Schofield is the Oracy Lead at Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust, which supports six schools in Birmingham. The Trust is committed to ensuring the highest standards of academic performance and places communication skills at the centre of its curriculum. Excelsior provides supports to all its schools to enable them to help their children achieve their goals and ensure they are ready for the next stage of their education. Excelsior MAT was shortlisted for the MAT Excellence awards 2023 in three categories: Employer of the year; Inclusivity; and Wellbeing.

childrens emotional well being

Talking to children about their feelings

By children's health, Education, Mental health, special educational needs
by Marsha Dann
Lead Teacher, Play B C Preschool

Children are not born able to understand and manage their emotions. Self-regulation is a skill they have to learn. It must be frustrating for very young children, with little or limited language skills, to try to communicate how they are feeling to others.

They are particularly vulnerable also to the emotional difficulties experienced by their carers. Even though we have mostly put the global pandemic behind us, the profound effect it had upon all of us cannot be denied. The challenges of isolation, increased anxiety and stress affected individuals of all ages and continue to have an impact. Followed in quick succession by a cost of living crisis, the financial pressures that many faced then, have only continued to grow. To safeguard children’s general wellbeing, openly talking to them about feelings and teaching them to recognise emotions in others and themselves is of vital importance.

The early years of a child’s life are critical for development in all areas, and experiences during this period will shape the brain’s messaging systems. When a child feels content and emotionally secure, their cognitive abilities thrive, allowing them to concentrate, learn, and remember effectively. Conversely, when stress overwhelms a child, adrenaline surges through their body, suppressing higher cognitive functions as their system gears up for the fight-or-flight response. Prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels, a stress hormone, can disrupt brain development, particularly in areas responsible for self-regulation, memory, and executive function. Chronic stress in early childhood can lead to a myriad of emotional and physiological problems down the road.

Stress in young children often arises from unmet needs and separation from familiar caregivers. However, this can be mitigated through consistent and responsive adult attention and interaction. Rather than rushing to cheer up or fix a child’s problem, sitting alongside them and acknowledging their emotions, teaches them feelings do not have to be overwhelming and you can navigate them together. Developing curiosity about emotions instead of suppressing them helps children understand they can handle challenging feelings. Assist them to identify and label the specific feeling they are experiencing. Are they feeling anger, worry, fear, frustration or happiness? By doing this, you not only expand their vocabulary but also facilitate their ability to recognise and acknowledge the same emotion when they feel it in future situations.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) plays a crucial role in a child’s ability to recognise and manage their own feelings, as well as understand emotions in others. Yale University have coined the acronym RULER to identify five essential skills for EI: Recognising, understanding, labelling, expressing and regulating emotions. By encouraging children to identify and express their emotions, we equip them with the tools to navigate and communicate their feelings effectively, setting a strong foundation for social and emotional development.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) identifies Personal Social and Emotional Development (PSED) as a prime area of learning, critical in a child’s overall growth. Self-regulation and relationship-building are identified as core components of PSED. The early years provide a critical environment for promoting emotional wellbeing, where practitioners can strike a balance between sensitivity, stimulation, agency and consistency to help children regulate their emotions and develop an awareness of their behaviour’s impact. Maintaining a calm and consistent approach while serving as a positive role model, further supports children in understanding how feelings can be managed.

Teach your child that it is perfectly normal to experience a range of emotions, even if some of them are unpleasant. Even emotions like jealousy, envy, or selfishness can tell us something, serve as opportunities for self-reflection and give us insights into ourselves and others. It is important to create a lighthearted and comfortable atmosphere when discussing emotions, as this can prevent heightened emotional responses, particularly when a child feels sad or anxious. While all emotions are OK, not all behaviours are, and young children need to learn how to show their feelings in a way that is effective and appropriate to their environment and others around them.

Practical strategies for encourag-ing emotional intelligence include exploring images of different facial expressions and encouraging children to imitate expressions in a child-safe mirror. You could guide them to map their feelings on a mood meter or think of them in terms of colours, think of the Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’. You can find more about this from websites such as the Zones of Regulation or the Ruler Approach.

In conclusion, it is good to talk. By engaging in discussions about emotions, recognising and understanding their feelings, and providing a supportive environment, we empower children to develop crucial emotional and social skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Teacher-led Play B C offers fun, yet challenging early education and prioritises relationships. Interaction is judged to be ‘excellent’ and practice has been further validated with an Early Years Quality Mark. More than just a place, at Play B C every day is a learning adventure. Please feel free to contact to arrange a visit.

forest girl

Benefits of outdoor, nature based play for children with autism

By Education, environment, Green, Mental health, Playing, Relationships, special educational needs, Special support needs
by Melanie Parr
Managing Director, Lymley Wood CIC

“My child has made a friend for the first time when he came to your Forest School, we are now planning a play date.”

Being a parent to a neurodiverse child can be a challenge and a struggle but also full of such joy. All parents want their children to make friends, have fun, learn and be able to explore new environments safely while knowing they will be respected and their individual needs will be accommodated and embraced.

Autism is not ‘one size fits all’ and every child with ASC (Autistic Spectrum Condition) has different presentations to others, but one thing we have found at Lymley Wood CIC is that being outside in a natural space provides children with ASC the chance to enjoy experiences just like other children do.

There isn’t currently a great deal of research into autism and nature activities but there is a growing body of evidence to prove a link between increased wellbeing, higher achievement and access to nature. There are many individual stories illustrating the positive influence which Forest School has had on autistic participants.

“This is the first holiday club my child has attended where I haven’t been called to take him home due to his behaviour.” One of our parents with a child aged eight with ASC.

Finding a provision that has a person-centred approach is essential for autistic children and with an autism-aware practitioner, ASD children have an opportunity to thrive. As well as physical activity benefits, outdoor sessions can help with motor skills, speech and language and aid emotional regulation.

So what can time spent in a natural space such as a Forest School offer:
1. A person-centred approach doesn’t only take into account any differences or difficulties someone may have, it looks at all children as unique individuals. Sit spots and favourite places for children to go to if they feel overwhelmed are easy in the woods.
2. Curiosity led play – special interests are welcome in the woods and are a great way to engage children.
3. Space to be safely sensorily stimulated – stimming, rocking, feeling the senses of nature all around is all OK in a natural space. Jumping in play nets or lying wrapped up in a blanket looking up through the trees allows for senses to be explored.
4. Encouraging an interest in nature – maybe our next Chris Packham, who openly talks about his own challenges with ASC and how nature has benefited him.
5. A chance to make new friends and connections with children and adults.
6. Physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, leading to calmer children and a chance to overcome some triggers and decreasing sensitivities like windy weather.

“I loved everything but the mud was the best” boy aged 10.

Forest Schools are popping up all over Sussex as are holiday cubs in woodland spaces such as Lymley Wood near Crowborough ( They all offer a great place to trial a session for children with ASC or other SEND needs.

East Sussex Council also supports access to holiday clubs with funded places for SEND children as part of the HAF scheme, for further details see

Mel Parr runs Lymley Wood CIC based near Five Ashes, that has been challenging Nature Deficit Disorder in Children since 2019.
For upcoming events please visit

relaxed child

Calm not chaos!

By Childcare and Nannying, Education, Mental health, Relationships, special educational needs
by Sarah Fisher
Founder of Connective Family

Helping parents and children to connect

Parenting is easy – said no one ever! All parents and carers need a helping hand at some point or another, whether that’s from supportive wider family, friends or another source of help. Much heated debate and discussion exists on the merits of the ‘best’ or ‘latest’ parenting approach. But one thing’s for sure – there’s no one size fits all.

Parenting struggles come in all shapes and sizes – you might be struggling to connect with your determined three year old, trying to get your teen away from a screen or experiencing aggression from your child.

Dealing with challenging behaviour from your children is exhausting – you’ve likely already tried hard to sort things out on your own, you’re quietly worried and it can feel lonely at times.

What is Connective Parenting NVR?
Connective Parenting NVR is a therapeutic parenting approach with a firm focus on connection and presence rather than ‘traditional’ parenting. What does this mean? It means that it doesn’t try to change the child’s behaviour through using consequences or rewards, but through the presence of the parent or carer in the child’s life.

Let’s explain a bit more about it.

Connective Parenting is based on the principles of non-violent resistance (you might hear this called NVR) and draws on a wide range of therapeutic models. It’s a wholly ‘doable’ approach because it’s easy to adapt to whatever challenges you’re facing.

In a nutshell, Connective Parenting NVR can help you create a stronger connection, reduce meltdowns and feel in control. Connection brings positive change and works with all families – birth parents, foster carers, adoptive parents and kinship carers.

If we focus on building connections with our children, it starts to open the door to a different relationship, better communication and less disruptive behaviour.

So, where to start?
The Connective Parenting NVR approach is about us as adults looking after children and thinking about how we react and interact with them.

Start with you:
It takes energy to make changes and if you feel overwhelmed or like you’re running on empty, you need to work on this first, otherwise it’s hard or even impossible! Try some deep breathing, go for a short walk each day, read a few pages of a book, listen to music – whatever works for you.

Raise your presence:
Children need us to see them, hear them and acknowledge them, but if you’re feeling low or exhausted by their behaviours, it’s easy to back away. If this happens, their behaviours are more likely to escalate because they’re feeling a sense of disconnection. Think of it as connecting before correcting.

This is where you’re taking control of the situation as an adult in a calm and resolute way. Difficult, yes and even more so if you’re running on empty (note the point above!). There’s lots more on this but, essentially, by connecting before correcting you’re working on the relationship not the behaviour and through that reducing the challenges.

A bit about baskets!
Multi-tasking has become a way of life for many parents and carers. Add managing challenging behaviours from our child or children and it can quickly overwhelm the best of us.

Connective Parenting NVR helps to prioritise concerns using a simple basket technique. You can use three baskets, as below, or just focus on two – the small and the large one, it’s entirely up to you, whichever you find easiest.

Here’s how:
1. The small basket is your priority basket – no more than two behaviours you want to deal with, the things that must stop. Focus on this one first.

2. The middle basket is for those things you can negotiate on – things you’re not going to totally ignore, but will think about how to handle them at some point, like bad language. If there’s two of you, be consistent and agree what’s in each basket.

3. The large basket is for everything else – all the things that are annoying but that you’re going to ignore for now. This one will likely be full but ‘let it go’.

All of the above will help to build that stronger connection with your child. It might feel a whole lot like your child doesn’t want to connect with you – but don’t let that stop you from trying. Watch their favourite movie with them, send a text to say hi when they’re out, sit on the floor with them and play a game. Keep going and you’ll soon start to see positive changes.

Parents are often reluctant to ask for help in case people think they’re ‘failing’. But there’s absolutely no shame in reaching out. Often it’s good to try something new, learn a few practical tips and techniques and put them quickly into practice by adding them to your parenting toolkit. We all need one!

Sarah Fisher is a coach, author of two books and founder of Sussex-based Connective Family, an organisation supporting parents, carers and their families.


autism laid out

Supporting children with Autism in school

By Education, Legal, Relationships, special educational needs
by Chloe Chapman
SEND Consultancy Services

An estimated 700,000 adults and children have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the UK – approximately 1% of the population. However, there may be many more who do not have an official diagnosis but have the same profile of needs. If your child has Autism or suspected Autism, school can be an overwhelming and challenging experience.

The NHS website details the common signs of Autism in young and older children. There are also useful descriptors of how Autism can present differently in girls and boys; with girls generally being better at ‘masking’ typical Autistic behaviours, making it harder to spot (and diagnose) in girls.

How do I obtain a diagnosis of Autism?
If you suspect that your child may have Autism you will need to make a referral through your GP or child’s school, which is then referred to a Paediatrician. A Paediatrician will meet your child in a clinic setting and discuss their developmental milestones, and observe how your child plays and interacts. It is important to share any reports written by other medical professionals, and your child’s educational setting. Following this you will receive a written report outlining whether your child meets the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism. It is important to note that waiting lists to see a Paediatrician are often a minimum of 20 weeks long, and in reality significantly longer. It is possible to pay privately for a Health Professional to provide an assessment of Autism; this can typically cost a minimum of £1,500 and sometimes significantly more.

What school support is available for children with ASD?
If your child is struggling with the demands of the classroom or the social aspects of the playground it is important to ask for a meeting with the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) in the first instance. You will need to check if your child is on the school’s SEN Support Register as this will allow the school to draw up to £6,000 funding to support your child (it is useful to note this is roughly 12 hours of support across the school week). You have the right to ask how this funding is being spent to support your child. Typical support for children with ASD might include a social skills group, structured social groups such as LEGO® therapy, sensory circuits and structured learning activities to support attention span in adult led tasks. Educational settings are able to seek advice from, and make referrals to, outside professionals such as an Educational Psychologist, Specialist Autism Advisory Teacher, Speech and Language Therapist or Occupational Therapist. These professionals will be able to provide individually tailored advice to the school in how best to support your child.

Autistic children can sometimes present with difficult or challenging behaviour in the classroom. This can be a response to the overwhelming sensory nature of the classroom, the number of social interactions that are required or because delayed social communication skills make it difficult to verbally communicate effectively. If your Autistic child is displaying dysregulated behaviours it is important to work with the school to identify possible triggers and support strategies. Difficult behaviours can be considered a means of communication (especially in non-verbal children) so it is important to work out what message your child is trying to get across. Providing alternative means of communication through; Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Signing, Objects of Reference or other means) can help to support your child to communicate and reduce frustrated behaviours.

Do I need a diagnosis to apply for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Needs Assessment?
If your child has ASD traits and is struggling to manage in the school environment it is important to note that you do not need a diagnosis in order to apply for an EHC Needs Assessment. An EHC Needs Assessment is a statutory process through the Local Authority to assess the type and amount of support a child needs in an educational setting (Information about how to apply for an EHC Needs Assessment is on the Local Offer for your area). The types of difficulties your child faces and the way they communicate and behave does not change upon diagnosis; however having a recognised diagnosis can help others understand more about why your child may find certain things challenging. If you are worried about how your child is managing in a mainstream school and would like the Local Authority to consider a special school place you may need a diagnosis of Autism in order to be considered for a space in certain schools.

What if things are not going well for my child in school?
If things are not going well for your child in school (whether or not they have an ASD diagnosis) and they are on an SEN Support Plan you could consider (in conversation with the school) whether to apply for an EHC Needs Assessment. If your child already has an EHC Plan in place you should contact the school and Local Authority to arrange an early Annual Review to consider if the provision in place is working or not.

You can also contact local support groups or SENDIASS (as outlined in the Local Offer) both of which can offer impartial advice. You could also consider contacting an independent SEN Consultant who would be able to discuss the individual concerns regarding your child and advise next steps accordingly.

If you would like more information and advice about supporting a child with Autism then please get in touch.



Dyslexia and dyscalculia – why assess?

By Education, special educational needs
by Vicki Lader
360 Dyslexia ltd.

This article is for parents and carers with concerns about their children’s learning and progress in school. It describes dyslexia and dyscalculia and explores some of the questions a parent might have about assessment, including the benefits and what age might be best to assess.

Dyslexia is a learning difference that affects a child’s ability to read, write, and spell. It is known to affect around 10% of the population. Children with dyslexia have challenges with phonological processing and verbal memory skills which means they have trouble understanding the sounds that make up words. This can impact on reading and spelling. However, there are often great strengths linked to vocabulary, having creative ideas for writing and reading comprehension. Dyslexia can also make some areas of maths trickier such as learning times tables, sequencing, telling the time and word problem solving.

Dyscalculia is less well-known than dyslexia although it affects at least one in 20 people and possibly higher. Children with dyscalculia may find it challenging to understand maths concepts and remember math facts. Estimating, ordering and counting can be hard. They may also have difficulties with spatial awareness and understanding mathematical symbols and notation.

Dyslexia and dyscalculia both sit under the umbrella term of neurodiversities, including ASD, ADHD, Dyspraxia and others. Instead of seeing these as problematic, it is important to think in terms of diversity, difference and to focus on the strengths that they can bring.

Why assess?
The first reason it may be beneficial to assess a child for dyslexia or dyscalculia is to identify any needs as early as possible. This means support can be put in place as and when it is needed. Current recommendations are to assess from the age of seven, although it can be more suitable for some children to wait until eight or nine years and this can be discussed with the assessor.

Another reason would be to provide the appropriate support in class and additional interventions. A full diagnostic assessment (undertaken by a specialist assessor) leads to personalised recommendations, including those for specialist teaching, ensuring the right support can be put in place, tailored to that child’s profile of strengths and difficulties.

Children with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia can find some aspects of school hard work, and this may lead to low self-esteem or frustration. Using a strengths-based model, an assessment will identify what your child does well, or excels at alongside their challenges and this can help them to feel more positive about their learning overall.

Assessment information
A formal diagnostic assessment should be carried out by a trained specialist. They will use different tools to find out the child’s unique profile of strengths and difficulties. These tools can be referred to as quizzes, games or activities and this can help reduce any worries the child may have. A report will give thorough and personalised recommendations and advice to help in both the short and long-term.

To label or not to label?
As a final thought it is worth considering the potential impact of a label on your child. Some children find this helpful and reassuring as it explains their challenges. A few may struggle with the idea of having a ‘condition’ and possibly use it as an excuse to not try. Only parents know what is best for their child and talking this through with an assessor can be very helpful. Many organisations promote these neurodiversities as differences with some exceptional strengths attached to the profile. An example is the British Dyslexia Association short film; ‘See Dyslexia Differently’.

360 Dyslexia is a learning assessment service that takes a holistic approach to identify the strengths and needs of a child, young person or adult. Full diagnostic assessments include dyslexia and/or dyscalculia and parents/carers are invited to contact us to discuss what this would involve and how best to support the needs of your child.
life learning

Exam stress

By Education, Mental health, Relationships, special educational needs
by Edmond Chan
Childline Supervisor

The summer brings with it warmer weather, longer and lighter days and the inevitable stresses of school exams season. The worry of revising or not getting the grades they need can cause a lot of anxiety for young people.

This pressure means that a lot of children turn to Childline for help as they struggle to cope.

Last year our volunteer counsellors at Childline saw an increase in the number of counselling sessions they delivered about exam result worries compared to the previous year. Between April 2021 and March 2022, they delivered 781 sessions to children with worries about their exams – 30% more than the previous year.

One 17-year-old boy told Childline: “I want to do so well in my A-levels but it’s all just seriously overwhelming at the moment. My attention span has been awful lately, and I find it so difficult to concentrate and focus, and as we get closer to exams the stress increases. After I’ve finished revising, I find it so hard to switch off and then I begin getting loads of intrusive thoughts. It’s like I’m stuck in this vicious cycle and I can’t seem to escape from it.”

Exams can feel like a lot of pressure, no matter where the pressure is coming from.

Here are some tips to help young people cope:
Think positively
When we feel anxious, we can start thinking things like ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘I’m going to fail’. It can be difficult but try to replace these with positive thoughts such as ‘this is just anxiety, it can’t harm me’ and ‘relax, concentrate – it’s going to be OK’.

Be honest about how you feel
Sometimes people can put pressure on you without even realising and sometimes it can help to talk about how it makes you feel. Talking about things can help you to think about other ways they can support you in the future. If you’re worried about telling someone, you can always talk to Childline.

Don’t compare yourself to your friends
Competing with your friends can help to keep you motivated. But it can also make you feel like you’re not good enough, especially on social media. Try keeping a list of the revision you’ve done so you can see how much you’re achieving.

And here are some tips for parents and carers, to help you to be there when your children need you most:

Watch for signs of stress
Stress can be good sometimes. It can help us to work harder and focus. But it can also have a big effect and make it hard to cope. If your child is feeling stressed about their exams then they might be:
• Struggling to sleep.
• Having negative thoughts about the future.
• Getting headaches or feeling unwell a lot.
• Not eating because of how they’re feeling.
• Always thinking about their exams or worrying about them.
• Not able to enjoy things anymore.

Stress affects everyone differently but if you’re worried about your child let them know they don’t have to cope alone. Speaking to you, another adult they trust, or Childline can really help.

Talk about what’s happening
Talking about how they’re feeling can reduce the pressure and help them to feel more in control. Why not suggest they try:
• Talking to you or another adult they trust.
• Asking a friend for support.
• Getting advice and support from other young people on Childline’s online message boards.
• Speaking to a Childline counsellor.

Find ways to relax and take breaks
It’s important to take regular breaks and find ways to relax. Taking a break can leave you feeling more able to cope and even make it easier to concentrate when you start working again. There are lots of things children can do to take a break and relax, such as:
• Set a timer to take a 20 minute break every hour so they don’t forget.
• Make sure they have something to look forward to, like a treat or an activity they enjoy as a reward.
• Encourage them to plan when they’re going to start and finish their revision, so they know when to stop.

Stay healthy
• Make sure they don’t skip meals and try to eat healthily.
• Exercising can clear the mind and give them more energy. Suggest they play sports, go for a run or do some yoga.
• Urge them to practice self-care – this means finding things that help them feel calm and relaxed, such as taking a short break or getting some rest.

Exams are very important, and we really want young people to do their best. However, it’s important to remind them that if things don’t go exactly according to plan there will be lots of other opportunities for them to express themselves and succeed.

It is vital that young people feel supported by family, friends and teachers during the exam period to help them do the best they can.

Childline is also here 24/7 for any young person needing confidential support and advice. Children can call and speak to one of our trained counsellors on 0800 1111 or visit for more information.
worried child

Helping children to manage worry and challenge unhelpful thinking

By Education, Health, Mental health, special educational needs

by Gosia Bowling
National Lead for Mental Health at Nuffield Health

With almost half of parents expressing fears that the pandemic has impacted their children’s mental health, how exactly can concerned caregivers reach out and support children in managing unhelpful thinking?

The value of listening
Conversations around emotional wellbeing are difficult for anyone, let alone children – who worry they’ll be viewed differently if they admit to experiencing negative thoughts.

So, they must be handled sensitively, at the right moment. For example, instead of sitting down for a formal chat, gently introduce questions while engaging in other activities or games.

Listening is then key. We often feel the need to interrogate or offer advice but remember to take a step back – it is important that this is their time to talk and our time to listen.

Focus on ‘reflective listening’ – the skill of letting the speaker know they’re being understood without shifting the focus away from the content of their speech.

This may include echoing feelings back to them, for example, “you’re worried that exams will be harder this year”, without attempting to offer a personal perspective or solution.

This shows the child you aren’t looking for a quick-fix or trivialising their feelings but deeply understanding and validating their worries.

Normalise feelings
The reason many individuals feel reluctant to speak or seek help is that they believe they are alone in their experiences. That their thoughts and experiences are unique and therefore no one can support them.

This often manifests in expressions like “you must think I’m crazy” or “do you think differently of me now?” and stresses the importance of normalising feelings of distress.

Once children learn their experiences are not only common but expected, they are more open to exploring them – taking comfort in the knowledge that those around them have experienced the same emotions and learned how to manage them.

The process of normalisation may start with phrases of agreement, like “I would be stressed too if I were in your situation” before moving towards reassurance, such as “these feelings are common’” and “every other child will be anxious about moving classes, too”.

Embrace support
Caregivers should remember they can’t be expected to have all the answers. There is truth to the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and there is no shame in welcoming support from the community.

This may include family, friends and even those in positions of responsibility like teachers or sports coaches.

Caregivers can confide in others without breaking the trust or confidentiality of the child. For example, the content of direct conversations doesn’t need to be relayed and it could be as simple as stating you’ve noticed the child isn’t as chatty or active as usual recently.

Making others aware of the challenges facing the child increases the opportunities for someone to ask questions, open a dialogue and share how they’ve coped with similar experiences in their life.

This support may also come in the form of formal tools and education. Caregivers are encouraged to learn about common behaviours and thinking patterns associated with mental health difficulties – from recognising the signs in themselves or others to working with managing unhelpful thought patterns with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

For example, Nuffield Health has teamed up with SilverCloud to deliver a CBT module aimed at those dealing with anxiety and low mood in young people, offering support and tools including coping mechanisms.

These include positive communication skills, thinking patterns and breathing techniques designed to prevent feelings of emotional distress from spiralling, as well as preventative strategies like problem-solving and self-esteem building, to equip caregivers with all the tools needed to support and educate children.

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SEN learning

What should you do if you think your child may have Special Educational Needs?

By Education, Mental health, numeracy skills, reading, Relationships, special educational needs

by Chloe Chapman
SEND Consultancy Services

The term ‘Special Educational Needs’ describes learning difficulties or disabilities that make it more difficult for children to learn than most other children of the same age.

What is the first step I should take if I think my child has Special Educational Needs?
It can be a worrying time if you are concerned that your child is not developing in the same way as other children or doing as well as they could be in nursery, school or college. Each educational setting will have a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) responsible for providing additional support for children with additional needs. If you have concerns, you should arrange a meeting with the SENCO and other key staff who work with your child frequently (for example, the class teacher or form tutor), to discuss where you feel your child is struggling and what support is already in place to help your child.

The school (and you) may feel that your child needs more support, and this should be reflected within a SEN Support Plan.

The SEN Support Plan should include clear outcomes that it is expected your child will meet, and the support they will need for that to happen. For example, if your child is struggling with writing, support may include an intervention or support group that your child will attend, and during writing activities a staff member will support them. The SEN Support Plan should be reviewed regularly to ensure that your child is making good progress and the support is working well.

What is the next step if a SEN Support Plan is not working?
If your child has a SEN Support Plan, but they are still not making as much progress as would be expected, they may need an Educational, Health and Care (EHC) Plan. A parent/guardian, educational setting or a professional working with your child can apply for an EHC Plan, using the link available on the Local Offer for your Local Authority.

You do not have to use the forms provided by the Local Authority, but they will guide you as to what information to include. It is important to include as much evidence as possible – this can be information from the educational setting such as; a copy of the SEN Support Plan, results from standardised tests and examples of your child’s work. If your child has received additional care from Health Professionals such as your GP, a Paediatrician or Consultant, then include any corresponding paperwork. You can include reports from other professionals who may have worked with your child, such as: Educational Psychologist, Occupational Therapist, Speech and Language Therapist, Behavioural Support Worker or a Physiotherapist. Where possible, evidence should be dated from the last two years so it is still relevant to your child. For your child to receive the help they need it is important for reports to reflect how they might be on their worst day; this can make for difficult and emotional reading. Please remember that this is a means to an end and with the correct support in place the good days should far outweigh the more challenging days.

Once this information has been submitted to the Local Authority, they will make a decision about whether your child will undertake an EHC Needs Assessment. This is a 20 week assessment process, where the Local Authority gathers further information on your child to make a decision about what level of support is required. At the end of this process your child may receive an EHC Plan, or they may remain on a SEN Support Plan.

How to find information about services available through my Local Authority?
Local Authorities have an obligation to publish information relating to services and support for children on the Local Offer. The Local Offer will include information about how to apply for an EHC Plan, who to contact for help and what the process will look like for your area. If you are thinking about applying for an EHC Plan it can be useful to discuss this first with your local SEN Team, a local support group or an independent SEN consultant.

Aside from an EHC Plan, what else should my Local Authority be offering? –
The Local Offer should explain what schools are expected to provide as part of a universal offer for every child. Teachers should be regularly assessing children to identify which children may need additional help. In any one class, the teaching staff (with guidance from the SENCO), could be running a number of catch up or intervention groups for children with skills or knowledge gaps. The expectation is that if a teacher identifies a gap or delay, that the school should look to their own existing groups and resources to support a child in the first instance. As a parent, regular communication with school staff is key to making sure that you are both on the same page and your child is getting access to the support they need.

If you would like more advice about your child and their individual circumstances, then please do get in touch. SEND Consultancy Services can talk through possible next steps, attend meetings, read over reports, SEN Support Plans or EHC Plans and be an advocate for you and your child.

children jumping in a forest

How can education prepare children to lead a good life?

By Education, Mental health, Relationships, special educational needs

by Dr Ian Cunningham
SML College

I would guess that no one ever said on their deathbed: “I wish I had got better grades at GCSE”. In fact, research on deathbed regrets suggests that people in different parts of the world show similar responses. A top regret, for instance, is around relationships – and people feeling that they may have neglected friends and loved ones or may have allowed work to dominate their lives. Others regret the kind of career they have had and feel that they have not fulfilled themselves through their work life.

There is a link here to Freud’s comment that “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” Note that he didn’t say that these are the only things that matter. But if we put his saying alongside the evidence of people’s regrets, it’s quite clear that love and work are crucial to a good life.

If we take work first, then research shows that many people feel unsatisfied with the work that they do. The research shows that they needed better advice when they were younger to make career choices. In mentioning GCSEs at the start, one of the things that’s apparent is that people often choose GCSEs based on such factors as liking the teacher or the views of others.

What is necessary is for the child to be helped to explore what a good life would mean for them and what that would mean therefore in terms of things that they need to learn to help them to get there. At Self Managed Learning (SML) College we start our time with children who join us by asking them about their lives and about things they like and don’t like and about what a good life might mean for them – and therefore what they need to do to prepare themselves for that future. Now we recognise that, especially for younger children, they may not have very clear ideas. That doesn’t matter. It’s more about providing a space so that there is continual exploration of what an individual wants for themselves and for their life in the future. However, by the time students get to 13 or 14, clearly there are choices around what to do at GCSE. Those choices need to be made on the basis of how that helps the person to prepare for the future that they want.

The other side of Freud’s view is about importance of love. What he meant was not erotic love, but rather the ability to have loving relationships with those around us. It might be a more brotherly/sisterly kind of love or it might be a generalised love for humanity. Whatever focus we put on it, the link to deathbed regrets about relationships becomes relevant.

Schooling has become such an individualistic enterprise that, for instance, if you help a friend with a test, it’s called cheating and you get punished for it. In life, cheating is essential – that is, helping people. It is the cornerstone of good relationships. In our College we don’t have such testing. It’s quite common for young people to help and support each other in their learning and to take this beyond when they leave us at 16. For instance, research on former students has shown that one of the key things they comment on learning at the College is what they often call their social skills. They see themselves as being able to relate to others effectively and it actually goes beyond just skills. It’s clear that they value having been in a community that is caring and supportive and that they have learned to engage with others in a truly human way. We know that this is one of the major criticisms of employers about people coming out of the education system – that they’re not good at working in teams and relating effectively to others within the workplace.

When I say that it’s more than skill, it is because what young people learn in the community is about caring about others and demonstrating that care. By being in a small community that allows young people to really know those around them they can be highly supportive and caring to others.

In a court case about what constitutes suitable education, the judge defined it in the following terms: “To prepare children for life in a modern civilised society and to enable them to achieve their full potential”. I would go further than this. Although achieving full potential is clearly what we are aiming for, it has to be not just preparing people to fit in within society, but to be able to be themselves and to live a good life. One that is more than just fitting in. As each person is different, so they need to pursue the kind of learning that will give them a good life. This means not having a standardised curriculum and instead encouraging each young person to see who they can become and how they can achieve that.

Dr Ian Cunningham, Chair of Governors, Self Managed Learning College, Fishersgate, BN41 1QH.