Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Rosie Gaskell (Deputy Inclusion Manager/CLA Support) and focused on the meaning of CLA.
Children Looked After (CLA) refers to those students who are:
- living in the care of the local authority
- living with foster carers or in residential children’s homes
In addition, these students may:
- continue to have intermittent contact with their birth family/person(s) with parental responsibility
- not always be placed with siblings or have contact with their siblings.
From our point of view as teachers, it is important to consider the emotional impact intermittent contact or no contact with their family can have on our students, and the effect that this has on their ability to learn.
As with all groups of students, every CLA student will be different. However, CLA students may have experienced significant trauma in their lives which teachers need to be sensitive to. For many students who have experienced trauma, they will be hyper-vigilant and may experience flashbacks. As teachers, we need to identify our CLA students and ensure that we monitor their reactions. The connection between the topic and a students’ previous trauma may not be immediately obvious and students may react in very different ways. Rosie used an example of a CLA student who reacted aggressively and negatively when studying cats in a lesson, however I previously taught a child who had survived (his parents did not) the Indian Ocean Boxing Day Tsunami and wanted to share his experiences with the class. As with all of our students it is about building effective relationships (which Shaun Allison (here) and Carl Hendrick (here) have previously written about. If we achieve this then CLA (and all) students feel ‘safe’ and are able to achieve their potential.
However, for many CLA students, their complex backgrounds mean that they may not be as equipped as other students to deal with the daily stresses of school life. Rosie used the analogy of three glasses of water:
- the first glass (almost empty) is a student who has had a stress-free morning and therefore has lots of capacity to deal with being late, or forgetting their pen. As a result, he or she is able to rationally approach the ‘stressful’ situation and find a manageable solution.
- the second glass (two-thirds full) is a student who may have already had an argument with their parent in the morning, but still has capacity to deal with a teacher who speaks to them about being late or having their shirt untucked, and is able to manage the situation successfully.
- the third glass (almost full) is the potential CLA student who is trying to process seeing their birth-family for the first time in six months and therefore doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the stresses of school life. As a result, this student reacts in a way which is seen as negative.
These associated behaviours can manifest themselves in a variety of ways and may not always be overtly obvious to a teacher, such as:
- avoidance – truanting, lateness, minimal eye contact
Nevertheless, through building strong and effective relationships with these students, teachers can build ‘trust’ and allow the students to be successful.
How can teachers be successful with CLA students?
- Get to know the student – build a bridge between the student and you as the teacher. Get to know the student, outside of your lesson. Talk to the student in the corridor or at break or lunchtimes and show an interest in their hobbies or ideas.
- Think about your seating plan. Where is the best place for your CLA student(s) to sit?
- Some students prefer to be at the front of the class, as they feel that they are ‘attached’ to the teacher and therefore feel more comfortable.
- Some students prefer to be at the back of the class, so that they can see the whole room and therefore feel safer.
- Some students prefer to be next to the door, so that they have a clear and direct exit if they feel anxious or unsafe.
- Model the behaviours that you expect from the student. If you raise your voice, they may respond in the same way as they believe that is what is required in that situation. Alternatively, some students may run away because they link a raised voice with negativity.
- Be honest and seek support when students portray difficult or challenging behaviours. Use the pastoral teams that exist within the school to provide extra support for the students. In addition, ensure that you complete the Personal Education Plan forms accurately. This will enable the appropriate intervention to be used with each individual student.
Nevertheless, as with a lot of students, be prepared for failure when building relationships with students. CLA students will have particular and complex needs which may result in them ‘knocking down’ the bridges that you have built over and over again. But, if we want to be successful with these students, it is our duty to keep trying and believe that we can give these students the best possible start to their adult lives.
Posted by Martyn Simmonds