The school caters for approximately three hundred and fifty children aged between four and eleven years. These children come from a variety of social and economic groups: some children are fostered, others come from single parent families, some from mixed families where a parent has brought an existing child or children into a new shared home whilst many come from 'traditional' two parent families. (I am conscious here of avoiding the word 'normal'.) Some children have no brothers or sisters whilst others may come from large families, and these large families may have a wide or narrower age span. Some come from homes where there is a steady wage, others from homes where both parents work and others from unemployed backgrounds. Some children are left with Grandparents or childminders, some arrive unaccompanied at school early in the morning, whilst others are very closely supervised by parents. Within the catchment area of the school there are new housing developments, aging council houses some of which have been bought by their tenants, and older and larger private houses in what has been regarded a more 'select' area of town. In fact the school is no different from most schools of the same ilk all over the country.
The school currently has 62 children on the special needs register. 37 of these are purely for learning support whilst 20 are listed as having behavioural difficulties. 11 are considered to have an emotional difficulty and 6 a problem with social skills. Of twelve children at stage five of the statementing process seven are listed as having emotional or behavioural difficulties.
In addition to the headteacher, who has a non teaching role but spends time in classrooms relieving staff for a variety of reasons, there are twelve full time teachers. At the time of the questionaire there was one less class. There are 6 classroom assistants with one at full time and others at varying degrees of part time contracts. Most of this time is designated in support of children at stage 5 of the statementing process. There is a part time teacher with responsibility for special needs who coordinates this support as well as withdrawing children for specific help..
My role within school is as a class teacher with responsibility for music in the school. I have taught as a class teacher within both key stages and as a music specialist I have had a fair amount of teaching contact time with all year groups. In addition to these responsibilities I am involved in leading school assemblies and acts of Christian worship.
My interest in children with learning difficulties has stemmed from a desire to understand and reach out to those children who find relationships with peers or adults difficult, or do not conform to behavioural expectations. These have often been referred to as 'difficult' children who might frequently be observed in the middle of playground or classroom disruption. In many cases there is a feeling that these children are not reaching their potential in work. Often they show a good level of understanding in discussion but little practical application in written work or work demanding their individual concentration. In seeking to find out more about the issues involved I have attended counselling courses and followed up the county Dyslexia initiative attending the level two sessions.
It struck me that the relationship between Dyslexia and such 'difficult' children was not as remote as first it might appear. I felt that if a child was experiencing some form of trauma or unresolved problem their attention would not be on the learning programme planned for them, which would effectively reduce the benefit they could gain from it. Following on from this, if they had previously experienced such trauma or problems at a key point in their formative education then at a later stage, even if the source of the trauma had been resolved, their understanding of that part of their education would not be as comprehensive as it otherwise might be.
Research by Dennis Lawrence (1971) linking poor self concept with reading difficulties seemed to support this idea. In an unpublished dissertation, J. Bungay (1992) notes...
'His findings revealed that a group of children receiving counselling progressed more in their reading than either a group receiving counselling and 'remedial' reading help, or a group who received reading instruction alone.' 1.
My understanding of the term 'Counselling' in relation to this discussion was summarised on the questionnaire as follows..
'Counselling is creating an opportunity, supported by a trusting and friendly relationship with the counsellor, for children to talk about those areas of their life that make them feel confused or upset. The counsellor aims to help the child to describe a problem they might face, and come to a better understanding of that problem in order that the child can develop ways of coping with or even overcoming it.'Thus through counselling, in my view, we aim to empower the child to take control of the process of finding solutions and following them through. In the context of primary schools we meet a very wide range of abilities in terms of verbalising skill and ability to communicate effectively. With this in mind it can be argued that whilst many children, especially upper juniors, may benefit from a purely verbal relationship others, including younger children, may find alternative approaches, related to the counselling ethos, more helpful. These might be forms of Play Therapy as outlined by Virginia Axline (1947, new edition 1989) or such areas as Music Therapy or Art Therapy.
The questionnaire, motivation and methodology.
Having attended a course; 'Listening to Troubled Children' also titled 'Facing Lions', run by Rob Long the educational psychologist, I returned to school buzzing with ideas. In the course we discussed different models of approaching young people's concerns, including a look at the ideas of Behavioural Counselling, Individual Psychology, Reality Therapy and Rational Emotive Therapy. We also discussed active listening skills, reluctant and resistant young people, and the interpretation of silence. It would not be appropriate to go into detailed discussion of this here, much of the material is well set out in the course booklet 'Facing Lions'.
I felt confident that I could make a positive difference to those children whom I believed were under-achieving due to problems they faced that they found difficult to resolve, reducing their effectiveness in approaching their formal work. Initially I found my new perspective useful in my own class. I was at the time concerned with the reintegration of a school phobic child and many of the ideas we had discussed played a very useful part in encouraging the child to take a full role in school life and in successfully achieving the transition to community college.
I was then keen to extend the use of skills and techniques to help children in the school whose cases were perhaps not as extreme but were nevertheless seen to be underachieving as a result of 'difficulties' in behaviour or relationships. Aware of the need to continue to develop my own understanding I attended a further course dealing with counselling skills. In this course we were introduced to a three stage counselling process derived from the work of Gerard Egan, (The Skilled Helper. 1982.). I felt that this model was of practical value in the school situation and with the support of the headteacher I gave a brief outline at a staff meeting of the service I aimed to provide, inviting staff to refer children to me. In the discussion that followed many concerns were expressed and it was apparent that the idea of counselling was not universally approved. Many of the issues were reflected in the questionnaire which I compiled and which is to be discussed in this writing.
The questionnaire was designed to measure in some way the opinions of parents and staff towards the issues that arose both from the staff meeting and from subsequent conversation. There was also an opportunity for both parents and staff to make their own comments.
The questionnaire was given to all teaching staff and classroom assistants, and a random sample of the parents of 100 children selected arbitrarily from class lists, although an attempt was made not to give more than one to one family. The replies were to be confidential and anonymous if preferred and to that end the envelopes for parents were simply marked PQ and were to be handed in at the office. Staff questionnaires were similarly not named, but unless typewritten any comments were more likely to reveal their authors.
For a target distribution of 100 parental questionnaires, 96 to the best of my knowledge sent out. 64 were returned in time to be considered. 27 included written comments.
For a target distribution of 10 teaching staff questionnaires, 10 were given out and 9 were returned. 4 included written comments.
4 classroom assistants also responded and made written comments.
In this section I will discuss the results of the questionnaire. Each question was analysed and an average score worked out for parents (P) and teaching staff (T). A score of 1 indicates strong agreement, 3 no opinion and 5 strong agreement.
1. The way you feel affects the way you learn or work. Parents: 1.4 Teachers: 1.1
It is evident that this statement is true at many levels of understanding. At its most literal it is recognised that the environmental conditions affect the ability to perform tasks effectively. The feelings or sensations gathered by sense centres such as touch, hearing, sight, taste, smell as well as all manner of messages regarding temperature, humidity and orientation for example picked up by body sensors all affect the way in which we perceive our environment and our capacity to sustain concentration. In designing swimming pools for example the importance of maintaining the right temperature is pointed out.
"A maximum of around 27 °C for water, with the air temperature about 1 °C higher....may be most suitable. (Where significantly higher temperatures are maintained....possible adverse effects on lifeguards' capacity to remain alert for long periods, will need to be taken into account, when deciding on maximum duty spells)..." 2.At the same level children cannot produce their best handwriting when shivering nor listen attentively when there is excessive background noise.
The 'feeling' so far discussed falls into the two categories referred to in Gestalt therapy as exteroception, the awareness of the "external world" , and proprioception or awareness of your body. It describes the overall awareness of both as the organism/environment field or '..you-in-your-world'.
"This ever-changing gestalt is never neutral but is of vital concern to you, for it is, actually, your life in the process of being lived. Its concernfulness, importance, relevance to your welfare, is omnipresent. Experiencing the organism/environment field under the aspect of value is what constitutes emotion.” 3.In thinking about 'the way you feel' the concept of feelings as emotions is strongly implicit. We feel heat, we feel pain, but we also 'feel' pleasure, anger, excitement or boredom. These feelings arise out of our interpretation and evaluation of that of which we are aware and also, I would argue, those things of which we may have been aware that continue to play on our minds. The emotions we experience are dependent on what is at the centre of our conscious attention. At the same time thoughts or observations that have a high emotional charge attached will be strong contenders for that conscious attention until they are either resolved, accepted or repressed. How often have we been encouraged to do something enjoyable or exciting in order that we 'take our minds off' a painful or unpleasant experience.
To return to the original statement, which received the strongest agreement of each sample group, it follows that a child cannot give full attention to the task of learning from activities planned by the teacher if there are more powerful feelings governing his centre of attention.
2. There are more external pressures on children today. Parents 1.9 Teachers: 2.0
Although the result showed general agreement to this statement there was considerable discussion of the issue. One teacher felt that it did not really apply to children in our age group, but to the over elevens whilst six parents and one teacher did not agree with the statement. We read in history of the children forced to work down the mines or the ragged pickpockets and chimney sweeps of Dicken's London and indeed hear about the street children of South America or those working in eastern sweatshops but do not equate this with our observations of childhood in our immediate experience. It is true to say that a child arriving at school without shoes for example is not heard of today. We live in an area of the world where this sort of pressure on the majority of children is no longer an issue.
It is the nature of the pressures on our children that has changed. More and more as teachers we are brought into contact with the issue of divorce and separation. The increase in family breakdown affects more and more of the children in our own classes. The issue of child abuse and particularly sexual abuse, although not a new phenomenon, is amplified and brought closer to our minds through the media so that it has seemed to have increased to epidemic proportions. Parents in many areas of the country no longer feel it is safe for children to pop up the road to play with friends, or to make that quick journey down to the local shops for a loaf of bread.
"Wheras in 1971 80 per cent of seven and eight year olds were allowed to go to school alone or with other children, 20 years later that figure had dropped to under 10 per cent. In Germany, meanwhile, 60 percent of the age group still went to school unaccompanied by adults, and 90 per cent returned the same way” 4.
Whether or not the dangers are real or merely that the perception of them has become a cause for widespread paranoia is almost irrelevant. The effects are that children do not experience the same degree of liberty that perhaps we did at their age. Margaret Crompton observes that..
"Some of the most vivid and intense life of children takes place in their own chosen private places, very often tips and dumps and patches of waste- land unclaimed by adults." 5.The likelihood of being allowed, unsupervised, into such places today is becoming more remote. Just as liberty is increasingly restricted the child has become a major target for the worlds of commerce and entertainment. Replacing the opportunity to develop the child's own imagination we find the imposed imaginations of advertisers and 'children's' television. There is pressure to conform not just to a small circle of friends in the local 'gang' but to aspire to the the ideals and merchandising that accompanies mass viewing. More and more time is spent in front of 'the box' and inevitably much shared recreation in school playgrounds for example arises from the ideas presented. Without venturing into the effects of harmful video 'nasties' the influence of such series as Power Rangers has done little to enhance the quality of playtimes.
The problems of bullying and racism, whilst again not new, are also raised in profile by the media. The charity Childline recently published a report describing some of the problems ethnic minority children face ithe regard to racist attacks. Although our own situation in North Devon does not reflect a high concentration of ethnic minorities it was pointed out that..
"-sadly, some of the most upsetting cases came from rural areas where the caller was the only child from an ethnic minority in the community." 6.
3. Talking about problems helps you to get them in perspective. Parents:1.5 Teachers: 2.0
Again there was agreement with this statement to a large degree from parents and a lesser degree from teachers. One of the worries expressed was that by talking about some problems the counsellor may place more importance on a problem than was neccesary, in effect blowing up the problem and making it larger than life in the childs mind. Whilst agreeing with the statement one parent commented that..
"Some 'problems' resolve themselves and care needs to be taken to ensure 'problems' aren't made worse by putting too much emphasis on a particular issue. " 7.As a rule there is obviously much common sense required in talking with children. The successful counselling process, by helping the 'client' to express his problem and come to a better understanding of it, aims to help them move on and not dwell on it. In many cases the reassurance that a problem is quite 'normal' may be enough for a child to be able to stop undue worry and 'get on with life'.
Without being specific to the school situation the ability to verbalise feelings and talk through their content and context can be a very powerful tool in confronting problems so that the listener is often totally passive, or even redundant.
4. Childrens work is not affected by the troubles they may be facing. Parents: 4.3 Teachers: 4.1
This question was designed as an opposing view to statement 1. It was interesting to me that whilst no-one disagreed with the first statement there were four parents and a teacher that agreed with this fourth statement. I conject that their interpretation of 'the way you feel' in the first statement may have been restricted to physical health. It can be argued that work can even benefit from some troubles as the sufferer may escape into the work to avoid the problem. For work to be unaffected is difficult for me to accept.
5. Teachers have enough time to stop and talk with a child when that child needs to Parents: 3.9 Teachers: 4.2
It can be argued that a teacher is able to help children with some problems and frequently does. However the teachers responsibility must lie with the whole class, spreading attention as evenly as possible. In some circumstances it would be easy for the teacher's attention to be directed to a few children who, for example display behavioural problems, at the expense of the majority of the class. One parent commented that..
"In a perfect world we would hope that teachers and parents would have time to listen and discuss problems with children but in reality it often happens that children feel like 'opening up' at inopportune moments. It would be great to think there was a counsellor available for such occasions." 8.Another parent whilst strongly disagreeing with the statement blamed large class sizes as being responsible not only for children being unable to discuss problems but also for their frustration due to insufficient individual 'time and help with their work'.
6. Parents are always able to sort out any difficulties their child may be facing. Parents: 3.8 Teachers: 4.2
The fact that the significant majority of parents responding to this questionaire disagreed with this statement illustrates that some parents themselves do not believe this to be the case. There are undoubtedly many families that are able to talk frankly and in a well balanced way but we also see and hear of others in which parents seem unable to control or communicate effectively with their children. Most families I would guess lie somewhere in between. One respondent commented...
"I feel children could greatly benefit from having a 'neutral person' to talk to about any worries/problems they may have, as, although as parents we would like to think our children would come to us, I can remember myself not wanting to disappoint or worry my parents" 9.
7. Everything that a child says to a counsellor must be reported to the child's parents. Parents: 3.4 Teachers: 4.4
This issue was one of the more controversial. Whilst all teacher respondents disagreed with the statement parents were understandably less unanimous. Many parents who disagreed, and 70 per cent of those who expressed an opinion did disagree, commented to the effect that they would expect to be consulted regarding permission for counselling to go ahead, or at least be informed if their child was receiving counselling. Margaret Crompton(1992) in discussing the work of Shapiro(1984) quotes from his writing..
"Children are used to being talked about by people who care for them; it happens all the time with their parents, and they can accept this as a part of life. They do not necessarily distrust the therapist who also talks to their parents, as long as the therapist's intentions are made clear from the beginning of the treatment." 10.I feel that the words 'therapist' and 'treatment' do not fully apply to the situation discussed in this writing but the sentiments are very relevant. Margaret Crompton continues..
"The greatest fear may be of communication between counsellor and parents, for example, 'that the therapist will report to his parents that he has been stealing again' or ' how angry she is with her father...'." 11.Parents undoubtedly have the right to know what goes on with their own children, but to what extent counselling will be useful if the child knows that parents will be told everything is questionable. As many parents have disagreed with the statement it may be that there is a need in consulting the parents for permission to give them the decision.
8. Bad behaviour at school is often a sign of emotional crisis. Parents: 2.3 Teachers: 2.7
9. All children who behave badly are just being naughty. Parents: 4.0 Teachers: 4.1
These two statements were designed to approach the same problem from opposite views. There are obviously many different reasons why a child might display behaviour that is not acceptable in a classroom situation. Perhaps they find that a particular relationship, with another child in the class for example, is difficult to manage. They have 'fallen out' or find someone's company irritating. Perhaps they are finding work too hard, and so frustrating, or too easy, in which case boredom or alternative distraction may be the result. Some undesirable actions may be the result of being too keen, others due to lack of motivation but I would argue that in all these cases the child's 'feelings' or emotions are a powerful driver to the misbehaviour.
This said, it cannot follow that we make special allowances in the classroom. If we were to ignore all disruption those in the class who do conform to expectations will be rightly put out. We cannot be too objective about the behaviour. It does not exist on its own and the child must learn to take responsibility for its action. Perls, Hefferline and Goodman make this observation.
"In the objective account of human behaviour the organism is an instrument operated by a kind of remote control. The control may variously be called cause-and-effect relationships, influence of the environment, social pressures, or whatever, but, in any case, the organism is regarded as the unconsulted heir to an unasked-for legacy. So strong has become this attitude as to make modern man almost a bystander in his own life. The extent to which he himself produces his own situation.... is ignored or denied." 12.It is perhaps a surprise that the second of these two statements was disagreed with to the extent it was. In a purely literal sense naughty is defined as '(esp. of children) disobedient; badly behaved.' (Concise Oxford Dictionary). Clearly bad behaviour in this sense is naughty. There is however, apparently, a reluctance to use the 'naughty' label. Both teachers and parents feel uneasy with it as they seek to find what is underlying a particular action. What also is important is the strategies the child is using to cope with the cause, and what alternative strategies we can encourage them to develop that address this cause without causing offence. In guidance from the South Devon Psychological Service in 1993 regarding 'unmotivated students' they commented...
"Unmotivated young people are understandably not reaching their potential, they are in fact under-achievers. They are in all probability recieving gains from their behaviour, either your attention -in the shape of coaxing, et.c, or attention through your anger and frustration and/or recieve kudos from their peers." 13.Obviously the teachers reaction to the offending behaviour is important. In seeking attention in this way the child is looking for a result that it feels it needs. It receives it from peer approval of its rebellion or from the wrong sort of attention. Individual Psychology, outlined in Robert Long's 'Facing Lions', identifies the reason for the behaviour as aiming for a 'mistaken goal'.
A hierarchy of needs suggested by Maslow identifies certain life 'goals' that should be achieved if the child is to continue to progress as 'psychologically healthy young people'.
These, in order are physiological (the need for food, warmth and shelter et.c), security (the need to feel safe), social (the need for friendship, love and belonging), self esteem (the need to be happy with your own achievements and your perception of what others think of you) and finally self actualisation (or 'the mastery of self'). As a child grows up it needs to confront these goals in this order and develop the life skills to achieve their aims. Poor behaviour then may be a result of inadequate life skills or developing mistaken goals as a result of lack of success with those goals mentioned above. It may also be be due to a combination of the two. Mistaken goals are identified as: seeking attention, power or revenge and displaying inadequacy or withdrawal.
Individual Psychology provides us with one model to help us understand children who misbehave. There are many more models or frameworks from which to attempt to explain 'deviant' behaviour. Being 'models' they are bound to be simplistic, indeed they must aim to simplify. In reality the causes are much more complex, or sometimes simple, for example a child may shout because of a minor injury due to clumsiness, another may be slow with work because he/she cannot see the blackboard or hear the teacher's voice.
Bad behaviour should not be excused, there must be known consequences for choosing not to follow agreed rules. This does not prevent us from trying to understand what is behind the behaviour and then helping the child to find ways of coping that are acceptable to those around them. It must also be pointed out that whilst some misbehaviour may reflect troubles in the childs life, some children with equal or greater troubles may not reflect this in their behaviour but may be in need of help.
10. Teachers should only be concerned with teaching subjects. Parents: 4.2 Teachers: 3.6
It is perhaps interesting that the level of disagreement to this statement among parents seems greater than that of teachers, although the extent to which comparison of these figures is useful is questionable.
With the introduction of the National Curriculum in recent years the place of academic subjects in the primary school curriculum has been subjected to intense scrutiny. Teachers have had to look very hard at both the content and methods used to deliver the programmes of study which are now to a great extent prescribed for our children. There is accompanying this the debate between 'progressive' child centred philosophies of education and what has been described as a more 'traditional' approach, whole class teaching and so subject centred. With such emphasis on the needs of the academic content of subjects it is perhaps too easy for teachers to attach less importance on the philosophy and psychology of the needs of children as learners.
Jenny Mosley highlights the problem some teachers may have with the idea of counselling as part of their role.
"The first 'thorn' to some educationalists and teachers is that counselling is therefore advocating a child-centred progressive approach which is at variance with their allegiance to a more traditional authoritarian stance." 14.The issue of counselling had therefore been entangled in the 'progressive/traditional' debate, a position which did it no good. Different teachers have different strengths and teach in different styles, and whilst a particular style may be highly successful for one teacher it may not suit another. Carl Rogers, quoted by Mosley, observed that
".. if an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding and respect is the most effective basis for facilitating the learning that is called therapy, then might it not be the basis for the learning called education.." 15.If a teachers relationship with the class is then based on 'acceptance, understanding and respect' then within reason the style of teaching becomes irrelevant. When asked to talk about the teacher those in our course remembered as being most effective in their own school life it was interesting to me that it was precisely these qualities that were mentioned, and very little comment was made regarding how we had been seated or the structure of the lessons.
Education is concerned with drawing out the potential from our children, and not 'filling their heads'. In order for a teacher to be concerned with teaching subjects they must have some understanding of how children learn and how best to foster an environment in which that learning can take place.
11. Schools should provide opportunities for children to talk about their problems. Parents: 1.6 Teachers: 2.8
Whilst there were no parents that disagreed with this statement teachers were less unanimous. With the previous statement in mind it is possible that teachers see the logistics of providing such opportunities in direct competition for the time they need to spend delivering the National Curriculum. They may naturally in the course of their teaching encourage pupils to talk about problems all the time in order that they can help them overcome difficulties in approaching the skills being taught. Perhaps these problems are seen as directly relevant to the teaching process and therefore somehow 'legitimate'. To provide opportunities for talking about wider problems need not require individual counselling sessions. Much can be approached as a group, or even as a class using circle time techniques, looking at the 'basic problems of people' (Mosley) that will be useful to children. It is a shame that the National Curriculum suggests no programme of study for 'interpersonal relationships'. PSME and RE were perhaps too politically sensitive to prescribe in the same way as Maths, but it is important that they are not neglected as a result.
Mabey and Sorenson point out another issue which explains a reluctance to be involved in counselling on the part of teachers. They suggest that there will be teachers who are not comfortable with the idea of children, who may be having difficulty at school, being critical about classroom practise.
"Even teachers whose practise is extremely ethical may well fear that information given to the counsellor is inevitably one-sided and from the student's perspective only, and may mean that they are harshly judged or misunderstood." 16.It is perhaps symptomatic of the changes in education, including appraisal and OFSTED, that teachers are increasingly on the defensive. It is nevertheless in schools that we have a unique position to be helpful especially after major emergencies or trauma. In an article in the T.E.S. Reva Klein notes a comment of Dr Ayalon, a psychologist with the university of Haifa and an international expert on stress management.
"My years of experience have shown me that early help, within the first few days after an event, is best given at school, or as close to the school as possible, by teachers under the guidance of people who have specialist information and experience." 17.Although she was referring to the follow up to what may be percieved as major trauma, such as Dunblane, Lockerbie or Hungerford, that is trauma outside as well as at school, she points out the special relationship between child and teacher. One in which there is friendship, but also professionality, where there are known boundaries and expectations with less potential for the anxiety and bewilderment of the unknown that may result from being taken into a completely new situation, such as a hospital or therapy centre.
12. Children have the right to confidentiality. Parents: 2.0 Teachers: 1.8 88 per cent of those parents who expressed an opinion agreed with this statement. When this is compared with the reaction to statement 7 we see what appears to be a small discrepancy. In any event the issue of confidentiality is central to the counselling relationship. Crompton quotes Morrison:
"The student needs to know that the teacher is able and willing to keep confidential the statements made during personal problem solving conferences. The teacher simply must remember that a violation of the confidential nature of an individual consultation is irresponsible and will surely destroy the potential benefit of the teacher's intervention" 18.There will be times when the ideal of confidentiality is broken. In many instances the child may talk to parents about what is said, and rightly so. But in some cases the nature of information disclosed to the counsellor may be such that there is no alternative but to inform the relevant authorities, as in the case of serious child abuse. A parent who disagreed made this comment.
"I have disagreed with children having a 'right' to confidentiality as this may not always be in their best interests. If a child has discussed a problem that has no real solution (for instance, being upset that one parent may have left the home), then certainly they should feel they can discuss their feelings in confidence. However, if a child discussed a problem of abuse, for instance, they may be afraid of the consequenses of 'telling' and therefore would wish for confidentiality, but clearly this is a problem that needs to be dealt with.." 19.What is generally agreed in relation to this issue is that children and young people should be made aware of how things stand at the beginning of the counselling process. The British Association for Counselling has this to say in its code of practice.
"Counsellors should take all reasonable steps to communicate clearly the extent of confidentiality they are offering to clients. This should normally be made clear in the pre-counselling information or initial contracting. If counsellors include consultations with colleagues and others within the confidential relationship, this should be stated to the client at the beginning of counselling." 20.My main worry with this is that with some children the explanations may be so confusing as to compound the original problem and increase bewilderment. Common sense must prevail. As discussed earlier if a series of counselling sessions is planned then it would be as well to discuss expectations with both child and parents beforehand.
13. Problems arise in relationships with other children. Parents: 1.8 Teachers: 1.9
One of the biggest worries in this area is the problem of bullying. The approach to both bully and victim must be considered. In Maines and Robinson's 'No Blame' approach to bullying they suggest definitions as follows.
"As teachers we have a duty to respond effectively to bullying, and naturally, and rightly so, we disapprove of the agressive behaviour and sympathise with the 'victim'. To confront the issue with a view to eliminating the behaviour, however, we need to realise that both 'sides' have got to work at this problem. In the case of the victim there will need to be support and development of self esteem, assertiveness and coping strategies whilst reinforcing the understanding that the behaviour is not their fault and should not be accepted. In the case of the bully there is a need to challenge the behaviour in a way that encourages him/her/them to empathise with their 'victim/s' and gain understanding of the effects of their action. It may be appropriate to discuss this sort of problem in the light of the 'mistaken goals' referred to earlier in connection with Individual Psychology.
- Bully- a person or group behaving in a way that might meet needs for excitement, status, material gain or group process and does not recognise or meet the needs and rights of the other people/person who are harmed by the behaviour.
- Victim- a person or group that is harmed by the behaviour of others and who does not have the resources, status, skill, ability, to counteract or stop the harmful behaviour."
Much 'bullying' in the school context involves groups of children where the offence is compounded by the lack of action of those in the 'bully's' group of friends. It may well be appropriate for any counselling designed to approach this to be in a group situation. One parent, who supported the idea of parents and teachers working together, commented..
"I also feel that a child with 'problems' needs to talk to other children with a counsellor, (Teacher or Parent) so that they do not feel alone, or unusual." 22.The value of this in relation to the victim of bullying especially strikes a chord. Handled properly peer group support will be far more effective in convincing the victim that they are not in any way responsible for what has happened to them and they are no 'lesser person' in their eyes for it. To encourage understanding of the motivation of the bully among groups of children may also have beneficial effects on social development generally. In an article 'A Circle of Friends' which advocates the setting up of peer group support groups Wilson and Newton comment.
"The insights gained by circle members as they struggle to support the focus child have impressed us greatly. Individuals:- Develop insight into the links between feelings and behaviour and become more able to see beyond the 'surface behaviour' to the underlying needs being expressed. Develop their ability to identify and express feelings in others and in themselves. Develop problem solving skills and learn the difference telling and advising when they want someone to listen to them. Develop an awareness of the individual's power to change." 23.The authors go on to say that such groups do need to be carefully directed by an adult facilitator who must 'buy into the philosophy' behind it and be prepared for it not to work every time.
Of course there will be isolated incidents of violence or unpleasantness that cannot be construed as bullying and care needs to be taken that these are not given so much attention as to make 'mountains out of molehills'. Playground or classroom incidents of this type are handled effectively in the daily course of events, by teachers, mealtime assistants and other supervising adults and it is only when the behaviour is repeatedly observed that further action may be advisable. It must also be realised that some bullying does not use physical violence, but more covert means, teasing, exclusion from a group or extortion.
14. Counselling should be available if a child asks for it. Parents: 1.5 Teachers: 1.9
It was encouraging to me that there were no dissenters to this statement. Teaching has been described as a caring profession and it would indeed be wrong to turn a child away that had plucked up the courage to aske for help. The level or style of counselling that should be available is open to more debate. The National Association of Young People's Counselling and Advisory Services (NAYPCAS) identifies a 'variety of helping interventions' including...
"informing- which denotes sharing information; befriending- which denotes offering practical and emotional support; advising- which denotes recommending action on the basis of assessed information; counselling- which denotes work aimed at promoting self-exploration, self-understanding and self directed action." 23.A child asking for help may be asking for any of these interventions and it may not always follow that counselling is the right option for them at that time.
15. Problems arise in relationships with teachers. Parents: 2.0 Teachers: 2.3
Different teachers teach using different styles. In a primary school where the child may stay in one class for a year or more with one teacher there is more chance for children to become accustomed to the way their teacher expects them to work. Often problems arise when a child moves on and has to adjust their own ideas of behaviour gained in the previous context to a new set of expectations. It is not possible and not desirable that all teachers deliver their lessons in the same way without reference to their own strengths, interests and abilities. Teachers establish a rapport with the children in their class and will find this easier with some children than others. It may well be that another teacher encounters problems with those children the first teacher had no problem with and has no problem with those that the first teacher considers disruptive. Children and teachers alike are first and foremost 'people' and therefore subject to all the intricacies of interpersonal relationships.
Lee and Marlene Canter attack the myth that 'Good Teachers' will not experience behavioural problems.
"This myth is nonsense. No teacher, no matter how skilled he is or how much experience or training she has, is capable of working successfully with each and every student without support.. ....The burden of guilt this myth places on a teacher is by no means trivial. According to the myth, if teachers were really competent they wouldn't have these problems. These guilt-ridden feelings of inadequacy tend to keep teachers from asking for the help they need." 25.Teachers, they argue, have to put up with a variety of factors that have affected classroom discipline including the perceived undermining of their authority by a lack of respect for the profession and the increase of children coming to school from backgrounds of neglect or instability in the home. It would be incredible that problems would not then arise at least occasionally.
16. Counselling should be available if a teacher feels a child is upset or unsettled. Parents: 1.7 Teachers: 2.1
Although counselling may be appropriate for such a child it need not neccesarily be the first course of action. As one parent comments...
"A parent should be let know if the child is unhappy at school, and teacher should be told by the parent if things are not right at home. I hope a parent would be told if their child was receiving counselling." 26.Whilst I do not see counselling as a last resort, in many cases there are much simpler lines of action available along the lines of those interventions suggested by NAYPCAS mentioned above.
17. Problems arise in relationships with parents and families. Parents: 1.8 Teachers: 2.3
Reading in child Psychology makes much of the concept of attachment and the effects of the quality of interaction, particularly with the mother at the early stages. It is suggested that the quality of attachment, initially to the primary attachment figure (usually the mother) but later to other significant adults and siblings will have a great bearing on the behaviour and subsequent development of the child. Ainsworth(1973), as discussed in Hardy et al, isolated four dimensions of maternal behaviour that relate to the child's success in forming attachments.
"Sensitive-Insensitive: Sensitive parents are more able to see things from the child's point of view. Accepting-Rejecting: Accepting parents see the baby as making a positive change to their lives and don't show a great deal of resentment about the restrictions that babies impose. Co-operating-Interfering: Co-operating parents tend to work with the child rather than imposing their own wishes. Accessible-Ignoring: Accessible parents take more notice of the child." 27.It follows that as the child grows older these dimensions will be applied not only to primary carers but also the immediate and extended family who come into contact with the child. Whether or not it is always advisable to be sensitive, accepting, co-operating and accessible is open to debate but at the very least it would be idealist and naive to suggest that it is possible to maintain that level of family environment indefinitely. What most children will experience is a certain amount of fluidity in terms of these dimensions but the general levels or average positions in these dimensions will have an effect on their development. It must also be noted that a child operates these dimensions as well as experiencing them, children are capable of being insensitive, rejecting, interfering and ignoring to those around them which will affect the way they are treated too.
One mother wrote extensively about the conditions her children face at home as a result of what she describes as a 'cleaning illness' for which she is receiving psychiatric help. She felt her son might crave attention as a result of not being able to play in any way that created a mess. She pointed out that in some cases as in her own it was not appropriate to assume a parent's neglect for their children. She concluded her letter..
"Maybe as they get older it will get easier, and they understand why. I just think with counselling in schools they should find out all the facts if there is a problem with a child and not just assume it's the parents fault as many people do." 28.This highlights to me a problem in that, whilst the parent is quite defensive about her position, there could be a positive contribution in terms of the children being helped to understand their situation and develop strategies for making the best of what they have. It is not our job to judge or show criticism of the home background and we should make it clear to parents that this is not our practice.
With so many children having absent parents, or parents with limited access it is often noticeable that a child may become unsettled or act out of character before or after contact with the absent parent. Issues of bereavement and adjustment will arise at different points in the child's life which have to be coped with. Not all problems occurring as a result of incidents at home will be major, some may be quite trivial and the level of help available should be able to reflect this.
18. Parents should be able to ask for counselling for their child if they feel they need it. Parents: 1.7 Teachers: 2.2
Although most parents agreed with this statement one respondent who disagreed made the comment that counselling can only take place if the child feels the need for it. I agree with the thoughts behind this argument but would also say that a child may find either parental or teacher referrals provide an introduction to the service available, giving them the choice to proceed or not. The problem of referral for counselling is discussed in Mabey and Sorensen who point out that
"...it is not unknown for young people to arrive for counselling inferring that they have been 'sent' and not really knowing why they are there. If this occurs it is important for the counsellor to work with this and renegotiate the contract making sure the young person has the choice to stay or not. In most cases they do continue once they realise this. Occasionally they choose to leave, but it is not unusual for them to return at a future time if their experience was positive and they felt no pressure." 29.They go on to say that parental referrals are particularly difficult, as often the problem lies with the parent, finding themselves unable to understand their child's behaviour. In some cases it may be appropriate to work with the parent to bring them to a greater understanding and provide a framework in which they can develop strategies to help their children.
"This can be a very effective way of working on behalf of young people without ever seeing them. Quite often parents see certain types of behaviour as problematic and are relieved to find that it is not unusual but a normal part of the process of moving towards independence and autonomy." 30.
In looking at the results of the questionnaire I feel that there is considerable support, amongst parents especially, for the provision of a counselling framework within the primary school. There are a number of things that make this difficult to achieve, not least the financial implications and constraints of time.
It may well be that the ability of children to benefit from counselling is dependant on their age and powers of self expression. It is also noted that children may be either reluctant or resistant to counselling as a process. In such cases there are alternatives to direct counselling. One area that may be worth exploring is that of Play Therapy, mentioned earlier, outlined by Axline(1947/1989). She points out that...
'..it does not seem to be necessary for the child to be aware that he has a problem before he can benefit by the therapy session. Many a child has utilized the therapy experience and has emerged from the experience with visible signs of more mature attitudes and behaviour and still has not been aware that it was any more than a free play period.' 31.Many written comments were in line with the statements in the questionnaire but some issues were raised that I had not addressed in the statements. The issue of who should do the counselling was mentioned by a few respondents. One felt that only 'qualified child psychologists in conjunction with the child's teacher' should be involved whilst a number of others felt that counselling skills should be part of the training of all teachers. In this they are supported by the recommendations of the Elton report into Discipline in Schools.
Another respondent writes..
"I feel it is preferable for someone the child knows well to be their 'counsellor' not another designated adult if we are considering primary school children. " 32.Crompton picks up on a comment of Ellen Noonan(1983) that counselling 'fills the gap between psychotherapy and friendship'. The teacher, or in some cases experienced classroom assistant, with appropriate training and supervision is in a good position to approach this gap. With their theoretical knowledge of 'ages and stages' and practical experience of interaction with children it will be apparent to them if they can provide the level of help the child needs and who to refer to if the child's problem is too near either end of the gap, i.e. the child's friends at one end or psychologists at the other.
In my opinion there is a need for whoever does become involved in this field to be in sympathy with the aims and methods they intend to use and to have a good grasp of their own identity. I believe they should have awareness of the different models developed to help with child counselling and although they may have a favourite model it has been pointed out that it is the quality of the counselling relationship, rather than the adherence to a particular model that has been the main contributor to success. There is also a need for those involved to be able to separate themselves from thoughts of the child's position outside the counselling relationship, which may mean that in some cases it is not appropriate for a class teacher to counsel someone in their own class, especially a child who is encountering difficulty with their approach to authority.
Finally another comment from a parent..
"I agree with counselling as long as the children have a sound understanding of the three R's" 33.It is the job of schools to educate children. I see counselling as a means of helping a child engage fully in the learning process, by attempting to overcome those problems and difficulties that are a block to their normal classroom operations.