Young people who struggle with the effects of insecure attachments, past neglect and abuse tend to be excluded because this seems an easier option than wrestling with the question of what kind of support is needed in order to make something like a school trip work. It is bad enough that these kinds of exclusions are probably discriminatory and unlawful, but my recent experience suggests that we may also miss out on the opportunity to learn important lessons about the kind of support that can benefit young people more generally.
I recently heard a foster carer comment that one young person had not been on any school trips in the past four years. His behaviour in school was difficult and the head teacher decided this pupil (we’ll call him Matthew) had not merited the same opportunities as other children. I wondered how this deeply disaffected young person would respond were trips were not used as rewards for good behaviour, and if the school were more focused on giving him the kind of relational support he needed.
Mathew’s teacher had consented to him coming on the trip only if I went along with him, but that seemed to be the full extent of any planning. The gym hall was full of anxious parents, hugs, last-minute instructions and excited children. These school children were about to embark on their week-long residential at an outdoor centre in the Highlands. Matthew, however, stood on his own. He lived in a children’s home, so had no parents there to wave him off. As the kids piled onto the bus, I noticed that everyone else had found someone to sit next to, except for Matthew. I wondered why no one had really thought about him. Why hadn’t one of the care workers from the home waited with him? Why hadn’t there been assigned seating on the bus? Surely Matthew wasn’t the only child worried about who would sit next to him?
The next day, we put on wet-suits and headed for our first activity. I watched as Matthew, enthralled by his surroundings, listened to the instructor’s directions before we began our walk up the thickly wooded gorge. As we plunged into a very cold stream and climbed up our first small waterfall, I could see that he was thrilled. Matthew thrived on the sense of risk and the physicality of the experience. Afterwards, I thanked our instructor and explained a little more about Matthew’s background.
The instructor replied, “This is just the kind of experience we want to give young people like Matthew. He is the kind of child that can benefit from what we have to offer.”
The key to making these kinds of experiences work for all young people is to imagine how a child or young person will experience them. In addition, planning and preparation means thinking about the kind of relationships a young person has or lacks. Is there an adult who knows them well, who can spot the early signs that a child is anxious or upset? If the young person is struggling, is there an adult the young person can accept help from? If not, now is the time to think about helping a child experience that kind of relationship.
I hear teachers point to lack of resources as a reason for not including some children. Much of what I saw on the trip with Matthew wasn’t about the need for extra resources, however. It was about giving him the support he needed and making better use of the support he already had. In addition, the things that particularly helped Matthew would also have benefited most, if not all, of the other children.
On the back of my experiences and reflections, I have written a guide to school trips based on the requirements of the equality legislation, because it throws weight behind what should be good practice. See the ‘resources’ section of this website for a copy of the guide.
First published in www.saia.org.uk/blog 2019 © 2019 David Woodier, Inclusion Support Teacher. Permission granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only. Copyright notice must remain intact.