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How to manage the 2% of very tricky learners – PP29

The topic of the week is How to manage the 2% of very tricky learners.


2percentAt the time of year when this episode is published, the most tricky 2% of learners have often moved right through the strategies in the behaviour policy and some have managed to ‘break it in two’. Often at this time of year teams are sitting around tables wondering what on earth to do with the 2%. A lot of schools feel the urge to reduce or stop the exclusions which tend to be happening around this point in the school year. Of course, the 2% is very different in different schools and contexts but every setting has its own 2% who cause the same amount of frustration and stress. How can the school behaviour system support the 2%? It may seem obvious but it’s essential to train everyone properly. It can’t be a ‘one hit wonder’ – it needs to be sustained.

The schools which are the most successful in reducing exclusions don’t have a thousand fancy strategies at the end of the line, they just have really well-trained staff who do their best not to send children out of the classroom.

As soon as children realise that they can be successful there and you do care about them, exclusions start to reduce. Look at: – Great training – Call out systems to bring others to help – What happens when the call out teacher arrives – is the pupil taken away for the rest of the day or is a well-trained adult there skillfully to reintegrate the learner? – Are middle and senior leaders ‘out and about’ in the school whenever they have the opportunity? In schools where these things are in place, the removal room is not needed any more and exclusions are reduced. Listen again to our episode on Isolation and how it doesn’t work in the way it is set up in many schools. Look at how you can limit the use of isolation – reduce it if necessary. The most destructive thing you can do is teach a child that there is a place for them outside the lesson. Look at your behaviour policy – is it a (well-intentioned) mishmash of different ideas and strategies? Does it contain tarrifs? If so, you risk taking professional judgement away from teachers.

We don’t want teachers to be ‘process monkeys’, tied to rigid tariffs for behaviour

Tarrifs encourage people to stop thinking about what they are doing and rather to rely on a policy. In the end it’s not a policy which changes things – it’s what people actually do – how they apply the policy. The 2% very often don’t fit into these jumbled-up policies. Once they are on the first step of the tarrif, they can find it very difficult to get off and end up being excluded – especially as they have much more difficult areas of their life to worry about than the effect of sanctions on a tariff.

 The 2% are very often the damaged children – but it’s very easy to label them as ‘the naughty children’.

What can be done in the classroom to support the 2%?

The 2% need everything that all other children need – they just need it a little bit more, or sometimes a little bit more privately. Avoid giving the 2% a special place and status in the school by giving them public castigations or throwing them out of class in a a dramatic fashion. – Deal with their report card discretely – If they arrive late, manage them into the classroom subtlety – Do everything you can to take away their feeling of importance for behaving badly – Make extra effort to catch them being good – despite potential resentment from them – but don’t publicise it – Triangulate recognition and praise with other adults who have a bond or connection with the pupil – Don’t over-egg punishment – you already know it doesn’t work – rather a minute spent behind with you or having lunch with you is so much more effective than a distant punishment – The length of the detention does not mean a better outcome –  Persuade the learner who is struggling to leave their baggage at the door – point out the various support mechanisms which exist but make sure they know this is learning time

What practical changes can schools make to support the 2%? Mentoring and coaching works

make sure you have a personal learning coach for all learners at risk of exclusion. They need to be there for the long term and they need to be trained. Schools can’t take the place of missing parents but personal learning coaches are as good a support as we can give. Tap into local mentoring schemes in the community or in local business or create one yourself. Use your 6th Form if you have one to provide trained mentors for younger learners – it can be a very positive role-model for those who perhaps have none at home. “Nobody told me” – information is critical to promote empathy, bearing in the mind issues around safeguarding and personal information. This can support moidification of how teachers or other adults interact with a learner at risk of exclusion.

Have a range of options open to senior management so that the default position isn’t exclusion alone. In schools who have got this aspect right, they know that exclusion isn’t the answer – making the pupils feel wanted is much more powerful. Part of the solution is to involve the learners in the life of the school by using a system of ‘payback’: – Make those who are beginning to become disengaged a role as a mentor of younger learners. – Give opportunities to train as a sports coach for younger learners or do transition assemblies in a primary school This helps the 2% to feel like they are involved in the school again and there is something there for them.

Outdoor learning works – it can’t be a whole curriculum when you want to reintegrate learners into a classroom situation but it can be a essential element for the 2%. It is controversial of course but if you examine the background of the learners involved, you will see that it isn’t unfair. No-one would want to go through what they have been through and a useful parallel is that if a learner has a difficulty with English, they are given what works – extra help. Outdoor learning is part of what works for the 2% of trickiest learners.

Behaviour modification, alongside behaviour management Paul would like to see more behaviour modification techniques used in schools which would require collaboration with families amongst other therapeutic approaches. Listen to the episode for lots more discussion, detail and fascinating stories.


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