The Varndean Goats – Behaviour, Therapy and Carrots! PP160

GOAT DISCLAIMER – You may notice some strange changes in the audio quality in this episode. This was in no way connected to us goats eating the sound equipment.

This week, Tara Elie visited Varndean School in Brighton. As well as being a co-education state maintained comprehensive school for 11-16 year olds, it’s also home to the famous Varndean Goats!

Varndean’s 5 pygmy goats Alan, Ethel, Maya, Bertrand and William are named after each of the four School namesakes; Maya Angelou, Bertrand Russell, Alan Turing and Ethel Ellis. The fifth goat, William, just happens to share his name with the Headteacher!
Staff and students spend time with the goats every lunchtime at Goat Club, where they can come along and meet the goats, learn how to feed and care for them and maybe even take them for walks around the school grounds. The school are firm believers in the power of animal therapy in supporting students in stressful times, and the power of nurture is a proven tool in the practice of mindfulness and wellbeing.

Schools who have pets are really developing and benefiting from the therapeutic benefits of keeping animals.

What do the goats feel their role is?

The Varndean goats help students to calm down from any negative emotions they might be feeling as well as teaching students how to look after animals properly – an important life skill!

What is the goats’ role in behaviour management?

The goats are so naughty that they make the students’ behaviour seem a lot better! However, the benefit students derive from learning about nurturing, caring and developing relationships with the goats helps them enormously with human relationships as well.

The goats are receptive to humans only when they are gentle and caring and this is a great lesson for everyone.

Why are the Varndean goats so successful?

Part of the reason is because the goats are so well integrated into the life of the school – for staff as well as students. Staff can ‘book the goats and come out with groups of students or individuals to do some work with them.

How do the goats help with wellbeing?

The goats provide a great way of de-stressing for students – it’s impossible not to relax when you are with them.

Are the therapeutic effects just for students?

The goats say that staff open up and show their softer, more loving side when they are with them. This is also appreciated by the students! People can open up to goats without fear of reprisal and often show sides of their characters which are normally hidden.

Another benefit is the outdoor education which is possible. Varndean School has an Eco Club and a Gardening Club as well as lots of outdoor curricular activity. Tara is very impressed with how the students interact with the goats, each other, their teachers and visitors including herself. It encourages leadership and positive activity. For example, working with the goats begins before 8am every morning and students are there to look after them.

The Varndean Goats are helping:

  • With student voice
  • Students who are withdrawn
  • With bereavement
  • With anger management
  • With non-verbal students
  • With stress management
  • Therapeutically with students and adults
  • With hard-to-reach students

Follow the Varndean Goats on Twitter!

Bleat of the Week

Some of our goat friends helped us out with sound effects:

Sarah Wild on girls and autism…it’s not just a boy thing – PP159

Sarah Wild
Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild is headteacher of Limpsfield Grange School, Surrey, which caters for the needs of girls with autism. She shares some amazing insights into a side of the autistic spectrum which is widely misunderstood.

Isn’t autism a boy thing?

Sarah points out that the majority of what we have known about autism is based on the work of scientists about 70 years ago and their study was of young boys. So we have focused on just that one end of the autism spectrum. Girls do make up a minority of those with autism, however.

Sarah says that autism isn’t a disease, it’s just a neurological difference and it can even be positive and people can be really proud about it.

Girls with autism present in very different ways to boys. They might:

  • be much more sociable
  • be really bothered about relationships
  • be friendship-driven from a really early age
  • try hard to fit in with the people around them

Girls often exhibit ‘masking’ or ‘camouflaging’ – from around Yr 4 they know they aren’t quite the same as everyone else and it makes them feel isolated and depressed. So they ‘social scan’ – they work out who has lots of friends and how they do it. They examine what a popular girl does, what she wears, how she behaves, what she is interested in and they replicate this. This ‘masking’ means they have deliberately constructed a different version of themselves and suppress their natural instincts and judgements and do what they think other people want them to do.

This doesn’t result in the feedback they want and it’s exhausting so they go home and have melt-downs because which can be traumatic for them and their families. Some autistic women do this all their lives and there can be a severe mental health toll from it.

This behaviour also means that some autism in girls is missed. To counteract this, new diagnostic tools are currently being developed to be more gender-netural and not rely so heavily on the accepted definition of autism based on those original studies of boys.

What should a mainstream teacher be aware of so they can ask the right questions about girls and autism?

There will be some signs, despite autistic girls’ masking. They could be:

  • anxious
  • trying hard not to attract attention
  • sitting at the back of the classroom
  • the last person to laugh at a joke
  • exhibiting superficial behaviour
  • on the outside of social groups
  • struggling in noisy corridors
  • struggling in classrooms with too much light
  • socially isolated despite the fact that they are trying
  • taking high-risk behaviours to the extreme in secondary school because they think that’s what teenage behaviour is
  • passive and ‘easily led’
  • young for their age
  • trying to dominate conversations

Sarah mentions The Autism Girls Forum and the booklet it produced with NASEN – Girls Flying Under the Radar This is written specifically for mainstream practitioners and includes lots of advice on how to identify autistic girls and how to help them.

Why are there not more schools like Sarah’s?

Her school has been in existence since 1953 and has at times not been single sex. Sarah describes it as ‘a throwback’. She thinks if it had been in any other local authority than Surrey it would have been shut long ago. However, she thinks it is highly relevant today.

It works because the girls who are often marginalised and don’t have a voice have a community of people in the school who love, accept, celebrate and understand them. They can be themselves at Limpsfield. If girls are in an environment with autistic boys it’s really easy for them to get overshadowed as the boys can ‘explode’ while the girls ‘implode’. Sarah believes the school can cater well for the needs of autistic girls in ways they couldn’t do if the school was mixed.

If you are a slightly quirky woman with an obsession about rabbits people are not going to entertain that as much as if you are a quirky guy with an obsession about trains.

Can we build more inclusion into the mainstream?

Autistic people really like not being with neuro-typical people because they find it draining. They like the fact that they are in a community of people where they don’t have to explain themselves all the time. Sarah believes that some autistic people can thrive in mainstream settings but we have to look at individual needs and make sure there is a wide-enough range of settings available. It’s not OK that this is the only school of its type in the country.

Often girls put pressure on their parents because they want to be part of the community at Limpsfield. They feel that they will be accepted and therefore can make progress.

Sarah believes that the most important thing they do is to help keep the girls mentally well and as a profession we have to make sure we limit the amount of pressure we transmit to children.

How does the school use animals for positive effect?

After a suggestion from the site manager, Sarah agreed to get some alpacas for the school. Now this has grown to chickens, koi carp, goats, miniature Shetland sheep, dogs and goldfish.

Girls can access the dogs, for example, if they are having a difficult time – Sarah believes that animals just make you feel better. She says that the curriculum has moved in a narrowing, dry direction recently so leaning to care for an animal is a really important skill – in fact, as important as a GCSE in Maths.

Also, the animals have been very useful when talking to girls who are at risk of self-harm. They make conversations about taking care easier. The girls agree they wouldn’t harm the animals so why would they harm themselves? They are as worthy of love and support and care as the animals.

Sarah’s top tips for mainstream teachers to start working positively with autistic learners

  • Build a relationship with them
  • Find out what their special interest is and talk to them about it
  • Make learning as concrete as you can – present the same information in a variety of different ways

There is a lot more detail in the episode so please do listen right to the end.

Sarah on Twitter

Limpsfield Grange School Website

Books mentioned by Sarah:

M is for Autism

M in the Middle

Andres Gonzalez on Mindfulness and Meditation – not Detention! PP158

Andy founded the Holistic Life Foundation with two co-founders he met at college. They decided that their mission in life was to try to save the world and work out how to get everyone to stop suffering. One of the group’s godfathers agreed to teach them all facets of yoga practice – at 4am each morning – with the proviso that they became teachers themselves. Eventually, they had the opportunity to work with a group of ‘problem kids’ and that’s where the  foundation started.

“We try to make compassion cool.”

What is the foundation all about?

Andy Gonzalez
Andy Gonzalez

One of the main aims of the foundation is to give adults and kids the tools they need to regulate themselves. Andy points out that the children learn to love themselves through the programmes – they get a sense of self-worth. When humans love themselves first, it’s amazing how much easier it is for them to start loving others. This is when the neighbourhood, the climate and the culture in a school starts changing.

Originally the principal of the local school had asked Andy and his friends to become sports coaches for the ‘problem kids’ but they suggested teaching them yoga and meditation instead. The principal didn’t really mind what they did with them as long as they were prepared to care for them. There were only about 10 children but very soon after starting the programme, the numbers of the kids in detention per week reduced. Parents were delighted even though Andy is convinced they had no idea they were being taught mindfulness and mediation – they just saw the dramatic improvement in their children.

That small group of children were about to go to middle school but Andy and his colleagues decided that they weren’t going to abandon them. They picked each of them up from their middle schools across the city every day and took them to a central location for their classes. They also started to take the children to other after-school programmes.

When adults saw how positive the impact was becoming on the community, with the children starting to teach their parents the techniques, word spread and the foundation began to attract many more children. The programme now runs five days a week and works with 160 children.

“If you come to the programme you’d see a little three or four-year-old leading everyone through breathing techniques.”

What are your thoughts on detention – how was it working in the Baltimore area where you set up the foundation?

Detention wasn’t working for these kids. It was pouring fuel on the fire of their already heightened state. There was no attempt to help the children 0 to give them tools to help them to help themselves. The child is shouted at in the classroom, sent to the office, sent home and then returns the next day. If the same situation occurs, he reacts in the same way. He has no way of improving because he hasn’t been shown or taught how to handle his state of mind.

So instead of being sent to the office to be shouted at, the foundation arranged a room which was set up as an oasis in the school with yoga mats, meditation cushions, Himalayan salt crystals, bowl diffusers and posters with positive affirmations. The child would come in, the staff would actively listen to them and then lead them through some breathing exercises and meditation, modified to be appropriate to the specific scenario the child was facing. They only have 15mins with the child after which he is sent back to the classroom. When faced with that scenario again they have been taught a tool to use instead of reacting as they did.

After 3 years working in the same school, there are now no suspensions at all. They haven’t replaced detention with meditation – it’s just that the kids don’t need them anymore. They have learned to regulate themselves.

“They are finding that sense of self-worth and they are more compassionate towards themselves and others.”

Andy believes that this could change the dynamic in every school across the world.

How did the teachers and adults in the schools react when you first suggested the approaches?

The reaction is always mixed. Some teachers have experience of meditation themselves so are positive but others are highly sceptical. The way to convince the sceptical often is to explain the science behind the approaches. Members of both the groups worry about how their teaching will be disrupted but Andy points out that the programme is intended to fit complement their teaching. If they are spending 15 minutes of each lesson getting the children settled, this can be reduced by the children learning the tools to regulate themselves. Overall, most teachers are convinced very quickly when the see the results – the transformation. The foundation always teach the staff first. The staff need to be practising themselves first before they can model and reinforce the approaches to the children, which is essential.

What is happening in a child’s brain and body when they meditate?

Andy explains the concepts of ‘flee or fight’ and the automatic nature of our reactions to stress or danger. Listen to the episode to hear his detailed description. He says the problem is that most of us don’t know how to bring ourselves back to a calmer, controlled, relaxed state. This is where practising mindfulness and meditation comes in.

What skills would you pass on to teachers who don’t have access to these sorts of services?

Andy says he teaches simple ‘belly breathing’ or ‘diaphragmic breathing’ to everyone wherever he goes:

  • Breathe in and out through your nose
  • Breathe in with your belly
  • Exhale fully
  • Slow your breathing down

Also, Andy recommends a basic meditation concept:

  • Whenever you get a moment in your day, just stop for a second
  • Take a few deep breaths, just block everything out and just be

There are a lot of extra detail and examples in the episode so do listen right to the end.

Holistic Life Foundation:


You’re in luck – it’s Andy Buck! (On Leadership) – PP157

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Paul Dix
Paul Dix

Paul makes a welcome return to the Pivotal Podcast this week and our very special guest is Andy Buck.

Originally a geography teacher, head of year and head of department, Andy went on to become a headteacher in east London for thirteen years. In the last year of headship, his school was judged outstanding in all categories and Andy was designated a National Leader of Education. In 2009 he become a Director at the National College for School Leadership, leading on the London Challenge programme. He was subsequently responsible for setting up the government’s flagship Teaching Schools programme before being appointed as Managing Director at United Learning, one of the country’s largest academy groups.

Andy Buck
Andy Buck

Since 2014, Andy has founded two organisations: Leadership Matters and #honk. Both aim to improve the educational outcomes for pupils by supporting great leadership development.  Leadership Matters is a web-based membership organisation which offers school leaders access to high quality online development tools and other leadership articles, videos and blogs.  #honk is the organisation through which Andy works directly with educational leaders on executive coaching, team development, training and conference keynotes.

Andy was invited to become a Fellow of the RSA in 2015. He has also been a Board member for various organisations including the Teacher Training Agency, the National College for School Leadership and Partnerships for Schools. He is currently a Trustee for the Teacher Development Trust, Board member at the Teaching Awards and is the Dean of the Leadership Faculty at Teaching Leaders.

How did you find yourself standing in front of a class of children?

Originally when he was a t school, Andy did want to be a teacher but it wasn’t until a screening of Out of Africa’ years later that the idea resurfaced and he trained to be a Geography teacher.

Andy knew when he started teaching that he wanted to be a head. He’s not sure how much that happens nowadays.

“It takes a braver, more resilient person to be a headteacher now.”

Headteachers are now subject to so much accountability that they have that worry ‘sitting on their shoulder’ the whole time. However, the best leaders he sees in school still manage to remember what they care about and build in time to nourish themselves which means that they get a feeling of making a difference and doing what they are good at. This is infectious and spreads to the whole staff.

What do schools need to do to grow capacity and develop their own leaders?

Andy believes that the basis of this is culture and climate, combined with care – leaders need to care for their staff and look out for them. They need to notice and recognise when they are doing great things and noticing when they don’t seem quite themselves.

If people understand why they are doing something also be encouraged and supported to be ‘up to something’ then the climate improves and develops.

“Really great teachers are brilliant leaders of their classrooms.”

For Andy, there are many parallels between great classroom teaching and great leadership, for example in talent management – helping people to grow, just like children in a class.

Andy believes that to lead a school you need to have experience of teaching because schools are complex, you need to have credibility with the people you are leading and really to understand what the role is. Experience is a product of time but different people need different amounts of time to develop. He thinks that roles higher up in, for example, an academy chain are different and teaching experience isn’t necessarily essential for those, as long as they surround themselves with plenty of good people with that experience.

Do schools at different stages of their development need different kinds of leadership?

Andy believes they do and sometimes that means a different kind of leader.

“Leaders need to understand what things they are good at and what things they shy away from or are not so good at.”

Leaders also need to understand the situation they are leading in and then they can work out how they need to lead – what approaches they need to take. For example, a school in difficulties needs someone to come along and say, ‘Look, this is what we need to do’. If you took that same pace-setting approach in a school where there is a lot of experience, people are motivated and performance is good, they will wonder why they need to change, and ask themselves if the leader understands that things are going well. The leadership style will need to be more about taking time to talk to people, to coach, to be more democratic with decision-making and to empower and delegate.

As a leader you may be more predisposed towards one type of leadership and you need to understand that to be most successful you need to be aware of this.

How do you motivate a staff who are facing budget cuts and redundancies?

Andy says this is not easy. Leaders need to acknowledge that it’s difficult.

“There needs to be…an integrity about doing what’s right for the children…rather than what seems to be convenient…”

Andy believes that transparency breeds trust so he advocates as much transparency as possible in these situations. Leaders also need to preserve their optimism despite everything which is going on.

Andy also covers Grammar Schools and a range of other topics, so do listen to the whole episode!

Tweets of the Week


(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

How to get your educational book published with Crown House Publishing’s David Bowman – PP156

Ollie Frith
Ollie Frith

Ollie and Kevin speak to David Bowman, Managing Director of Crown House Publishing, about the educational book market and why it’s booming again. David also talks about how they find educational authors and what makes a great educational book.

David was originally in ‘productivity service’ with a gas board but moved into the family business which was, at that time, book distribution. This eventually transformed into a book publisher known as Crown House Publishing in the early 2000s which now specialises in CPD books for teachers.

Is there a growing need for CPD books for teachers?

David Bowman
David Bowman

David doesn’t think the need is growing but does believe the quality and quantity of CPD books for teachers has improved a lot. Nowadays, quite a lot of schools buy Crown House’s books in quantity and use them as the basis of their CPD. David sees this trend as instrumental in encouraging and supporting the improvement in teaching over the past few years.

Is there a danger that teachers are just reading the narratives of others and not forming their own?

David says that they do receive a lot of work which is simply regurgitation of previous ideas whereas what they want to hear is the author’s own voice, their analysis of what’s going on, their opinions, their blueprint for achieving better outcomes for children.

Crown House go out and look for people who can do this and David says they are not usually existing authors. They find them speaking at conferences,  writing blogs or being active on social media. They also receive submissions from prospective authors and they are interested in anyone who has something new and different to say.

However, a book needs to be shaped – it starts with an idea and a discussion between the author and Crown House.

It’s a difficult task to get your thoughts into an effective structure and in a form other people are going to understand and can act on.

David points out that good books can take upwards of five years to come to fruition and sometimes great books don’t sell. A book they published called ‘The Philosophy Shop’ by Peter Worley won the Education Book of the Year Award in 2013 but sold less than 2,000 copies! Schools were not interested in it. The whole concept of teaching children to think critically and creatively has been squeezed out of the curriculum.

In an age of social media and online resources, do traditional publishers still have something to offer?

David believes that traditional publishers still have a huge amount to offer. He points out that they treat every book as a partnership. The author provides the content but Crown House provide expert editing, design, proof-reading, marketing and an active sales team. This means they can produce the best book possible and maximise sales.

We see so many self-published books that are ill-conceived, poorly organised, poorly written and don’t meet a market need.

With the help of a traditional publisher, some of these could have been good books.

What are David’s three top tips for teachers or leaders who are thinking of writing a book?

  1. Make sure you have something new to say – which means doing research into what has already been written to avoid regurgitating material and
  2. Make sure there is a big enough audience for what you want to say – just because you have a big online following, that doesn’t mean people will want to buy your book
  3. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to publish this book?” – Do you want to raise your profile and so want to make use of the wider network of a traditional publisher or do you want to make money out of it because you have a big audience and can self-publish to keep more of the money generated?

What does the future of publishing look like?

David says that there will be increasingly more content published digitally but nowhere near as much as had been predicted three years ago.

Physical books have definitely fought off the challenge of e-books and have a great future

Crown House Publishing

After years of decline, the physical book market grew by 4% in 2016 and has settled at 20-25% of the market. This is a stark contrast to the 60% which was previously predicted. This has come about because readers have re-discovered a connection to real books, publishers have increased the quality of what they are offering and e-books have retained their value, not being sold at a massive discount compared with real books. This is completely different from the ‘race to the bottom’ which the music industry has had to endure.

Do publishers have a responsibility to promote certain topics?

David says that publishers have a responsibility to publish what authors want to write in the best ways possible and don’t tend to promote one view over another.

How to transform behaviour with staff and students from Oldham Sixth Form College – PP155

Tara Elie
Tara Elie

Oldham Sixth Form College have had two trainers trained by Pivotal Education in Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the Pivotal Curriculum. Tara visited the college and recorded some interviews ‘on location’ to find out how the Pivotal Curriculum is affecting staff and students.

What has changed?

Tara spoke to Louise and Doug and asked them what has improved since starting to use Pivotal approaches. After implementing their 30 Day Pledge which was about meet and greet, all staff including the support staff noticed a change in the culture of the college. Simple things like all staff being outside their classrooms to help manage the behaviour in the corridors made an immediate difference.

“There was more a sense of calm at the beginning of the year…because there was a bigger staff presence in the corridor.”

Oldham College logoStaff are also managing low-level behaviour  problems in their own classrooms rather than referring issues upwards and there has been a definite shift away from passing behaviour onto the senior leadership team.

Consistency amongst staff has also improved with more of a shared understanding of what’s needed.

Measurement and evidence

It’s important for all staff to understand the impact of the changes and so the college have been keen to collect data. For example, from September to March this year, referral appointments to escalate behaviour incidents have gone down by 47%. This is evidence that staff are dealing with a lot more of the behaviour incidents themselves. This means that if the Senior Leadership Team have to deal with an issue, it’s a significant, serious one rather than the low-level ones they used to see.

Staff now have the tools and the confidence to deal effectively with behaviour issues themselves.

When staff were surveyed before the implementation of the Pivotal approaches, the messages were that behaviour management was inconsistent and that staff wanted more sanctions. The 47% reduction shows that staff are not thinking like this anymore. They don’t think that behaviour management is a sanctions-based system now. Instead, they believe that they should be dealing with issues in their own classrooms – managing and improving relationships and therefore improving outcomes.

Sone staff initially thought that the Pivotal approach might be ‘too soft’ for 16-19 students but they now understand that it does work and improves both outcomes and relationships.

Have students also noticed changes?

Tara spoke to Kamal who said that he had noticed more positive postcards had been sent home. He thinks it helps a lot because students aren’t just noticed when they are ‘being naughty’ but also when they are behaving positively. He also likes the way it shows his parents how he is doing in college. He put the postcard he received up on the fridge and he says it motivated him to see it there.

Other students mentioned the impact of recognition boards and meet and greet. These small changes are being noticed and appreciated by students.

Are the changes in approach just for the 95% of students who generally behave well?

Oldham Sixth Form College is also seeing improvements in ‘Hard to reach students’ who tend to be disengaged with the education system. Retention figures for this group have improved from 92% last year to 95% this year. The college attribute this to the strong relationships which have been developed through the Pivotal approach between teaching and pastoral staff and this group of students. Not only does this help academically but also in a great deal of character development. Students value the consistency they now get from staff – the positive approach, the clear expectations and the positive recognition.  Particularly pleasing is the number of students who have been in re-take courses who are now accessing university places.

What about support staff engagement?

Tara says that support staff are often neglected in training but in Oldham Sixth Form College, this is where the biggest impact has been seen. The college has around 80-90 support staff which is 50% of the workforce. Training in the Pivotal approach has been delivered to them as well. They are ‘really buying into’ the approach because they have never had the consistent tools to handle behaviour in the same way. They have come together to decide what the behaviour issues are, for example, in the Learning Resources Area. They have created behaviour posters and Tara noticed that the reception staff had taken and embellished the rules to make them more relevant to their own area of the college.


Doug and Louise have shared the training responsibilities in a co-training arrangement. Doug has valued Louise’s experience of training in different situations as well as the way in which they have been able to plan the best approaches for their staff and learners. It’s also helpful for staff to have two trainers to provide a bit of contrast in delivery. Doug also sees the value in training existing teaching staff to deliver the Pivotal Curriculum as they have a large amount of credibility with the staff.

Louise points out that delivering training is exhausting so it’s good to share the load. She also values having someone else to manage the training – ‘reading the room’ while she is delivering content, for example, or collaborating on approaches and improving sessions based on feedback.

Pivotal Curriculum Training

“In 22 years this is by far the best behaviour management programme I’ve ever been on and ever delivered.”

Louise thinks the quality and effectiveness of Pivotal behaviour training lies partly in its on-going nature. There are a series of units, all focussing on changing one thing. She came away from the first two days of training thinking ‘this is it – this is the key!’

Doug is looking forward to embarking on the action research module and how it will help to develop behaviour management even further, giving staff even more ownership over the processes and encourage a more collaborative approach.

Why Mental Health issues are on the rise and what schools can do about it – PP154

Pivotal’s own Mike Armiger discusses the state of Mental Health in our children and young people. He suggests a range of ways in which schools can cope with the situation and best support those young people who are struggling with their own mental health.

Mike Armiger
Mike Armiger

Why are Mental Health issues on the rise in schools and other educational settings?

Mike feels it’s important to separate mental health from mental illnesses – they are very different things. Mental health is all about a child’s overall well-being.

Mental health isn’t a constant – it can fluctuate at different times of your life. Children today have such complex lives to navigate that anxiety can affect them, even from sources like political upheaval and the sometimes overwhelming pressures of social media. Often, people talk about resilience as if children can develop this in isolation but that’s not the case – it’s all to do with dependency:

You can only be resilient if you have a safe place and a safe adult to return to.

Other aspects are poverty, abuse and difficult family conditions but Mike also highlights the curriculum as a major cause of problems. He believes we have designed and developed the curriculum to create a massive amount of pressure on children to perform and hit targets. This means that a lot of the more creative subjects where children can find release have been marginalised and pushed out in favour of extra core subject time.

How can educational settings support young people with Mental Health issues?

Schools are being asked to plug a lot of gaps in mental health provision without the resources to do so. This is in the context of cuts in school funding and the first staff cuts are always in pastoral and support staff.

Counselling and talking therapy is extremely beneficial to children and young people with mental health issues – they need to be able to talk it through with an emotionally-able adult but there are also many things we can do to reduce stress levels in our bodies as well.

The main thing we can do is be able to support conversations.

Many schools are adopting very helpful practises to help in this area such as mindfulness. Mike mentions the Headspace app which allows users to take 10 minutes out and sport is also physically beneficial because of the way it affects the brain. The arts are also a great help.

However, Mike wants to stress that putting mental health in the agenda is perhaps even more important than all the above. A lot of schools and other settings are putting time and effort into training staff to recognise mental health issues in children and that’s great but it needs to be in combination with giving adults in schools the skills to have conversations confidently with those children. There is still a huge problem with the stigma attached to mental health so every school needs to make sure that assemblies, the PSHE curriculum and staff training are all really strong and consistent.

Another really important tool for schools is goal setting and Mile tells us about the power of getting young people who are experiencing difficulties themselves involved in supporting mental health programmes to help others in schools.

Most importantly, though, Mike points out that if we are committed to raising the profile of talking about mental health, we must have the systems in place to cope with the inevitable rise in children and young people coming forward for help.

What can teachers do when a child or young person is in crisis?

We need to provide young people who are in crisis with a safe place immediately.

When you are in a state of crisis in terms of your brain and your thoughts, what you really need is certainty.

  • Talk about the things the young person can do
  • Remind them of times in the past when they have been positive or interacted well with peers
  • Talk about the things you can do to reduce the stress
  • Talk and take the focus away fro the anxiety by providing practical tasks
  •  Think about ‘grounding’ – sometimes being physically on the ground will help
  • Model calm breathing with the young person – in through the nose and out through the mouth
  • Communicate the situation to all other members of staff who will come into contact with the young person
  • Chase up any existing referrals or arrange new referrals
  • Ensure that child is able to go to a safe environment when they leave the school or other setting

Whole class punishment – a student speaks out – PP153

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Paul Dix
Paul Dix

In an unusual but very engaging episode, Paul and his son, Bertie, interview Netta, a year 9 student and her mother, Penny. Netta tells us about her personal experiences of whole class punishment and her feelings about it. We also discuss many other aspects of school behaviour and it was great to get a student and parent’s point of view on this essential subject!

Netta wrote a letter to her school after receiving a number of whole class punishments. She reads it out on the episode. It’s eloquent and presents a balanced view of her attitude towards group punishments where students like her suffer through no fault of their own.

What do the best teachers do to manage behaviour?

Netta says that the best teachers make sure the students are motivated by and interested in the lesson. Also, they make sure the more able students are suitably challenged so they don’t get bored. Those teachers also have creative ways of dealing with disruptive students like her MFL teacher who has given a boy a set of Spanish words which he is allowed to shout out in class!

“I definitely respect teachers who are more creative with their lessons.”

Does punishment in schools work?

Netta believes some of it does but a lot of it needs improvement. Schools need to check their punishments are working not just follow what they have always done. Different punishments work for different people. Netta likes her school’s behaviour points system – she thinks it’s positive that you can get rewarded for good behaviour not just punished for bad behaviour.

She also like the fact that you start with a fresh slate every year. Some people have received over a hundred points in a month. She points out that most students don’t really care about the points.

Is group punishment fair and what does it teach?

Netta is passionate about group punishment not being fair.

It teaches the well-behaved students that there’s no point in being good because they will be punished no matter what they do.

Paul asks if it helps the group to self-regulate and Netta says that there is an element of peer pressure to behave better in her class but it just causes arguments between students and then the whole class gets kept behind for even longer!

Netta’s mum. Penny,  finds group punishments very frustrating. She points out that there is a difference in how well behaved and poorly behaved children are treated – poorly behaved children are lavished with praise when they do something small which is good but those who are well behaved all the time are ignored. However, rather than accepting the situation, Penny is pro-active. She writes when good things happen and so she has developed a relationship with the school which means she can write when she sees things are not going well. She is respectful but assertive in her communications. She offers help from her own teaching experience or points out relevant training.

What can children do to positively influence behaviour practice in schools?

Netta thinks that if students see something which isn’t working they can talk to the school or get their parents to talk to the school – sometimes the school don’t take the students seriously but they will listen to parents.

There is a student council but they don’t usually talk about behaviour and those types of issues.

Do school behaviour practices reflect many parents’ desire for strict and tough discipline?

Netta thinks they do at her school. They can’t get away with much. Penny reflects that she is impressed that her children are so respectful and well behaved, when she considers how she herself was at school! She doesn’t like extreme ‘military’ style behaviour policies and she says that she thinks this kind of approach often comes from schools’ perceptions of the children they are dealing with rather than from parents.

Perfectly Practical Parenting with Sue Atkins – PP152

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Paul Dix
Paul Dix

We welcome Parenting Expert, Sue Atkins, onto the podcast. It’s the first time we have spoken to a parenting specialist and it was a fascinating interview with Sue, who regularly appears on radio and TV – even sharing the sofa with Piers Morgan!

Sue is a Parenting Expert, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster, Parenting Coach and Mum as well as the author of the Amazon best selling books “Parenting Made Easy – How to Raise Happy Children” & ‘Raising Happy Children for Dummies’ one in the famous black and yellow series as well as the author of the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy MP3s and CDs and Workbooks and The Secrets To Well Behaved Kids App. She  regularly appears on the flagship award winning “This Morning” Show on ITV, BBC Breakfast television, SKY TV, BBC local and national radio.

Sue Atkins
Sue Atkins

Is there a right way to parent or is it enough to be the best we can be?

Sue believes we can only be the best we can be with the resources we have at the time and a lot of parents feel guilty about not knowing something but all we have as a reference, usually, is how our parents did it. You can choose to do the same or choose to avoid doing the same as they did.

“The best thing to do is to do your best, relax but be positive…Parenting isn’t a competitive sport.”

Sue points out that not many parents are self-aware – they act in the moment rather than taking time to ponder what the best actions are. Parents need to work and talk together to develop a plan of how they are going to bring up their children – and be consistent.

Does smacking have any place in parenting?

Sue believes strongly that smacking should not have any place in parenting. Some people say that ‘it didn’t do them any harm’ but if adults hit adults, it’s called assault. Why is it seen as OK to hit children?

Sue also talks about being mindful of our triggers – and those of our children – are we tired? Is our behaviour affected? Do we lack restraint because of how we feel? Sue advocates all parents ensure they create ‘me time’ so that they can relax and come back to parenting with a sense of humour and a sense of balance.

Listen to Sue’s own podcast – The Sue Atkins Parenting Show
Visit Sue’s website –

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

How to reintegrate radicalised young men with Detective Inspector Thorlief – PP151

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Tara Elie
Tara Elie

Tara Elie shares with us an amazing interview she recorded with the Dutch Detective Inspector Thorlief. It’s an amazing, thought provoking and deeply affecting episode with lots of parallels in every educational setting.

Find out why Thorlief was accused of ‘Rolling out the red carpet for the Jihadis’ and why Tara was immediately by his compassion.

“It was hard to believe he had achieved what he claimed with such simplicity of approach.”

Thorlief has been subjected to mockery but still manages to see the big picture. His intelligence and empathy are striking.

Some of the parallels between his work and ours in school is in his work with mentors on life skills for the radicalised young men. He works hard to create belonging in the men who have no sense of it when they first meet Thorlief.

What is the ‘prevention triangle’ and why is prevention key to success with these men? Thorlief explains what happens when young men are unable to be reached by the community – that’s when he comes in.

“He allows them to be open and candid about their experiences and he talks about ‘raising them again’ as citizens.”

It’s a remarkable and very important episode of the podcast.

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –