How to support struggling students in mainstream education

  • How to support struggling students in mainstream education

There are currently 8.56 million students in UK schools alone (Department for Education (DfE), 2016) – and there’s no denying the significance of that figure. This means there are 8.56 million individuals going through the system, each with their own personal learning needs and abilities. Education, however, tends to be of a one-size-fits-all disposition, which can, unfortunately, fail some students, preventing them from accessing the curriculum and, in turn, from reaching their full potential. While some learners may need alternative provisions, such as those offered by Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), other students’ needs may not seem ‘disadvantaged’ enough to consider removing them from mainstream education. So what affects some individuals’ ability to access the curriculum and, in turn, causes them to fall through the cracks in mainstream education?

Look at root causes

Every student can exhibit poor behaviour at times – we all have bad days occasionally – however, when this continues for prolonged periods of time, we need to look at the cause of this student’s behaviour, whether it manifests as acting out in lessons, or refusing even to come into school. One factor that needs to be considered is whether the student has a desire to learn in the first place. If they “can’t see the point” in education, or don’t consider certain subjects valuable, then there is no motivation to focus and attain. Delivery of teaching is another factor that may cause young people to disengage. If a student is completing tasks quickly or continually achieving full marks, or equally, if a learner is really struggling in a lesson, then they’re going to become demotivated, which can often manifest in poor behaviour. Families also have a significant role to play, as parental engagement drives student progress. Ultimately, if a child is struggling at school, but has support from parents or carers, this is going to have a positive impact on their self- esteem and their attitude towards school. Another hugely important factor that needs to be considered is special educational needs or disabilities. There are 1.23 million students with SEND in schools in England (DfE, 2016), which means that all teachers are likely to be a teacher of at least one SEND child, and probably several. And of course, those needs must all be met if students are to avoid falling through the cracks.

Identify effective strategies

The good news is that schools have the capability to help struggling students to engage with the curriculum and mainstream education. Twilight sessions, for example, are a simple way of supporting young people who are struggling with learning, consolidating content that has been covered in lessons and giving the teacher the chance to go over difficult information at the pace and in the learning style that the student understands, thereby helping them to engage with the curriculum. Simply having discussions with that student, allowing them to have a greater say over the curriculum and creating a learning path that’s suited for them is beneficial. Best practice is for SEND support to be delivered using the graduated approach of ‘assess, plan, do, review’ – by working closely with the student, teachers in mainstream education can also use this approach to trial alternative provisions for any disengaged young person, with the aim of re-engaging and enthusing them. Giving students access to careers advice is also extremely beneficial, as it helps them develop a career focus and understand why education is important. If, for example, a student wants to become a plumber – do they need an apprenticeship? Likewise, if someone wants to move onto college – what grades do they need? Young people might not know what they need to do to reach a goal, but with a target to strive for, they will understand why education is important which will, in turn, boost their attainment. Most schools and academies have highly-trained teachers who are able to help all students, and these represent a powerful resource. If you’re in a MA, for example, then why not share good teachers among schools? Or could you team up with other schools in your LA? If one teacher has succeeded in re engaging a student with learning, then others can learn from this and trial it with learners in their own school. It’s all about collaboration and sharing best practice; often some of the best ideas stem from this approach. There are edtech platforms available that help deliver learning from a distance or enable teachers to monitor students’ progress across the school. If a child has been suspended from school or is placed in exclusion, their learning still needs to continue; virtual learning platforms provide a supportive provision whereby students at home or in exclusion can access the curriculum over a safeguarded platform and teachers can monitor their progress, so that the transition is eased when they’re reintroduced to the classroom.

No excuse for failure

Young people need support and guidance throughout their education, both academically and pastorally, and while most schools are successful in delivering these, unfortunately, even then, some students can struggle with attainment. Nonetheless I firmly believe that within our system we have the ability to deliver an all-encompassing education for every student, regardless of their academic ability or social background. If a student begins to slip through the cracks, schools can and should have the provisions in place to support them and re-engage them in education. Education is something that every individual deserves, so schools need to strive to engage all students and provide them with the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

In brief: 5 strategies to support struggling young people within mainstream education

Twilight sessions

Additional lessons give students the opportunity to recap learning and receive extra support if they are finding the curriculum difficult to access.

Sharing good teachers

Teachers are often an untapped resource, but when ideas and experience are shared and discussed, they may be inspired to try alternative provisions in their own classrooms.

Direct discussions

Finding out what the student wants from education and how they best engage with learning can help schools meet their needs more effectively.

Virtual learning

VLPs enable students to access the curriculum if they’re at home or in exclusion, for example - ensuring they remain involved in their learning. They can also enable students to access personalised learning paths.

Careers advice

If a student has something to aspire to, whether this be a role model or a career objective, they’re more likely to reach out for this goal and focus on their learning to help them achieve it.

About the author

Sam Warnes is a former teacher, and CEO and founder of EDLounge.