Are Pupils "Excluded"
Persistent disruptive behaviour is the most common reason for exclusion from school accounting for approximately one third of all permanent and fixed-term exclusions (DfE,2019a). According to the Timpson Review of School Exclusion, the rate of both temporary and permanent exclusion is highest among Black Caribbean and Gypsy/Roma and Traveller pupils, and 78% of permanent exclusions issued during secondary school were to pupils who either had special educational needs, were classified as in need or were eligible for free school meals. 11% of permanent exclusions were to pupils who had all three characteristics. (DfE, 2019b) While few studies have quantified the prevalence of trauma among young people who belong to these groups, there is evidence that social, educational and intellectual disadvantage, and belonging to a racial or ethnic minority are risk factors for trauma (Brewin, Andrews & Valentine, 2000; Hatch & Dohrenwend, 2007). There is evidence that trauma exposure leads to poor regulation of the stress response system and this, in turn, can lead to impulsivity and poor emotional control (Tarullo & Gunnar, 2006; Bright & Thompson, 2018). As a result, young people with trauma histories are more likely to respond to subsequent stressful experiences with internalising or externalising behavioural problems (Milot, Éthier, St-Laurent & Provost, 2010; Grasso, Ford & Briggs-Gowan, 2012). Challenging behaviour and trauma are associated.
Young people who show challenging behaviour are more likely than average to have been exposed to trauma. Furthermore, there is evidence that, in some cases, challenging behaviour is a symptom of trauma.
Anxiety in the Classroom
Anxiety manifests in a surprising variety of ways in part because it is based on a physiological response to a threat in the environment, a response that maximises the body’s ability to face danger or escape danger. In addition, anxiety can also make children aggressive. When pupils are feeling upset or threatened and don’t know how to handle their feelings, their fight or flight response to protect themselves can kick in — and some children are more likely to fight. They might attack another pupil or a teacher, throw things, or push over a desk because they’re feeling out of control. It’s not uncommon for children with serious undiagnosed anxiety to be disruptive at school, where demands and expectations put pressure on them that they can’t handle.
Limbic System Therapy in Education
The limbic system acts as a control centre for conscious and unconscious functions, regulating much of what the body does. In some ways, it connects the mind to body, bridging the gap between psychological and physiological experiences. For example, by activating the freeze, fight or flight response, the limbic system triggers a physical response to emotional experiences such as fear. The limbic system helps the body learn and remember information. It also plays a role in regulating cognitive attention.
Awaken Genius uses the limbic therapy in learning which helps the brain form deep and meaningful new memories in order to rewire children’s automatic response towards learning as a threat - using the multi-sensory learning approach targets the part of the brain that is feeling and reacting automatically; and creates a new experience which contradicts what that part of the brain has learned through trauma. As a result, the new experience can change the way a child with a trauma history respond. This is achieved by incorporating the participatory creative arts and a classroom community to enable children to develop deep bonds and create a safe and secure learning container before academia is introduced.
Awaken Genius uses the Polyvagal Theory – Which is a powerful tool in neuroscience and psychophysiology used to understand how perceptions of safety/threat influences our behaviour, often outside of our awareness.
Polyvagal Theory provides the evidence that it is not educationally valid to simply add a creative activity to a lesson and expect children to develop their creative skills; pupil’s physical and emotional state must be conducive beforehand.
Awaken Genius lessons are designed to not activate a sensation of threat or risk, thereby maximising the opportunity for learning. Pupils are able to find opportunities in finding social solutions – children will be able to practice turning to their peers for rescue, whilst simultaneously being taught how to rescue their peers. The Awaken Genius curriculum allows flexibility so that teachers can ‘hold’ the emotions of the group or individuals in a safe space without adding to the anxiety.