Charlie Taylor: Signs Of Aggression In Toddlers Should Be Targeted

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 Expert Adviser on Behaviour Charlie Taylor studies a pupils work
Expert Adviser on Behaviour Charlie Taylor studies a pupils work

Bad behavior should be targeted in children as young as two years old, according to Charlie Taylor, the Government's behaviour expert.

As well as discouraging signs of aggression in toddlers, Taylor said that setting appropriate boundaries early will help children socialise when they are older and not go "off the rails".

Intervening to help naughty children when they are as young as two or three is better than "waiting until they are throwing tables around" when they are teenagers, he said.

“Any child can go off the rails for a bit and what we need is a system that is responsive to them and helps them to get back on the straight and narrow,” said Taylor.

He also called for would-be teachers to be allowed to train in pupil referral units (PRUs) - sometimes nicknamed 'sin bins'.

But Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said:

“Provision for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties has historically been subjected to relentless re-organisation and change. What is needed is stability not more change."

Taylor made the comments before Thursday’s publication of a review of education for the worst behaved children in England, commissioned following the unrest of last summer’s riots.

The report, which is expected to be highly critical of the handling of children with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties, will make a number of suggestions to the government, including a scheme in which private providers receive bonuses for increasing the number of pupils who leave alternative schools with good qualifications.

The report will also suggest sending poorly behaved pupils to referral units run by private organisations, and the introduction of a raft of specialist teachers trained to handle unruly children.

"If we can spot the problems coming early on, then the earlier we can intervene the better," he said.

Taylor said that at his own school one of the best things they do is their work with three and four-year-olds, when behaviour patterns are not so "ingrained".

"Often these children are showing some quite extreme behaviours very early on, so very aggressive, violent and also some difficulties around speech and language very often as well."

Taylor said that in some areas of the country, such as in Surrey, PRUs are already working with schools.

"We're starting off early with these sorts of children rather than waiting till they're throwing tables around when they're 14 or 15.

"If you can see it coming when they're two, or three, or four, or five then that's where we can intervene."

This work could include teaching "simple social skills like asking for stuff without hitting people, about how to manage and contain their anger," Taylor said.

He added: "Why wait until a child has gone completely off the rails and then boot them out of school? Why not, if you can possibly do it get in there earlier, give them the support they need earlier on and keep them in school.

"And that will be cheaper and less costly to the school, in time and effort, and less costly to the pupil as well.

"I think at the moment we have a system where you're either in or you're out, and when you're out, you're out for good."

Children cannot go to PRUs until they are of school age, but Taylor acknowledged that it may be appropriate for primary-age youngsters to go to one "if it's the right place for them".

Taylor also warned that it was "ludicrous" that PRUs are not allowed to train their own teachers.

"One of the recommendations is they should be able to do this," he said.

"We should be developing an expert workforce, because it's a fascinating world to work in and there are some brilliant people who want to work in this world, but at the moment PRUs can't do that.

"So to create an expert workforce of teachers who can work both in PRUs but also can support outside and support mainstream schools to do a better job, with supporting and managing some of these really difficult children."

The report warns: "The Government and the educational establishment cannot continue to hold these children in their peripheral vision.

"If we fail to give them a first class education then, as the events of last summer showed, we will all pay a heavy price."

Taylor said: "Doing nothing isn't an option, and I think one of the things is that these children are incredibly irritating, and they can make us feel really angry."

He added: "When we walk down the street and there's four of them blocking the pavement they can make us infuriated and they can make us want to be really punitive, and you know bring back the birch, and they make us feel very angry, but you can also feel very sorry for them as well.

"Because of that resentment and anger sometimes that they build up, sometimes we don't always do what we need to do for them.

"I think for many years they've been in the peripheral vision of the education world, you know, out of sight out of mind, 'I don't mind what you do with these children as long as they're not causing trouble at my school gate anymore'.

"And that's fine in terms of that mainstream school but ultimately, if we don't turn round and address these children and help them and give them what they need, then in the end they'll take it from us, on their terms."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said they welcomed the idea of early intervention.

"Prevention is more effective than a cure. Spotting the early warning signs in young children and helping them manage their behaviour could make all the difference to their education and lives in the long run."

He added: "We have reservations about encouraging large numbers of trainee teachers in alternative provision settings. There are instances where it would make sense, but given the challenges these pupils bring, it seems that putting young, inexperienced trainee teachers in that situation would not usually be in the best interest of the teacher or the pupils."

But Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow education secretary said it was "easy" to say we need to target bad behaviour early, but the government is "making it harder".

"Good discipline in schools is critical to education standards. Teachers need to feel empowered to deal with poor behaviour while supporting colleagues," he added.

"The key to good behaviour is a visible ethos of zero tolerance and good leadership in the school plus effective collaboration between schools to ensure quality alternative provision where needed."

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