Spring Newsletter – Education Update

Children in primary school are showing to be struggling more and more with some aspects of educational attainment. This may have been accelerated by the pandemic over the last three years, with periods of missed school learning opportunities. But, there is more to the picture, like a jigsaw puzzle there are many things that impact a child’s educational development including their early childhood experiences of trauma.

Receiving school reports is so important to help me to help you! I read every school report that comes my way in order to see how a child is managing the challenges of school, to look at themes impacting a number of children, but to also see how well they are doing! Because with all the diversity children in care face, they are doing really well!

Over the last three years, I have started to look closely at the primary school reports and end of year STen results. Usually children sit STen tests in 2nd, 4th and 6th class (because of the pandemic there were children taking tests in other years). Over the three years the results are consistent that over 50% of children are significantly struggling in Maths and English, and are performing lower than their peers. Only 12% of children are above average in English, there are no children attaining more than average in Maths.

Tests are not the whole picture, just one piece of the jigsaw, there is more information the reports can tell us and that is in how children are measured in class, and where the difficulties for children in care lie in fulfilling their academic potential.

School reports are broken up into categories of achievement and difficulties

Categories in Maths are – Understanding and recall, Using procedures, Reasoning and problem solving and Explaining and Communicating.

A child’s ability in both Maths and English is measured by the following scale of statements – Highly capable and competent, Capable and competent, Managing comfortably, Experiencing some difficulty and Experiencing significant difficulty.

In Summer 2023, I received 60% of reports for the children in primary school and in those reports received,  nearly ALL children are experiencing some or significant difficulty in – Reasoning and problem solving and Understanding and memory recall. With a further significant number of children also have difficulties with –Explaining and communicating and Using procedures

This affirms a potential link between a child’s developing brain and the impacts of trauma they have experienced. This can result in a teacher stating that a child is unable to focus or concentrate, is unable to remain seated or negatively states that a child is not trying.

Maths has a direct link with executive functioning and how the brain is able to process and store information. Executive function impacts a number of things, how we can focus attention, working memory, self-control, self-worth and self-regulation and is something that needs to be completed in order. Executive function isn’t just about how to complete the task but everything the brain needs to do in order to complete that task. A child experiencing developmental trauma is more likely to have poor executive functioning as they are unable to access parts of their learning brain due to the flight, flight, freeze and fawn responses being activated in their brains. They won’t be able to access all the parts of the brain needed for executive function to work through a problem.

So a child that has experienced a positive early life will potentially understand how to regulate themselves, how to learn techniques such as mindfulness in order to cope with stressful situations and have good processing and learning skills. A child who experiences trauma will be unable to get through the functioning stages in order as their self-worth/ negative thoughts could potentially be the strongest emotion which leads to the brain shutting down and remaining in survival brain. When we are able to control our emotions we are able to succeed, make better choices, manage socially, control our impulses and develop broader vocabulary. Being able to select the appropriate emotion needed is vital in order to develop or a child will be missing out on aspects of the working memory and functional skills.

The impacts of poor executive functioning have been demonstrated through the reports received where they cite a child is having significant challenges as stated previously with memory recall, focus and attention, reasoning and problem solving and explaining and communicating.

For a child experiencing care these challenges can present themselves as significant learning needs or misunderstood potential behavioural issues.

Research indicates that a child experiencing trauma will find it difficult to access their learning brain whilst they continue to be in survival brain, in order for a child to be in a space for learning, a child will need to feel safe, secure and nurtured in a world where that has not been their experience. This potentially indicates that a child who’s brain has experienced trauma will not be able to use executive functioning/ adaptive function until their brain is able to access their learning brain. Therefore, a child will potentially struggle with their educational attainment if they have experienced trauma and will be unable to progress until their brains are able to access the learning parts of the brain. Change it takes time.

Research states that –

  • a child who is able to regulate their feelings and emotions will be able to access their learning brain.
  • a child who is able to feel safe, secure and have strong attachments will be able to access their learning brain.
  • a child who is given opportunity to play will have access to their learning brain
  • a child who has the opportunity to be read to can access their learning brain
  • a child who experiences a consistent approach by adults around them will have access to their learning brain

For a child to have the opportunity to access their learning brain, we are looking at a reparative approach firstly, to give a child access to ways to support missed learning milestones. Language begins pre-birth with a healthy connection between mother and child, without this early stage a child may not experience all the early sounds needed for development and Math language is our primary language, without its use a child will have difficulty going forward with speech and language and then educational milestones. If we couple that with poor motor skills and under-developed sensory systems, children will have many difficulties in accessing the school curriculum.

Research for aiding a child’s development experiencing trauma includes –

  • Play
  • Mindfulness
  • Listening to stories and the spoken word
  • Outdoors and Nature
  • 1:1 time with primary care giver
  • Opportunity to develop meaningful relationships
  • Feeling safe and secure in every environment

Without working on reparative interventions a child will potentially remain in survival brain and continue to struggle with learning attainment. Connecting, nurturing and understanding using a mindful PACE approach firstly before expecting a child to achieve academically will begin a reparative journey for the child.

What the Education Service can help with?

Workshops for carers include –

Language and Play – understanding early development, the impacts of trauma and working on a reparative approach

Maths Made Simple – Understanding what may be missing for a child and supporting development and executive function through fun ways (No Maths needed!)

Working directly with carers – I am available to support you and the child on a 1:1 basis or as a group to offer advice and tips around any aspect of education and developmental needs.

Trauma and Attachment Training for Schools –a workshop for teachers and schools to avail of in helping them to understand the educational and emotional needs of a child through a trauma informed lens.

Mindfulness Camps – For children aged 4-12 years. Fun camp based around learning about big emotions and how they feel in our minds and bodies. There is a supportive workshop for carers alongside the camp to promote own self-care and using reparative mindfulness tools at home.

Storytime – if you have a child pre-school or in primary school, you will receive regular storytime and mindful moment recordings to share with children.

If you have a query regarding education support, please contact Louise on 086 1805784 or via email Louise.Tudor-Edmonds@ffi.ie

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