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How to inspire pupils at risk of exclusion

Help children whose progress is hindered due to behaviour, emotional wellbeing needs or social difficulties to grow with this advice from Katrina Brown...

  • How to inspire pupils at risk of exclusion

GROW is the name given to enhanced provision established for children whose progression in their current school is of concern due to barriers caused by behaviour, emotional wellbeing needs or social difficulties.

The ethos of GROW stems from an evidence-based approach about trauma and attachment from the work of child trauma researcher Bruce Perry and studies on Adverse Childhood Experience (Dr Nadine Burke, 2011).

The provision aims to promote a predictable, responsive, nurturing and sensory-enriched environment, and Cambridge Primary Education Trust (CPET) follows many of the procedures implemented by GROW Essex with whom we have worked closely to develop our facility since 2015.

All the children accessing CPET’s GROW, which is based at Histon and Impington Junior School, have an EHCP for their social and emotional development/attachment. They have had fixed-term exclusions and a small group have been at risk of permanent exclusion.

There is no doubt that without this provision supporting some of this group in a mainstream school would have been unsustainable. Our staff have developed the model to reflect the needs of the cohort of children within CPET.

For example, all the children have the potential to be at age-related expectations and at the start were very aware that their attainment was far below that of their classmates.

This knowledge often caused dysregulation in itself so core skills teaching needed to be rigorous and finely pitched.


Relationships between staff and children are crucial for the development of bonding and attachment and staff deployed to the provision have been carefully chosen according to their experience and skills.

The provision is led by myself and a deputy lead, Becca Doggett, who has worked at a local special school managing a team of TAs responsible for children with special needs. We also have Gayle Newman, an early years’ specialist, and Matt Bedford, a super calm sports specialist.

Having secured Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) funding for all pupils who access GROW regularly, we have also commissioned agency support including child and adolescent mental health, drama therapy, occupational therapy, a paediatrician and speech and language therapy.

We give children who could potentially be excluded from our school the support they need to be successful in their own class. Experiential learning is rigorously planned for with hands-on tasks to develop cognitive, personal and social and physical development.

All of our children have deficits in their ability to play for any length of time independently or take turns and accept the rules of games with both adults and their peers, so we practise these skills frequently.

Children with emotional regulation needs are most likely not to be meeting their learning potential and we support teachers to differentiate the curriculum.

The breaking down or chunking of tasks is crucial to ensure that children follow adult direction and teaching sufficiently to complete the set work within reasonable timescales.

We also offer catch-up programmes in the core areas of reading and writing.

So what does a typical school day in GROW look like?


At the start of the day pupils are given the opportunity to talk to an adult to identify how they are feeling and plot this on the zones of regulation.

The language of these zones is used throughout the day to encourage self-regulation and emotional control. Quite often this takes place over breakfast to ensure that the children are physically more enabled to approach their learning.

Becca ensures that all pupils are aware of the expectations for the day and supports not only the GROW learning coaches but also the other TAs who Histon and Impington Junior School and Histon and Impington Infant School have deployed to support children in the classroom.

In the beginning pupils were not accessing classroom time so formal learning tasks occurred in GROW and were adapted from the class teacher’s curriculum planning.

However, as time has passed pupils have accessed their classrooms more and more with the majority of time now spent in the classroom, occasionally with minimal support.

This has been an enormous success of the provision since we started out. Short sensory breaks punctuate learning tasks in the form of educational games or activities that develop, for example, fine motor skills.

Playtimes and lunchtimes are taken as independently as possible.

Throughout the morning staff note and comment on the positive behaviours that are displayed by the pupil and keep up a tally of what has been achieved.

The behaviours are (credit to GROW Essex): managing strong feelings (self-regulation); having a go; thinking about thinking; accepting mistakes; being considerate of others; able to bounce back/showing resilience; being positive; listening to others; keeping my problems small; challenging myself; not give up doing the right thing; and independent learning.


Experiences include any of the following on rotation and always include an outside task:

  • Turn taking games
  • Five a day (fun fitness)
  • Specific work on listening (through games and other practical tasks)
  • Restorative work
  • Whole group story with discussion
  • Garden time – tidying, planting, harvesting, den building, mud kitchen etc
  • Music
  • Cooking (one x per week)
  • Sports skills
  • Short bursts of intervention for core skills
  • Social skills group

In summary, GROW provides clear and consistent expectations, routines and boundaries and support for pupils to bridge the gaps in their academic learning.

It also brings an emphasis on teaching respect for themselves, their peers and adults as well as logical consequences; both educational and protective. The children are very clear about the consequences and they are consistently applied by the GROW staff team.

Our team, in turn, follow eight key principles:

  1. Teach rules, routines and consequences systematically
  2. Model presentations of rules and routines
  3. Allow time to practise and question
  4. Provide feedback and review the rules
  5. Check understanding of the rules
  6. Praise and recognise when the rules and routines are followed
  7. Being thorough in following through the logical consequences
  8. Apply rules, routines and consequences fairly and consistently

For CPET, the provision has freed up the time of heads and assistant heads in the infant and junior school because staff directly approach the GROW team for support at times for general advice and in crisis.

We are continuing to develop this role across the schools and also beginning to support other schools in the Trust.

Katrina Brown is SENDCo, and leader of GROW, at Cambridge Primary Education Trust. She is a qualified teacher with 20 years’ mainstream classroom experience and a non-class-based Trust SENDCo for eight years.

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