Your study level

We've preselected "All levels" for you, but you can change your study level at any time by choosing one of the options on this menu. Changing your study level will return you to the beginning of the module.

Learning approaches for the vulnerable
SLD pupil at Bettrridge school

The correct learning approaches can promote well-being in emotionally vulnerable young people.

It is not always easy to identify more vulnerable pupils whose emotional needs may remain unmet. Unlike pupils who misbehave and quickly become an issue for the teacher, these pupils are more likely to withdraw: they basically present as passive for the majority of time.

It is therefore vital to develop an awareness of their needs and the potential risk factors that may have contributed to their behaviours.

It is also vital to provide appropriate emotional and social support and to ensure that these pupils are able to develop the self-help skills and strategies necessary to ensure that they can engage in learning, rather than being overwhelmed by the emotional labour involved.

Risk factors
Teacher and pupil at Bettridge school]

Pupils with some form of learning difficulty will experience high levels of frustration and stress within the classroom. They often have a difficult temperament and low levels of self-esteem. Contributory factors within the family include overt parental conflict and family breakdown.

Inconsistent or little discipline at home can make those pupils feel more vulnerable. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse will clearly affect the child, as will criminal behaviour and alcohol or substance misuse by their parents. Pupils at risk may also have experienced a bereavement or significant loss, including the loss of a special friendship.

Factors within the pupils’ communities include socio and economic disadvantage, homelessness, discrimination or other significant life events. Staff in school will generally be unable to make any sort of difference to the individual pupil on these counts, but protective factors within school, such as resources, curriculum, policies, attitudes and behaviours, can be developed to ensure that pupils with emotional problems are supported effectively.

Raising emotional awareness
Pupil squatting in activity area

More vulnerable pupils need to be encouraged to make use of the language of emotions. They need to understand the emotions that they experience both in and out of school and to distinguish between those that are uncomfortable and comfortable. It is vital that they can identify triggers to what makes them feel uncomfortable so that they can develop mechanisms to deal more effectively with such difficult situations.

Pupils need to be encouraged to identify when and how they express and manage their feelings and to share their ideas within a supportive peer group. Discussing the positive and negative outcomes of stress and how they recognise, label and manage this particular feeling will help the more emotionally vulnerable pupils.

Learning surveys
teaching assistant working with

All pupils will experience anxiety in class at various points in their school lives. Problems arise when such feelings produce emotions that result in an inability to begin a learning task. It is important that staff in schools become aware of what causes such situations and that they raise pupils' awareness of self-calming approaches.

Conducting a learning survey is a useful means of eliciting pupils' views and directing them towards useful calming strategies. Providing opportunities for pupils to talk about their learning difficulties also dispels any myths or stereotypes around those with specific special educational needs.

Questions to ask staff

The learning survey could include the following questions:

  • What is enjoyable about learning in this school?
  • What makes us feel comfortable and happy in the classroom?
  • What are the main causes of any stress we experience?
  • What makes us feel really excited and want to engage in learning?
  • What triggers anxiety in the classroom for most of us?
  • How can we best remain calm if we feel stressed by a learning task?
  • How can we know if our feelings are actually rational and justified?
  • Which tasks engender the strongest and most uncomfortable feelings?
  • What strategies help us to remain calm and logical in our approach?
  • How can teachers best support us to cope with the emotional aspects of learning?
  • What needs to change in this school so that all pupils feel comfortable, included and able to learn?
Pre-task checklist

When pupils are feeling emotionally vulnerable, they can find it difficult to begin a task. The strength of their emotions can mean that they will not even begin to register what the expectations of the task actually are or how they can break it down in order to make a start. A pre-task checklist can often help them. By adhering to a series of prompts, they will be able to calm down and see the wood for the trees. Here are some useful questions for pupils to use:

  • What is this task?
  • What is expected of me?
  • How do I feel about it (stressed / overwhelmed / slightly worried / OK / fine / very excited)?
  • Do I need help from someone in order to start it?
  • Who can help me now and who can help me in five minutes' time?
  • What is it that I can do for myself at this point?
  • Can I break this task down into smaller steps?
  • What shall I do first?
  • What shall I do second?
  • How do I want to feel once I've completed this task?
Develop your own list of strategies and techniques for increasing pupils' skills in each of these areas:
  • Developing self awareness;
  • Developing self regulation;
  • Social skills;
  • Increasing motivation.

Clarify the specific modes of delivery that will be of most use for your pupils.