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How do we measure needs at Leesons?

The Boxall Profile

What is the Boxall Profile and how effective is it?  
Marion Bennathan introduces the Boxall Profile in a very clear step-by-step manner, explaining its origins and also how it can support professionals in schools today.

The Boxall Profile provides a framework for the precise assessment of children who have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) and are failing at school. It helps teachers to plan focused intervention for those children whose behaviour seems to make no sense. The profile provides the teacher with insights and suggests points of entry into the child's world — it makes people think about what lies behind the behaviour.

The Boxall Profile is, from a practical point of view, very easy to use. The two-part check list, which is completed by staff who know the child best in a classroom situation, is quick — and, very importantly, it is constructive.

Why is the Boxall Profile so Relevant Today?

It is widely agreed that children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) are the biggest challenge to the effective running of schools. These are children who do not respond to teachers' best efforts and they can fail to learn. They can also spoil the atmosphere for the rest of the class, consuming the teacher's time and energy, diverting it away from children who could use it so much better. While a well delivered curriculum, and a behaviour policy owned by all concerned are all central to running an effective school, this is not enough to meet the needs of children with SEBD. So, what is it about the Boxall Profile that has helped literally thousands of teachers and teaching assistants to succeed, sometimes quite dramatically, in changing the response of troubled and / or troublesome children?

Where did the Boxall Profile Come From?

The profile developed as part of the nurture group movement. Nurture groups were started in Hackney, inner London, in 1969, as the response of Marjorie Boxall, an educational psychologist, to the high levels of distress in primary schools at a time of great social upheaval and teacher shortage. Referrals to special schools for children seen as having SEBD had reached unmanageable levels. Boxall brought into school a different way of looking at the behaviour that was getting in the way of the child's progress. She focused on children's early development, on their self-concept, on the attitudes they had absorbed and brought with them into school. She understood the difficulties presented by most of these children as the outcome of impoverished early nurturing. They were not able to make trusting relationships with adults or to respond appropriately to other children. They were unready to meet the social and intellectual demands of school life, and so failed.

This way of thinking made sense to teachers, who knew of the stresses in the lives of many local families. They were also well aware of pressures brought about by 'child-centred' education, which took for granted the child's ability to organise themselves, to sit round tables, cooperating with each other, with much less structure and supervision than in the old-style classrooms. Nurture groups quickly became established in many schools in inner London, and staff saw great progress in children who had been on the verge of exclusion. They also saw a great improvement in staff morale as teachers and assistants realised that they could develop the skills to improve children's lives quite fundamentally.

The group has two staff who understand the developmental processes of childhood, that some children get stuck at an early stage and need experiences appropriate to that stage to enable them to move on. They realise that the child's first need is to build up trust. This is achieved by demonstrating acceptance of the child as s/he is, and, as confidence grows, offering work appropriate to the stage they have reached. There are secure routines, always explained — no prior knowledge is taken for granted. The child is always listened to, with staff doing what every attentive parent does, commenting on what the child tells them, expanding it, putting it in a wider context — in short, helping the child to make sense of their world. The National Curriculum is taught, but in a way which fits in with the child's developmental needs.

Boxall took a central and active part in sharing her knowledge of child development with staff working in nurture groups and trained them to look at maladaptive behaviour as an expression of underlying distress. She also freely acknowledged that, though the original concept was hers, it was teachers and assistants running the groups who 'picked it up and ran with it'. As their experience grew, staff began to want a way of looking more precisely at the hindrances to learning they saw in their pupils. They also wanted to be able to measure change and progress. This was the start of the Boxall Profile.

Some schools do not have nurture groups — they may lack the resources, or may even not have many children who cannot be adequately helped in the normal classroom. But the experience of nurture groups over the past generation has brought about a much greater understanding of the emotional content of learning. This is now being widely recognised as 'emotional literacy' and seen as relevant to all children. As the head teacher of one of the first junior schools to set up a nurture group wrote of the profile, ‘We gained a sort of positive language. To identify where a child is in different areas in its development was quite tough — there was no history or training or background to doing that. It helped people to look more perceptively, to think where does this behaviour come from? It put some structure into teachers' thinking and reporting.' Many children in school are insecure about their worth, often not able to articulate their feelings. Some may act out their feelings of anger and failure by minor or major acts of disrupting the progress of others. Whatever the behaviour, the result is that they do not get positively engaged in education. Understanding what lies behind this can make all teachers much more confident in their class management, which is where the Boxall Profile comes in.