No Hope for Coronation Street’s “Troublesome Child” in UK’s Education System.

Over the last few months, Fiz and Tyrone’s daughter, Hope Stape, has been portrayed as a  ‘troublesome’ child, causing her parents no end of grief and now, getting expelled from school. Last night, after biting a teacher, Hope and her Mother Fiz have had to leave their community and  family behind in order for her to attend an alternative provision in Birmingham to ‘deal with’ her behaviour.

Yes, it’s fictional, and yes, Hope leaving does coincide with Jennie McAlpine (the actress who plays Fiz) going on maternity leave, but it does also bring up some important real-life implications for children like Hope and their families. Based on what we know about Hope, could Wetherfield Local Authority have approached this case differently?

What we know about Hope Stape.

Family history:

  • Hope lives with her Mother, Fiz, Step-Father Tyrone, step sister Ruby and her Step-Father’s Grandmother Evelyn.
  • There are unsubstantiated reports of Hope’s Grandmother on step-father’s side to be verbally and physically abusive towards Hope.
  • Hope’s biological Father has a history of criminal activity including homicide, kidnap and the unlawful disposal of human remains. Hope’s Father passed away in 2011 a year after Hope’s birth.
  • Hope’s biological Mother, was abandoned as a child in 2001, raised by foster carers, she has a history of criminal damage by fire, and was arrested and imprisoned in 2011 for manslaughter. During this time Hope resided with her Mother in prison.
  • Step Father, Tyrone is a positive and consistent part of Hope’s life and there are no social concerns here.

Medical History:

Hope was born at 28 weeks, labour was induced by trauma to Mother during a tram accident. Following the birth at Weatherfield General, Hope was placed in an incubator due to low birth weight. Hope required a blood transfusion to fight off an infection, due to her weakened immune system. A month later, it was discovered that Hope had a hole in her heart.

Hope was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2015 and underwent treatment for her cancer. She is now in recovery.

Incidence of Concern:

  • Kidnapped in 2011 by her biological Father. Mother was hospitalised during this incident.
  • Resided in prison with Mother following wrongful murder conviction.
  • Hope hospitalised for arm fracture following physical altercation with her step sister Ruby in 2017.
  • Hope causes damage by fire to trampoline following incident with sister.
  • Hope attempts to push her cousin Joseph down stairs in March of this year.
  • Hope is suspended from school for biting a teacher.
  • In a recent incident Hope led her Grandmother’s dog to a tram station with the intention of harming the animal.

Therapists Perspective:

Hope’s therapist reports she demonstrates callous and unemotional behaviours however we are still awaiting the full report from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

What has happened to Hope so far and how this differs from real life.

Coronation Street is generally great at issue-based storylines, however Hope’s tale is not entirely accurate in some ways:

Expelled After a Single Incident

Although we know Hope has been causing trouble at home for some time, we haven’t heard of any previous incidents at school, so it is unlikely she would be advised to attend a pupil referral unit after just one incident of biting.

No Education Health and Care Plan.

As far as we are aware Hope does not have an Education Healthcare Plan (EHCP). This is a legally binding document which not only states the level of support the child should receive but also provides additional funding for this support.

Pupil Referral Units are a relatively expensive provision, providing a highly specialised environment for pupils that have social, emotional and mental health difficulties. Placements are funded individually by primary schools and in some cases by the local authority. Hope would not have been offered a place in a PRU without significant evidence that her current school are unable to support her.

Parents Not Involved in the Placement Process

Where possible, parents should be engaged in the decision taken by the school to direct a pupil off-site.” DfE, Alternative provision, January 2013.

Despite what the Department for Education tell us on the issue, we haven’t seen Hope’s parents Fiz and Tyrone be involved in any decision making processes to do with her placement. And sadly, aside from a course of counselling and a vague mention of “intervention” we haven’t heard of Hope receiving any additional support in her current educational setting.

Why would a child like Hope attend a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU)?

There is still a stigma around PRUs. Some people feel that in these schools there will be children ‘climbing the walls’ and attacking teachers and that only children from disadvantaged backgrounds go there (see TES article). However, a good PRU can mean a child like Hope can leave school with qualifications, good life skills and strategies to deal with their early lifetime trauma.

The right provision can build a pupil’s confidence and social skills, provide a nurturing environment for a child who needs it and give a them the skills to communicate their needs, rather than use their behaviour to show this (see our Behaviour is a Form of Communication blog post for more info)!

PRUs have a smaller class size, usually no more than 8 children per class, with more teaching assistants and support so that each child has someone who knows them personally and knows how best to support their needs.

PRUs have the job of understanding why a child presents in a certain way based on many factors:

  • Ability to understand language
  • Understanding of social skills
  • Learning levels
  • Experienced trauma

It could be that a child like Hope is severely dysregulated and needs an assessment from occupational therapy to meet their sensory needs. Maybe Hope has undiagnosed ADHD or pathological demand avoidance?

What’s the Impact of out of County Placements for Children like Hope?

The Victoria Derbyshire programme Freedom of Information request was sent out to all 150 local authorities in England. This showed that in some areas – such as Stockport and North Yorkshire – there were no primary-age pupil referral units in 2016-17. This means that children from these area would have to go out of area, to a new environment with new faces, it could also lead to difficulties with transport and potential very early mornings, leading to tiredness and difficulties concentrating.

We discussed earlier the fact that it is very unlikely Hope would be taken out of area to attend a different school, the main reason for this is because Hope would be most settled at home, with her step-father Tyrone, who is the only Father figure she has ever known, and her step-sister Ruby. To take her away from these hugely important figures in her life would only have a detrimental effect. As an audience, we are unaware of where Hope will be living and when she will be returning. For a child of Hope’s age this kind of uncertainty is bound to make her feel insecure and she may not have the communication skills to express how she feels about it. She would also have to live in a different city, where the only person she knows is her Mother.

How Hope’s behavioural difficulties could have been managed to avoid this crisis.

Early Intervention and Support

Hope has a complex family history, she has moved residences frequently, she has suffered the bereavement of her Father and the incarceration of her Mother. Based on Hope’s complex history she is likely to have been known to social services and health services before beginning her school placement – recommendations from these services will have been passed to school in order for education staff to carry out.

Communication between these services and  a carefully managed transition from nursery to school, could have avoided some issues. It would also mean that on entering school Hope would have adequate funding to support her additional needs.

The problem when EHCP or higher needs funding is not in place, is even when children are known to be “at risk” funding cuts can often mean schools no longer have the financial resources to fund additional interventions and pastoral support.

Understanding of Mental Health Needs

Recent government legislation means teachers on the front line are responsible for identifying the early signs of mental health issues. Currently there is inadequate development opportunities and financial resources to meet the training needs of teachers. Waiting lists for CAMHS referrals are unreasonable and it leaves a significant gap for those working with pupils with SEMH.

There is no doubt Hope has experienced a significant level of trauma in her life which is likely to impact her ability to:

  • Form healthy relationships with teachers and other pupils.
  • Regulate her own behaviour and self soothe.
  • Understand and be able to articulate her emotions.
  • Have a healthy sense of self.
  • Develop executive functioning skills at the same level as her peers.

These symptoms are very likely to affect the way she interacts and communicates in the school environment. If teachers aren’t given the training and support from health and social care to support Hope, she is likely to act out by exhibiting disruptive behaviours…. like, I don’t know…biting her teacher?

Alicia Lynch

Alicia Lynch

Specialist Speech and Language Therapist
Martha Currie

Martha Currie

CEO & Speech and Language Therapist
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