The art of distraction

We see it all of the time in school, we set a task and John’s pencil needs sharpening then he needs the toilet then he can’t find a rubber then a spaceship arrived on the playground and he had to look – strange how it disappeared by the time you got there….

We chastise the children gently and tell them to get on with the task in hand checking they understand. Today is assignment writing day – I’m less than enthusiastic. I have started, I have my trusted copy of Cohen and Manion open beside me, I’ve printed off my plan, I have forms and questionnaires and notes. I have a deadline, the personal one is 4 days time so that I get it finished before my holiday, the actual on is 4 weeks time.

I know that I have to complete this assignment, there are no options. It is  legal requirement but it is boring! I know I chose the action research and that bit was fine but writing putting in lots of references is still tedious. I could sum it all up for them in 200 words, it would be quick to write and the conclusions would be much more obvious to everyone. Do they really need to know that this is also what Smith and Jones found in 1972 but it varies from the results of West and Brown in 2014?

So am I being dedicated and sensible and just getting on with it so that I can enjoy my holiday knowing my assignment has finished? Of course not! I have put on the washing, emptied the bins, had a cup of tea and got started. I wrote 160 words towards the 1000 of the methodology when I decided I needed to write this blog. I am going to return to writing the serious stuff now; I need 5000 words in total – about 10 days worth of blogs.

Hang on, I’ve just heard the washing machine finish, it would be a shame to waste the nice weather at the moment so perhaps I’ll just hang out the washing and then I’ll do it – unless I notice other jobs that are more essential first of course!

The art of distraction

Nearly there.

So tomorrow we break up. I will officially have been a SENCO for a year. It’s been a great and interesting year – not without its challenges.

I have applied for and got several EHCPs, I have applied for and got specialist placements for 2 children, I have completed my safeguarding training – and had to use it. I have had numerous meetings with external agencies, I have listened to the trials and tribulations of many parents, I have followed their pregnancies almost from conception through to the birth of their baby last week. I have had two parents (both mums) drop their trousers in my office (so that I can see the bad cut on their leg and the other so I can see how the scar on her stomach is reacting and stretching with her pregnancy). I have been hit and sworn at by children. I have had calmed down irate parents who have been upset by other parents in the playground. I have seen some amazing work by some amazing children, I have given out stickers, I have even given out smelly stickers! My room at lunchtime looks like a mix between a crèche and a youth group with children of all ages playing Lego and making magnetic constructions.

The paperwork is just about never ending, the work more than expands to fill the time available. The people I work with have been lovely and supportive and (at least outwardly) tolerant of my learning on the job. I have completed the first module of my SENCO course and the summer will need to be spent completing the second and my portfolio.

I’ve completed trips and outings – the choir sang in a local theatre at Christmas and more recently in Salisbury Cathedral. I have taken some children on reward lunches and others on the reward trip to Legoland.

My job has had more sides to it than I had ever imagined and my lack of managerial skills has probably shown but I have a team of TAs who have worked hard to help all of our children and helped them make progress despite my fumbling attempts to lead them. I have learned to do appraisals and lead their meetings. I seem to have inherited leading ICT and also receiving letters to the music co-ordinator – do I mind? Not at all.

Do I miss being in class with “my” children? I might if I had the time! Do I regret taking a leap into the unknown and doing this job? Definitely not. Is it what I expected? No!

I’ve started this blog and enjoy writing it but perhaps next year I’ll have to rename it “Rather random thoughts of a nearly new SENCO” instead!

Nearly there.

Please Sir, I want……. to apply for an EHCP

I know that compared to many I have been  a SENCO for a relatively short time but in the last year I have applied for (and been given) several EHCPs for the children in my school who need this amount of support. They have been for Communication, Cognition and Learning and also some for Social, Emotional and Mental Health difficulties. Some children are being ably supported in school by well trained TAgs, others were found places in a more suitable specialist provision.

Towards the end of term the EHCP window opened and I put in 3 new applications, one for learning, one for learning and SEMH and one for just SEMH. This last one is for a young lad who has had a sudden deterioration in behaviour. He has been on our radar for a while and I’ve involved as many external agencies as I can including the LA exclusions officer. I contacted the EP and was allowed to submit a referral ( most agencies I can refer straight too but the EPS have to be spoken too before they send a referral form.) They came and saw Jimmy. They uttered their words of wisdom, safe place, Incredible Five Point Scale, key adult….. we started to do these things.

Jimmy’s behaviour deteriorated.

Jimmy hurt adults. Jimmy hurt children. Jimmy absconded from class. Jimmy had lots of exclusions.

Jimmy was fortunate enough to gain a purchased place at a specialist provision. At this provision Jimmy continued to be challenging.

I spent time on the EHCP application and submitted it but the EP had not been told. Whilst attending a professionals meeting for Jimmy the EP discovered that the application had been made. “You did not ask my permission!” were the words that rang around the table. I explained that I knew that, that I also knew things had deteriorated quickly and parents were going to contact the LA and a skilled for one to be started.

I was spoken to after the meeting, Jimmy’s EHCP application would be rejected. Sure enough it was… insufficient EP involvement. The as application didn’t even get through the first hoop to get to panel to see if we can initiate the assessment.

I spoke to some other local SENCOs, they too have been told that they need to ask for permission to apply for an EHCP.

Jimmy, he’s still at his specialist provision till the end of term. Come September I can book another EP appointment, update the paperwork and ask to reapply. The application is unlikely to go in for another 3 months. There is then the maximum 20 week legal timeline to sort things, that takes us to about Easter. If Jimmy has come back to us the chances of more exclusions is high. We will try hard to implement all the advice we’ve been given, perhaps it will work, perhaps Jimmy will be the leading light in year 5. It would be lovely to think it was that easy.

In the meantime for the others for whom I’m trying to get the necessary support I’ll doff my cap to those who are in control and say, ” Please Sir, may I apply.”

Please Sir, I want……. to apply for an EHCP

The end is not yet in sight

At the weekend someone was talking to me about how much they used to enjoy the last week or so of term when they were a child, the days of watching DVDs and the day they could bring games in to play. Most schools seem to break up on Friday but we still have a week and a half to go.

I went into work early, I had two meetings booked this morning, the first starting at 8:00am to look at an outside agency report with parents (8:00am may be early but it suited the outside agency and the parent and I’m there by then anyway ) and the second at 9:00am with the same outside agency and a different set of parents. The children arrived, the doors opened and the day could have been any day this year really.

As we walked round the school the only thing at all different was that Reception were being taught in Nursery because the new Reception children were in for a day. Lessons were as they always are, there were the normal, predictable, few who were making unsuitable choices. The office ladies were rushed off their feet, I had letters to write, children to work with, reports to produce, phone calls to make and data to analyse.

Tomorrow I have some end of year progress to look at and the Upper Key Stage 2 play is being performed to the parents, perhaps this will make it seem more like the end of term but I doubt it. Wednesday is just a normal day, there is nothing remotely exciting happening that could get the children thinking it is nearly the end of term. Thursday is transition morning where the children who are changing teachers get to spend some time in their new class.

At the end of the week we will have some children out on their reward trips, children who have met a strict set of criteria for 1, 2 or 3 terms this I’m sure will start to make it feel like nearly the end of term – but the end of this week seems a long way away.

Next week we will be getting ready to say goodbye to the head teacher. A head who has been there for longer than every child in the school, an event has been organised for Monday afternoon. Tuesday is the leavers assembly and Wednesday we actually break up. How will the children cope with this? Children who do not like change, children who don’t react well to the end of term at the best of times… I’m sure that they will all be fine but we will have lots of tears off everyone but that still seems a long way off. The end is not yet in sight.

The end is not yet in sight

Trip to the Magna Carta

So the big day arrived. We piled into the minibus with painted aprons, first aid kits, risk assessments, spare water and the 101 other things that are essential for a school trip and drove to Salisbury Cathedral. We pointed out the spire as we approached Salisbury and said that that was where we were going to be singing this evening. “Wow Miss, it looks like a church!” I hadn’t realised that our children hadn’t realised that a cathedral was a type of church.

We arrived in time and after a slight delay because although I had 2 emails saying we had a minibus space booked, just tell the little man and he’ll direct you he didn’t have any such information. That sorted we found a space on the end that I could park in and off we went.

We did the rehearsal and the children were fine, we then went to look round the cathedral. This included looking at the Magna Carta, something I had never seen before. It was a bit like when I saw The Sunflowers in the National Gallery – it was much smaller than I imagined it would be. Then the bit the children wanted – play in the Cathedral School grounds – staying away from the water, which was on the risk assessment and trying to stop them climbing trees – which wasn’t! After a while Clive, the headmaster, showed us to the dining hall for tea – sausage, mash and beans. This seemed to go down well, the cup of tea for the adults also went down well, When the children were told that they could have more the queue that appeared made it look as if 200 children hadn’t already eaten a plateful of food! A quick play outside later and it was time for the performance of the Magna Cantata.

The cathedral was full and there were far more people on the stage than there had been at the rehearsal. The children were fascinated by the other choirs and the small orchestra and as they sang and played they tended to turn and look at them rather than the audience. They were keen to look for people that they knew – even if that was only me sat at the side and gave the odd wave. One child turned every so often and gave me a thumbs up from his front row seat and then mimed that he wanted a drink but overall the children sang and did the actions – they did not get struck silent with stage fright or fall off the stage!

We got back to school with fewer children falling asleep than I anticipated, all of the parents were waiting and were keen to see their offspring and take them home. I went to put the minibus inside the school gates and collect my car, good plan but… My pass apparently doesn’t work at that time of night! Not to worry my neighbours will never notice that I’ve swapped my shiny tiny blue car for a minibus!

Was it worth it? Of course, I’m sure the children will always remember singing in such a prestigious venue and I’m hoping that I will soon stop singing some of the rather too catchy tunes and lyrics!

Trip to the Magna Carta

Exciting times

Tomorrow is a big day for the choir, it is the day of our performance of Magna Cantata at Salisbury Cathedral. We have practiced our songs at school, we have practiced with other local primary schools and tomorrow we get to be part of a choir of nearly 400. Are the children nervous? Not yet! Excited? Definitely!

The choir consists of a small number of year 5 and 6 children and there are almost as many boys as girls; when choir doesn’t happen in a lunchtime it’s OK to attend! They have learnt words and actions and all have their favourite songs. It should be a great experience.

The risk assessments have been completed, aprons painted, lunches ordered, emergency medicines packed, riot act read. Why is there always the nagging fear that you’ll have forgotten something important? I have smiled nicely at the secretary who has found me a minibus of the right size and even arranged for it to be delivered to the school, she has sorted my adults and produced all of the letters and chased up missing permission slips – will the children appreciate all of the behind the scenes work? No, of course not – they are going out for the afternoon, singing in choir, may even be on the TV. They are children – why should they know at this age, isn’t that part of being a child?

Fingers crossed that they step up to the mark and behave as impeccably as I know they can and off we’ll go…. exciting times!

Exciting times

Random acts of kindness

Recently I have been the recipient of a couple of random acts of kindness. I walked into my office towards the end of last week and there was a bunch of sunflowers on my computer. The other was a small gift sent to me to say thank you for something I had done which I had not considered special.

These random acts of kindness had several effects, they immediately made me better, more positive, happier and valued. A week later the flowers are still beautiful and every time I look up they remind me that someone had not only thought about me but thought I was worthy of them spending their time and their money to buy a present for me. It was the same with the other present, a small gift that was posted to me.

At school we have a Random Acts of Kindness board where children can acknowledge actions that we, as teachers, don’t always see. There is a wide variety of things noted from “I nominate Susan as she always plays with me if I’m on my own.”, “I nominate Thomas as he helped me to find my coat” to “I nominate Sam and Charlie because they explained the maths I did not understand.” The nomination forms are heart shaped pieces of paper that are freely available in the classrooms, the children can fill them in and put them up; no fuss is made. It is lovely for those whose actions are noticed to see exactly that, that the quiet acts of kindness which were quietly and willingly given are quietly but publicly acknowledged.

We know that positive reinforcement is better than negative, we all try and use specific praise and look for the best at all times but sometimes the negatives stand out more so it is lovely that random acts of kindness happen and that in a variety of ways they are noticed. Our board has been completely filled once and is on the way to being filled again, personally I hope these acts of kindness continue to happen and that people acknowledge them.

As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Random acts of kindness

Heading towards the holidays

We’re on the final countdown to the summer holidays, not many weeks to go but at some points it still seems a long way away. The weather is still warm and despite knowing their new teachers children are still anxious.

We have completed sports day and the summer fair, reports have gone home and Y6 have been to look at their new secondary schools. We still have Star Award trips and a Reception class outing as well as parents evening, transition day, the Y6 play and leavers assemblies to go – there still seems to be a lot to fit in. Lessons are still going on and it should be the same in school as it is 3 weeks into term in September, but it isn’t.

It is hard to pinpoint what is different, I can work into a classroom and see lessons being taught in the same way that they always are. Outside agencies are still coming in to assess children and making appointments to feed back to parents. I certainly still have a long list of jobs that need completing.

Today has had its moments and some children have, as they explained, made the wrong choices. Tomorrow, though, is another day. There are more lessons to be taught, more things to be learnt and … I’m out all day!

Heading towards the holidays

SENCO day off

It’s the weekend, of course it’s my day off. Most weekends start with a lie-in till 8:30 and then up for a trombone lesson. I have recently started trying to do no school work on a Saturday  and spend the day doing “normal” things.

We enjoy geocaching (check http://www.geocaching.com if you’ve never heard of it) and live in an area of the country that has a really wide variety of scenery within a fairly short distance (OK, we are a bit short of mountains). We have taken to choosing where we want to walk and off we go. This weekend though is different!

We are up before our lie-in is over and packing the rucksack to go to Cardiff. It is the speedway grand prix and we have been for many years now. A bit of experimentation has shown that a drive down to Bristol and then hop on a train to Cardiff Central is the least stressful and expensive. I discovered not long after starting at school that one of the dinner ladies at school is also a speedway fan and this quickly made for a good conversation starter when I was just getting to know people. One of our more challenging boys is also into speedway. I was trying to chat to him one day about what he’d done in half term and he mentioned speedway – now when he’s in a real strop asking him his opinion on something in a recent meeting will often bring him round.

Normally Sunday would be church and work whilst I have the house to myself but this week that might not happen either! Church will happen but then I’m off to trombone and then we’ve been invited out to lunch as a thank you for looking after a friend’s house whilst they were away. When we get home we will conclude a weekend of motor sport with the formula one British grand prix on the TV.

Will I feel guilty for not fitting in school work? Not really, I’ve done a lot of work recently out of school time and a break will be good! I do still need to write a 5000 word essay…… but it’ll wait!

SENCO day off

Who applies for an EHCP?

I seem to regularly apply for EHCPs for children who need them within our schools; children who are way below age related expectations, children whose behaviour is extremely challenging, children who do not speak either in school or at home and children who have a variety of other complex and long term problems that make learning more difficult. Applying for EHCPs is not exclusive to primary schools, secondary schools sometimes apply and nurseries are allowed to – but frequently don’t.

Last year we were due to have a child with a significant difficulty joining us in Reception, she had a 1-1 at nursery, she had had countless appointments with paediatricians, she had been observed by the EP and SALT were involved. Mum contacted us in June before she started – did we know about Susan? She has got a few problems….. No we didn’t know, we went to nursery to observe her, heard her history, I asked the inevitable question, “Has she got an EHCP?” Lots of umming and aahing and well we were going to buts… later we worked out they could just have said, “No”. The LA had kindly given them some funds for a 1-1 to support but they hadn’t liked to apply for an EHCP as they thought we would want to do it. A short discussion ensued and they started the process.

Recently I have referred children to our local paediatricians to see if there is a medical reason for a child’s difficulties, after a few visits several have come back with, “……… would benefit from having an EHCP.” Health can’t instigate the EHCP process, although EHCPs are Education Health Care plans so Education, Health and Social Care can all work together to get these children with their complex needs the support that they need the primary need has to be educational. Health professionals who make these statements are very well meaning (and in our opinion often correct) it isn’t that easy. If I can’t persuade my EP to support my EHCP application then I may as well not bother! Parents see the paediatrician and have a chat, they see the letter, they see the magic letters, they come and see me and I can assure them that I will do my best but I can’t guarantee anything.

The new EHCP process is far more child and family centred – which is good but some parents, who know that their young children have significant problems, do not know that if their child’s educational establishment haven’t/ won’t apply for an EHCP for whatever reason then they can phone and request that the process is initiated. Parents phoning to initiate the process does not guarantee that a plan will be granted any more than a school applying does but it is an option.

I have just heard this week that we are having a child joining us in Reception in September who is moving in to our locality from out of area. We spoke to their nursery – oh, they’re lovely, really supportive parents…..problems…. no… well apart from the cerebal palsy. Do they have extra help? Yes. Do they have an EHCP? No, we knew they were moving house. Thanks!

Oh well I suppose it keeps me in a job!

Who applies for an EHCP?