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?

Becoming an Academy

Will I notice any difference when I walk through the same doors to the same desk tomorrow? I don’t think so. The logo will change, I’m sure the sign by the gate will get altered soon, I’ve changed my emails signature but overall the job and the children will remain the same.

Behind the scenes I know that there has been an awful lot of hard work, lots of solicitor and lawyer type talk but for the majority of the staff and children it has been a seamless process.

We will get more opportunities to work together with schools that are different to ours, all have the same OFSTED grading but the catchment areas are very different and the school sizes also vary greatly. It will be an interesting time, I have already been working with the other SENCOs to organise training for our TAs, it is much more cost effective getting trainers in for a large group than for just the few TAs at any one school.

I am not sure what will happen about me getting outside agencies in, we will still be able to but we will have to pay; I guess I’m going to have to get a bit more involved in budgeting but maybe I won’t. We will still need to make the referrals and someone will still have to pay so I’ll work on that bit later.

It will be an interesting term coming up as we all start to realise that we are now parts of a bigger whole. I don’t think there will be much change but we’ll see!

Becoming an Academy

The EHCP window opens!

It feels a bit like the transfer window for football. We were told a couple of months back that no school based EHCP applications would be accepted between about the beginning of June and June 26th so that necessary meetings didn’t fall in the holidays. They did say that if parents phoned up to request the process was started that obviously they would have to deal with these.

Parents don’t always initially appreciate this fine timing, they want us to apply NOW! They also want instant decisions and a conversation that explains that there is now a maximum time of 20 weeks is not met with complete joy but, “What, that’s nearly 6 months.”  Well today was the day that the EHCP window opened to me. I arrived at our SEN office at a few minutes after 9:00 with my envelope stuffed with application form, EP reports, letters from doctors saying that they felt that an EHCP was necessary and that the child was “complex” (how I like to see that label when I know that we will need to try and get them EHCP!), a history from the parents and plenty of proof (with associated costs) that we have been putting in at least £6000 of support.

The window is open for five days only – unless as the email said we want to attend meetings during our holidays – tomorrow I am hoping to have another set of papers ready to take to them and, with a pinch of salt and  following wind, another set on Friday.

These application forms are over 20 pages long and with the amount of supporting paperwork that we have to produce there is probably a sizeable hole in some Amazon rainforest! They take such a long time to fill in and gather the evidence and as SENCO my work is almost done. Almost, apart from the meeting with the SEN officer and the parents in week 2 – 3, the attendance at panel to see if I can persuade 10 other people that this child really needs an EHCP (even if I don’t get any more funding and at present I’m not looking for a specialist provision), presuming that hoop is successfully negotiated there is another meeting with parents and the SEN officer and another attendance at panel to see if all the collected information is enough to convince a different 10 people that the child needs this degree of help. It is a very time consuming process.

For the SEN officers it is probably even more time consuming so my SEN officer will not be pleased to see my pile of EHCP applications land on their desk – apart from I don’t have an SEN officer as she insists on taking a break because her baby is due any day now. I phoned the SEN department today…

“Who will be my new SEN officer whilst Suzie is away?”

“That isn’t quite sorted at the moment but we’re working at it,”

“Great, thanks, who will be coming to my review meetings for Tim and John?”

“Don’t worry, someone will come – it’s on the ‘things that definitely need someone allocated to them’ pile.”

I’m reassured! I’m sure that with the legal timeline clock ticking for the EHCPs that arrive at the SEN team this week everything will be sorted on time!

The EHCP window opens!


Transition – moving from one place to another – whether this is physically or intellectually, can be hard. It is reaching that time of year where children can be heard talking about who will be their teacher next year. It is a time which seems to cause a lot of anxiety.

We have a stable staff and although which year group the staff are in may well change their faces will all be familiar to all of the children but the not knowing causes concern. We will tell the children soon and do lots of work with them to assure them that their new teacher will carry on where the old one left off. They know that some things will change but in general as we are a small school their classmates will stay the same. School rules will stay the same, expectations of behaviour will stay the same, the colour of their books for each subject will stay the same, even the day singing assembly is on will probably stay the same but still they are concerned.

Life in school is so much more than just teaching facts, knowledge, skills and their application, it is far more to do with relationships. Certainly it doesn’t take long before teachers are heard talking about “my children” in the staffroom when referring to their class. Teachers can be almost as possessive of the children as the children are of their teachers!

Our classrooms are almost identical in size and shape but how they are organised makes them all feel very different, each teacher putting their own spin on the room. Children will very soon get used to the physical changes in a room but knowing that their new teacher “gets” them takes longer – Miss Smith knows I hate sitting near the window and if I sit next to Billy I won’t work, Mr Brown might not know….

Children do not seem to appreciate that teachers talk, teachers will pass on information and that teachers really do care and want the best for them – their teacher does now, their teacher knows them. They have forgotten that a year ago their old teacher was the one who knew and their current teacher was a stranger.

For some the transition is bigger – the Y6s are moving on to a variety of secondary schools. These children who have coped with transitions within their primary school are suddenly faced with a bigger change, new teachers, new classes, a new route to school, a big building to get lost in. Tomorrow I start a few extra visits with those who we know are more worried than the rest, I also know that this time next year they will be wondering why they worried!

Within our school we all have to face a new transition or two. We are becoming an academy, which for the majority just means remembering what we write when asked the name of the school. A more major transition is that the head teacher who has been there for a very long time is leaving. We will be getting a new head teacher but not immediately. Like the children we are slightly apprehensive both for the interim arrangements and for when the new head starts – like the children we don’t know if they will “get” us, and that thought of what if they don’t like me? We know that it will be fine. We know the old head and new head will talk, they will pass on information. We are professionals doing our job but it does give us a small amount of insight into how the children are feeling.

At the end of this week we will tell the children who their new teachers will be. We will start working at the transition between this year and next, building those relationships so that anxieties are reduced and everyone can enjoy their holidays and come back secure in the knowledge that they can have a good year with a teacher who “gets” them.