The EP is the gatekeeper

By EP I mean Educational Psychologist.

I’m starting to get my head around the funding tools at the moment. The fact is that children with more complex needs need more funding.

But the EP is the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper to the funding.

So I’m looking at some of the children in the school with more unusual needs. For example there is a child in one year who we’ve put into a smaller group so that he can develop better relationships both with his peers and adults. He’s a real attention seeker – shouting out, bumping into others, passing wind loudly and doing a range of things to make people notice him.

And once a week we have a real wobble with him. Last week he almost punched his fist through a computer screen. This week he left the main activity without any explanation and started making something out of Dienes apparatus. He wouldn’t return to what everyone else was doing. He did his own thing.

And then I’m looking at the funding tool and wondering if we should get any extra funding for him. He has not made any progress for two years because his behaviour has inhibited it and part of the reason for educating him in a small group is not only to improve his own learning but to reduce the negative impact on others. He has been holding back the rest of his class.

But of course small groups cost more money. They mean twice the amount of staff. And we get nothing extra for this child.

So it makes sense, if he’ll only make progress in small groups to fund a small group. Therefore we should apply for said funding.

But the EP is the gatekeeper.

The example provided for me reads: “…usually refuses to do any written work in class. When staff persist, he tries to storm out of the room or makes for other students and will destroy if not prevented…” and so it goes on.

But he’s not quite that bad. Because we’ve nurtured and cared for him. And because, off our own backs, we have taught him in a small group. But he could be that bad, given a less nurturing environment and a larger class.

But will the EP see that? When they check my request for more funding will they actually see behaviour that deserves it? Or will they say a troubled child who’s actually doing OK.

I’m seeing more and more that as a SENCo you have to have the EP on your side. I’m meeting him on Monday. I hope we get off to a good start. Maybe I should flirt with him a little? Or maybe I definitely shouldn’t?

Roll on Monday.

What a little SOD

This is just a little addendum to my post on all those different acronyms that seem to exist in the world of SEN.

I was speaking to a mother earlier today whose child I am yet to refer to the local team that serve autistic children. We were discussing how the child had settled into their class and what she thought the referral process might bring up for this child.

She said: “Oh I’m not too worried about it. He already has a couple of other diagnoses. He’s got separation anxiety, which means he only loves me. And he’s got Sleep Onset Disorder, which, you know, we’re dealing with.”

My acronym-sensitive mind was screaming: “Sleep Onset Disorder, oh you mean SOD. Yes I’ve heard of that one.

And I also wanted to say, “Have you heard of Munchausen’s by proxy?

But I didn’t. I said neither. I was a good SENCo.

I just smiled and agreed that I would get on with making the autism spectrum disorder referral on Monday.

Be calm. File. Everything will fall into place.

Calmly filing an important piece of paper

Panic over. The post arrived.

The first was addressed to the SENCo. It contained a letter from a doctor who had reviewed one of our children during the summer holiday. I suddenly felt part of the process again.

I knew what to do.

I calmly found the child’s place in the filing cabinet and placed the piece of paper in her file. I knew what to do. It would be part of the evidence for that child’s next review. It was all coming back to me. Be calm. File. Everything will fall into place.

The importance of filing had been impressed upon me by the previous SENCo. If you want to go for a statement for a child, you have to have evidence from external experts (doctors, educational psychologists and the like). If you are audited to check that you aren’t claiming too much money from the SEN pot you have to have evidence otherwise you may have to pay back some of the money.

You can’t have evidence without filing. SENCos have to file. I’ve filed today and now the panic of my previous post is over. I file like a SENCo so I feel like a SENCo. Therefore I am a SENCo.

Losing myself in the task

So my first day in the role as SENCo and my first job was to consolidate. You see previously I was sharing the office with the old SENCo – me the deputy, her the SENCo. Now I had it all to myself. And instead of having 2 sets of the same stuff I wanted to consolidate and make the space, well, nicer. More of a meeting room and less of an office.

I started with this (see picture).

What I inherited from the old SENCo

2 huge bits of Ikea furniture full of folders, many of which I had no idea of the contents. There was also a large display board with seemed to be full of spurious bits of information, like address and phone numbers. I was loathe to go for the nuclear option – on either the shelves or the notice board – as I might well end up chucking some vital piece of paper.

I soon discovered in going through the folders that the previous SENCo had a habit I really didn’t like – hoarding. Worse she hoarded in card foolscap folders. And often added random extra things as well.

It seemed that she would attend some useful course or other and then file the information in the folder. But then, before placing it on her shelves, she would add whatever else had come to attention to her that day – like random bits of stationery or laminated lesson resources. Twice I found enough laminating pouches to keep the school running for a term. Add that to wads of coloured paper, show me cards, empty plastic wallets and reading books and I had enough resources to fill a stock cupboard.

What I really don’t like about card folders is that they just don’t file well. The flop around on the shelves and make things look ugly and disorganised. Much better keep things in a Lever Arch file, even if it does take the extra effort of hole punching it, or better still chuck it in a box file.

Anyway, after an afternoon of sorting I managed to get her 2 shelving units and my 2 shelving units down to only 3 shelving units, thereby saving myself some extra room in my new ‘meeting room’ by removing the additional shelving unit. Now it looks like this:

And afterwards – what my shelves look like now.

That’s all very well, but I had a gnawing worry that I was doing the wrong thing. Yes it might be useful to sort out my physical space, but wasn’t I supposed to be a new SENCo? Not just a filer of information? Didn’t that involve conversations and IEPs and all sorts of other stuff. Without taking my notes out from last July, I couldn’t quite remember if I should be doing something more than merely moving folders about.

This feeling was crystallised somewhat by a phone call from an anxious mum of  a child on the SEN register who was very worried about coming back to school. “He’s been depressed all summer. He really doesn’t want to come back to school. He’s worried about all the changes…” It went on and on. Yes. I could imagine the child was worried about starting back. Most children are. In fact most teachers are for that matter – for the first six years of my teaching career I spent the last week of the Summer holidays convinced I had ‘lost it’ and was no longer able to teach.

I said as much to the mum in question and after talking about all the work that the teacher and teaching assistant were planning to do to ease this child’s entry into his new year group, she calmed down enough to let me put the phone down and carry on with my filing.

But actually, on reflection, being a SENCo is all about including those families – those parents and children, no matter how worried. So I’m wrong to veer towards task-focused indignation. It’s easy to lose myself in the task and forget what I’m really here for.

Clean Jumper Syndrome

ImageBack from a summer break and I’m gearing up for school in my brand new role of SENCo. One week to go…

I was going through my notes that I made with the previous SENCo to help me be ready for September when I noticed the letters ‘CJS’. Not another obscure special needs acronym, I thought to myself, until I remembered it stood for ‘Clean Jumper Syndrome‘.

I remember the conversation well.

“Clean Jumper Syndrome? What’s that?” I asked, incredulous.

“Oh you know, it’s when the jumper is as spotless as the brain,” replied the previous SENCo. “Nothing on the front, nothing up top either.”

The child we were talking about apparently had Clean Jumper Syndrome and I could kind of see what she meant. The child in question was indeed very well presented. Not a hair out of place. Not a mark on him. Pristine. Unlike the other boys in the class of six year olds, he didn’t seem to play much at all. He just wandered around the playground, slightly vacant, not really engaging in any play with either girls or boys. In fact, on reflection, maybe he was just keeping his jumper clean.

I hadn’t heard it articulated in such a way before, but I got what was meant. There’s an understanding in teaching that life is messy. It’s imperfect. And if life is messy, so is learning. Perfectionists cannot survive long as teachers, because there’s always an extra thing you could do for your children – an extra resource to prepare, a better way to plan, a more pertinent comment when you’re marking. And it that’s true for the teachers, it is also true for the students – children can’t be perfect all day long – they’re going to get tired, get bored, drift off, have arguments, get messy, play badly and a whole host of other things.

What this means as a teacher is that you are always managing imperfection. Children come into your room imperfect. You teach them, they learn something, but they do leave the room still imperfect. And this means that if you have a child that is somehow locked into thinking one part of his or her life should be perfect, then that child is immediately at a disadvantage as a learner – their learning will be inhibited by this false impression of the world.

The most memorable occasion for me prior to this conversion was child I taught a few years ago in a Year 6 class. This child came to me having been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD –  and I have to admit I’d never heard of the latter condition before, but apparently it is Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which means that the child will “no” to answer that is “yes” and call “black”, “white”. The biggest flash points for this child came in tests, when at the first inkling of struggling or getting something wrong, the child would scribble over their paper, tear it up and walk out of the room.

After a term of battle and heart-ache we achieved a positive relationship of sorts and by the end of the year the child was confident enough to actually sit through a test without throwing a wobbly. Aside from the fact that this child had clean jumper syndrome, I remember well them showing some photos of home. The place was immaculate. It was like what you imagine a footballer’s home to be like. All glass, polished floor, chrome and big TVs. I asked him a little bit about his home and found out he had no books and no toys. Only computer screens and TVs. No books. No toys. No chance for mess.

It is early days for my new Clean Jumper Syndrome child, but it is likely that pressure from home to look perfect and never make a mess will inhibit this child’s progress at school. Of course in my new role I am ideally placed to make an impact on this. But I’m wondering exactly how. I’m imagining a conversation with mum starting with the words, “I think you should encourage your son to get more messy at school…” and then being swiftly punched in the face. And as the blood drips down from my nose on to my SENCo cardigan I can imagine the mother saying, “Is that enough mess for you.”

SENCO: a whole new world of acronyms.

Teachers are pretty bad at acronyms. If you’re not a teacher and you engage one in conversation  you’ll soon find a whole lot of acronyms coming your way if the conversation drifts onto teaching. Worse, try to join in a conversation between two teachers and you’ll sign be reeling from acronym after acronym. I know some teachers who still don’t the difference between A4L, APP and PPA.

Special Needs education is even worse. There’s a whole lot of acronyms going on that most teachers don’t understand. It adds a certain mystery to SENCO conversations – 2 SENCOs can talk in the same room together and nobody else can understand them. So after 15 years of trying to avoid ever having to learn what all these acronyms mean, I suddenly find myself being in the position of having to get my head around them.

In my first session with the current SENCO, where she began to go through some of the processes involved in SENCOing, I had to keep stop her and asking her what something means. Sometimes things sound very similar, but can mean entirely different things, so it’s important to know the subtle differences. Here’s my understanding of some of those SENCO specific acronyms:

  • SEN – Special Education Needs
  • SENCO – Special Education Needs Co-ordinator
  • SEND – Special Education Needs and Disability – the new acronym for SEN.
  • IEP – Individual Education Plan – the most important document in successfully running SEN in a school.
  • EP – Educational Psychologist
  • SLT – Speech and Language Therapy
  • SALTA – Speech and Language Teaching Assistant
  • SLCN – Speech, Language and Communication Needs
  • ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • EBD – Emotional and Behavioral Disorder
  • CRISP – not sure what this stands for, but it’s one for the main processes to get funding in my authority so it’s very important
  • PSS – Pupil and School Support – the body from my local authority that give some SEN support.
  • RB – Resource Base – the setting for children who have more severe needs than can be catered for in a school, but not severe enough for a special school.

That’s just the start. I’m sure there will be plenty more acronyms as I get into the role more.