How person centred approaches can help take the strain out of transition
Starting at a new school can be a time of great anxiety and confusion for young people and their families, as they move on from familiar people and places into the unknown. It is a crucial time for thinking carefully about your life, and what you want now and in the future. All too often, though, planning can go on around young people without anyone truly listening to what is important to them. So here are a few simple ways to get young people involved in their education and find out how they feel about things.
One page profiles
During recent months, Vickie has been getting ready for her son, Evan, to start mainstream primary school in September. However, when it came to filling in the forms for Evan’s statement, Vickie found the process really difficult. “The statement focuses on what children can’t do; it’s so physically and mentally draining”, she said. Soon after this, Vickie started putting together a one page profile for Evan. This enabled her to describe his positive attributes and provide a profile that really reflected who Evan is as an individual.
Vickie also asked the staff at Evan’s nursery to add some information about what is important to Evan from their perspective. She is going to give Evan’s new school a copy of the profile and keep it updated as he gets older and things change.
When Vickie visited Evan’s new school, they invited her to be part of the recruitment for his learning support assistant. Vickie was delighted that the school realised that she would be ideally placed to identify the kind of person that would best be able to support her son.
All about me posters
Changing classes, schools and teachers can be a nerve-wracking experience for children of all ages. At a primary school in Derbyshire, Year 6 pupils recently worked on all about me posters to share with their new teachers and classmates in September.
Initially, one pupil, Holly, worked on a poster at home with her big sister, Toni. Holly was worried about fitting in and making friends at school, so Toni suggested that she make an all about me poster to help people get to know her and remind her of what the important people in her life love about her. They used headings like “Things people love about me”, “My favourite things”, “When I grow up” and “Best memories”.
Holly loved her poster and the sense of identity it gave her, and she took it into school to show her teacher. The teacher was so impressed, that she decided the whole class should make a poster to take to their new schools in September.
Holly’s mum said: “It’s great that the whole class are doing this project together. It means that everyone accepts that sharing this sort of information is valuable; it’s not just for kids who are having trouble fitting in; everyone can benefit”.
For many people who either do not use words to communicate or use few words, communication charts can provide a person centred approach that is vital to developing an understanding of the individual and their behaviour. Charts need to be completed very early in the development of a transition plan. Start a chart with contributions from the people who know the person best and then check it out with others.
A communication chart has four headings:
1) At this time. This section describes the situation or the context for the child’s behaviour
2) (Person’s name) does. This describes the person’s behaviour in terms which are clear to a reader who has not seen it. A picture or even a video recording may be preferred for things such as facial expression
3) We think it means… This describes the meaning that people attribute to the behaviour. It is not uncommon for there to be more than one meaning for a single behaviour and all meanings should be listed
4) And we should… This describes what those who provide support should do in response to what the person is saying with their behaviour. The responses under this heading give a careful reviewer a great deal of insight into how the person is perceived and supported.
Sarah used this process with her son, Josh. “If someone had asked me how Josh let me know he was hungry, thirsty, tired or bored, I would have struggled to tell them”, said Sarah, “but using a communication chart helped us to think about what we knew and share it with people in a way that made sense.”
Person centred reviews
Norris Bank Primary School holds SEN Reviews every October and March. All children on School Action meet with the class teacher to evaluate their IEPs and agree new targets. Those children on School Action Plus and those who have a statement of SEN have a more formal review meeting. This involves the SENCO, Tabitha, and all relevant outside agencies, along with the class-teacher, parents and the pupil.
“Until recently, I chaired the meetings along traditional lines, discussing progress through reports and comments, reviewing previously set IEP targets and setting new targets,” says Tabitha. “However, as part of our journey to a more personalised way of learning, last October we held two reviews with a very different agenda and format.
“The same people were present as at a traditional review and the meeting was split up into distinct sections. In the first part, everyone in the room wrote on a large sheet of paper all the things they like and admire about the pupil. This covered not just academic issues, but also social issues and positive views on their appearance, manner and relationships with others. This proved to be very important for the pupils themselves as they could see that other people think positive things about them.
“Then we moved onto the main section of the meeting. All of us had a large sheet of paper split into two with the headings: “What is working” and “What is not working”. We spent time completing the lists on our own, and we found that everyone was being very honest about how the pupil’s behaviour made them feel and how it affected how they work.
“From this, we analysed the different responses, and found that there were indeed common threads in both sections. There were approaches and strategies that worked really well for the pupil, and these approaches also worked well for everyone else involved, both at home and school. We then looked at the issues that caused difficulties and, once again, there were common threads that appeared on everyone’s sheets. We spent time discussing these concerns and then built them into very personalised, appropriate and applicable targets for the new IEPs.
“While previously targets would be decided before the meeting, this was a real departure to go into the meeting without targets. In fact, it is a far more sensible approach, as targets can be discussed and agreed by everyone and will therefore pinpoint the real areas of concern.”
Helen Sanderson has worked as a government advisor on person centred approaches and is co-author of Celebrating Families: simple, practical ways to enhance family life: