Making school reviews person-centred

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School reviews should be meaningful to all, especially the child involved

My son, Alex, has autism and learning difficulties. It was Alex’s annual review at school and I turned up feeling quite nervous. I was ushered into a small office and gradually everyone came in and sat down. I didn’t have a clue who the lady with the dark hair was, and who was that chap in the blue shirt? Oh well! The meeting started and they began to tell me how my child had done during the past year:

He didn’t do well at games, we still can’t really read what he is writing and his reading is still a long way behind. He likes cooking, but we don’t really let him do that very much because he eats other people’s food. Other than that, he is doing OK, well, apart from the angry outbursts. We can’t understand why he gets so upset; it’s always when the staff are helping the other students to cook! Anyway, here is the Individual Education Plan…

I didn’t understand all of the jargon, but I did venture a question: “Will the LEA maintain his statement?”
“Oh I can’t tell you that” says the lady with dark hair, who seems to be in charge, “but we will let you know.”
“Could we talk about what will happen in the future” I asked.
“Don’t worry about that, anyway Connexions couldn’t make it today” she replied.

Put simply, Alex’s reviews were formal, intimidating, depressing, boring, focused on “can’t do, won’t do” and, moreover, they didn’t include him.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, for at Alex’s next school I found an alternative approach in the form of person centred transitional reviews. One of the keys to this approach is to make sure that it is meaningful to everyone. Our first person centred review was the first review in eleven years that Alex was actually present for, and he was allowed to choose where he felt comfortable to meet and who he wanted to be there (friends, relatives, etc.).

At the review, a big piece of paper was put on the wall with the following headings on it:

•    What we like and admire about Alex
•    What is important now
•    What is important for the future
•    What support and help is needed
•    What is working and not working
•    Questions to answer/issues we are struggling with
•    Actions that need to be taken.

The whole meeting was recorded using drawings and words. Everybody joined in and, because it was such a visual process, people could see that they had been heard. Each action to be taken was written on the wall along with the name of the person taking responsibility for it. This was a great way to make sure that things actually got done.

The review gave people the opportunity to come together to think about what was important to Alex, what support he wanted and needed, and to iron out any problems that Alex felt he had. I was also keen that we should begin to think about Alex’s future. For the first time we focused on what was good about Alex. It was so wonderful to hear what people liked and admired about my son that it bought a tear to my eye.

Conducting Alex’s meeting in this way made a real difference to both Alex and me; instead of feeling let down, anxious and on the side lines, we felt included, listened to and a part of the team. What’s more, everyone who attended the meeting preferred this way of working and found it to be more useful, informative and fun.

Over the last five years I have seen Alex become really involved in his future, simply because he has become part of the process. It’s not rocket science, just common sense.

Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 42: September/October 2009

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