How using person-centred reviews in school can help young people make important decisions about their future
A person-centred review uses person-centred thinking tools to explore what is happening from the person and other people’s perspectives, and to agree actions for change. Everyone who participates in the review describes what they like and admire about the person, what is important to them, and what help and support they need. All those who attend the review agree a list of actions that will continue what is working and change what is not working. I have been involved in a lot of work to support specialist schools in meeting the Valuing People Now vision and have been encouraged by the interest from mainstream primary and secondary schools.
Stuart is a young man about to go to secondary school. He attends a specialist education school away from his community, but has been increasingly spending more time at his local primary school. He has a number of difficulties, including specific learning and physical disabilities, and he needs a lot of support. Following his most recent person-centred review, in September, Stuart, his family and supporters were able to decide that, rather than attend school at a specialist resource unit in Oxfordshire, he would prefer to go to his local secondary school instead.
I recently facilitated Stuart’s review and some of the most exciting parts of the process were the honest conversations about the practicalities and differences the two different types of schools would offer. Stuart and his family are keen for him to stay with his mates from the local primary school and village, and the local secondary school made it clear they would happily enrol him and work to his needs to ensure he’s supported to do that. The difference is that, with Stuart, the expectation was that he’s the sort of person you’d expect to go to a specialist unit, not a mainstream school. So we talked about how he would cope with a bus and rowdy teenagers barging on before and after him. Would he be pushed over? How would he cope with the hurly burly of secondary school life? How would he cope academically in a fast-paced mainstream school?
The local secondary school said they were prepared to tailor anything to support Stuart including learning support or a private room for physiotherapy. One of the arguments for Stuart going to a specialist school was that he would be able to spend time with other children facing the same difficulties, so he wouldn’t feel so different. However, the SENCO for the secondary school said that, if that’s something he wants and needs, they would arrange that too.
The person-centred review process
In the past, the typical review would take an hour or so and be attended by the teacher, family and any professionals involved with the family, whether or not they have met the young person. The young person in question often did not attend. What usually happened involved going through the local education authority paperwork in a methodical manner. This could be a bland process and, because parents were unprepared, they were unable to contribute fully and were sometimes distressed by the process. The young person typically did not contribute.
With the person-centred review process, the young person and the family are at the heart of all discussion and involved at every step. The week before Stuart’s review, I met with him, his mum Sue, and the primary school to plan the meeting. Stuart was really excited and decided he would like to be smartly dressed and that there needed to be a Doctor Who theme throughout. He decided what snacks should be served, which room would work best for the meeting and that he would bring some music and photos to share. It was clear that it was his meeting and he was in charge. We talked with his mum about how things could be shared in a way that was inclusive of Stuart, but not upsetting to him.
The meeting was in two parts. The first gathered information about what everyone concerned likes and admires about Stuart, what is important to Stuart, what help and support he needs and what is currently working and not working for him at school.
The second part was to review this information and agree actions. Some of the actions agreed at Stuart’s review included:
increasing the number of days Stuart goes to his local primary school to four days
having some practice sessions on the local school bus to see how manageable it is
not going through the (very long) statement at the meeting, but that key people would meet to go through, amend and shorten it, and then liaise with Sue.
In the past, Stuart’s reviews were long, tedious and not action-focussed, because everybody read out their reports and their recommendations with little opportunity for discussion. Here, it was an open and honest conversation where people were thinking more creatively about how this could work, instead of “it’s too much to think about so we’ll go with the conventional approach”.
I asked the primary school SENCO what she thought at the end of Stuart’s review. Her feedback was that, while there was a big agenda to tackle, “it was miles better than previous annual reviews.” Sue said she preferred to have a meeting centred on actions and to have Stuart involved: “It was great to be specific about the actions and pin people down to time-scales really clearly. We were planning what people were going to do and by what date, which was great.”
After the review, Stuart told his mum that he really appreciated hearing the great things about him. These included his tenacity, tolerance, twinkly eyes and thoughtfulness, the great progress he has made, how he makes other people feel special, his really interesting conversations, and how he always works to the best of his ability. He found this reassuring because he had some concerns about how he was regarded at school.
We often forget to tell people, in our daily interactions, about the things we like about them, and this can lead to misunderstandings. We can too easily focus on the child’s problems and how we can fix them, without celebrating their successes.
There are plenty more stories like Stuart’s. As the 2012 Valuing People Now deadline looms closer, the value of a person-centred approach becomes all the clearer. I hope that all young people can benefit from building a solid foundation for the next stage of their lives, no matter what their age or background.
Charlotte Sweeney is a trainer with Helen Sanderson Associates.