Don’t smile until Christmas, and other questionable advice for NQTs

There were three pieces of advice given to me during my initial teacher training (four if you include ‘don’t do it’) that remain with me now almost 10 years later.

Number one; don’t smile until Christmas.

Number two; never turn your back on the class.

And number three; in the staffroom, sit with the radiators and avoid the drains.

Picture me now, a fresh faced 23 year old secondary geography NQT, back to the wall and stony faced, staring unblinking at my students before reversing carefully out of the room in search of colleagues who have taken time out of their busy days to exude their joy and declare their love of the job to anyone who will listen.

Continue reading: https://www.teachwire.net/news/what-i-wish-id-been-told-as-an-nqt 

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Summer Inspiration Stories

For longer than I haven’t, I have spent my summers working for a charity that provides play schemes and residential short breaks for children (5-18) with moderate to severe learning and / or physical disabilities.  No matter where I’ve been or what I’m doing, this is where you will find me in the summer holidays.  It is, first and foremost, a respite service for parents of disabled children and I know, of course, that there are many such organisations… but none, I truly believe, quite like ASAS.  Exceptionally good ratios (more staff than children!!!), our own accessible transport, incredibly low staff turnover (resulting in a team that knows one another and works well together), a high quality training and induction programme, and leadership that lives on the ground, leading by example whether its providing personal care or wearing a grass skirt and a shaving foam beard; we decide what we think our children will enjoy and then we make it happen no matter what.  We make the world work for us.  One of the reasons I became a teacher was to keep my summer holidays free for ASAS.  My first fights for fair access were to get ASAS children into cinemas and onto rollercoasters when the first answer was no.  The first step on my SENCo journey was a fifteen year old volunteer through the doors of this charity.  I don’t know where I’d be without it.  I don’t even know who I’d be without it.  All this time later, I need my summer work more than ever to contextualise, motivate and inspire me for the year ahead.  We haven’t let anything stand in the way of us sailing, caving, climbing and just generally having a great time… nothing is impossible with the right people and determination.

The summer scheme is, and has been for as long as I’ve worked for it, held at a special school where I used to work as a teaching assistant (yes, you read that correctly).  The school has, before, during and after my employment there, had its ups and downs, but it too – along with Mencap, who I worked for whilst I was at university – played a huge role in shaping my views and attitudes regarding inclusion and disability in society.  No matter what has happened and how much has changed since I worked there, my heart still lives at Green Meadows special school.  This summer, I have loved finding and reading the inspiring phrases that are now dotted around the school building and I’ll definitely be keeping these in mind as I go into the new academic year.

 

A key job for me this summer has been reviewing our approach to supporting students experiencing a decline in their mental health and wellbeing, including those who are showing us this through a deterioration in their behaviour.  The phrase ‘fight fire with water’ has really stuck in my mind throughout that review process.  In fact, the more I think about it, the phrase ‘fight fire with fire’ doesn’t make sense on any level.

There were hundreds of magic moments this summer, like every summer, that I’ll take with me into the upcoming academic year but I’m just going to talk about one wonderful place that we’ve been lucky enough to be going to for years.  I have, a longish time ago, spoke briefly about Nell Bank before.  If you want to know what inclusion – true inclusion – can look like, look no further; this is how you do it.

Nell Bank is a day and residential outdoor experience centre based in beautiful Ilkley, West Yorkshire.  It isn’t simply that Nell Bank is very inclusive, but the way that Nell Bank is inclusive that makes it special.  True inclusion is seamless and all-encompassing.  True inclusion is invisible.  At Nell Bank, there’s no separate entrance, alternative routes with ramps, or annexed areas that tick the ‘disabled friendly’ box; it all just… is… for everyone.  And I’m talking about climbing frames and assault courses here!  It is one of very, very few places where we can all go together and all have an equally good time – an adventure – together.  Whether its pond dipping (all raised ponds), splashing in the water play area, riding in the Nell Buggy (wheelchair accessible golf cart!), playing on the massive fort climbing frame (wheelchair friendly right to the very top!), or completing the superb assault course (see photos!!!), there is nothing here that we cannot all enjoy together.  Also, we just go for the day but I happen to know that their residential facilities include height adjustable tables, kitchen and beds, hoists, and a hygiene suite that has a bath with a lowering platform.

 

 

If I can make inclusion at my school as seamless and all-encompassing as it is at Nell Bank then I’ll be one happy INCo.  The holidays may be nearly over (for me, at least! My school reopens on 23rd August!), but I’m ready!  Thanks, ASAS, for another inspirational summer.

Mental Health Matters

As part of my summer holiday fun and relaxation, I have been working on developing a pathway for how we support our students’ mental health and well-being that goes beyond whole school strategies and environment but preempts the referral to outside agency stage.  Now, at T minus 2 weeks to (potential) implementation, I would really appreciate any feedback and advice anyone has about it!  Please note, much of this is already in place (but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved!) and I’m fully open to any additional suggestions.  I have found that there are several very informative websites and guides and I’ve found them very useful… I’ve struggled, however, to find a specific and workable action plan to support the students; if anyone knows where I might find one, I’d love to see it!

Thanks 🙂

 

1: Mental Health Action Plan / Provision map:

MH WTD P1

MH WTD P2MH WTD P3

 

2. Wellbeing Plan:

MH Wellbeing P1MH Wellbeing P2

 

3. Safety Plan:

MH Safety Plan P1MH Safety Plan P2

Shame On You

Picture the scene. You and your colleagues are seated, waiting for your regular in-house CPD session to start. The whiteboard flickers to life. Great, you think, the sooner we can get started, the better.

On the board are displayed two lists of teachers names – including yours – grouped under a happy face and a sad face. You then read the slide title: ‘This term’s good/outstanding (or not) lesson observations’…

Continue reading: https://www.teachwire.net/news/some-classroom-behaviour-management-strategies-can-humiliate-children-with-long-term-consequences

Money Where The Mouth Is

I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I’m following my Twitter feed and the news and seeing the same things that we are all seeing – real terms funding for students with additional needs has dwindled to crisis point and it doesn’t look set to improve.  No doubt, increased funding is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the best education… no, the safety, wellbeing and any education… for our SEND children and this sits within the wider context of a reduction in funding and resources for those with disabilities in adulthood and the crisis in the NHS.  It is all very bleak.  I saw, as I’m sure many reading this did, some head teacher speaking on the news saying that the last thing he’d want is to be turning SEND students away because the school can’t afford them.  Afford them?  What are schools for, if not for the children of their catchment?  Are we now openly operating a two tier system?  Why is SEND the subgroup of student it is so acceptable to discriminate against?

I agree that there’s a funding crisis.  There’s a funding issue in education in general.  But lack of funds is no more an excuse to not meet the needs of SEND students as it would be an excuse to not meet the needs of any student.  You still have to do what a school’s supposed to do.  Money isn’t the whole reason our schools aren’t inclusive and, as such, money would not solve the issue of poor inclusion in our schools.  Money helps (when doesn’t it!?) but it isn’t the whole answer.

“Money is only a tool.  It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
Ayn Rand

The first step in meeting the needs of your SEND students is not money but to stop seeing them as something different to the rest of your students.  As long as we see students with SEND as something different to students, children with disabilities as something different to children, and a group with different needs and rights to the rest of those we are teaching, we are discriminating against them.  All children need the same things – safety, wellbeing, nurture, their best outcomes, adult success (whatever that my look like!).  And all children have the same educational rights – to be taught by qualified teachers and access to an appropriate, quality, accountable and valued curriculum.  The budget and resources of the school – however tight those things may be – need to be used to provide these things equitably to all of the students.  We can’t use a label of ‘SEND’ as an excuse to exempt a child from any of this.

Actually, the lack of money being funnelled into SEND and adult disability provision is also because of this same issue.  It’s systemic, societal and entrenched.  How we treat SEND students throughout their education results in a) those children becoming adults who haven’t been given the best tools to be assertive, rights asserting adults and b) their non-SEND peers go on to perceive disability as ‘other’, someone else’s problem, and something that we use as an emotional crutch for ourselves as opposed to assuring proper societal equality and justice.  Then they become the decision makers, funding deciders, employers and head teachers of the next generation and perpetuate the same approach.

There’s a cycle that needs to be broken here, but it won’t be broken by money alone… the lack of proper funding is just a symptom or product of the actual issue that needs to be fixed.  In order for the policy makers and budget holders to make decisions that work for SEND children we need them to have grown up with an intrinsic understanding that this is needed and right.  We need young people with SEND to grow up to hold power in their lives and be participants in that decision making process.  We need to stop seeing some people as separate to the rest of society.

So, yes; I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I wouldn’t be turning down additional funding to support SEND students, or any student for that matter!  Money alone, though, isn’t the magic wand that will ensure true inclusion for our SEND students… but ensuring true inclusion for our SEND students through our attitudes towards disability, school culture, and having equality, equity and justice at the heart of our decision making might, eventually, solve the funding crisis.

“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out!” Jonathan Winters

Carrot Baton Inclusion

Image result for superhero carrot

If there was one positive outcome of the M&S cauliflower steak debacle it was the exposure of pre-cut veg as an unsung hero of true inclusion.  Pre-cut veg is not shelved in a segregated, ‘disabled friendly’ section of the supermarket.  Nor is it present at the expense of other vegetable formats – fresh, frozen, tinned… crisps.  You don’t need to join a scheme or present a badge to access it.  People with disabilities benefiting from it doesn’t negatively impact on anyone else using it… and people without disabilities using it doesn’t negatively impact on people with disabilities using it.  And, crucially, until it was exposed as a disabled-friendly option by some excessively packaged and very pricey cauliflower (not steaks; I refuse to call those things steaks), it was doing all this without making a big song and dance about it.  This is the way to do it!  Let’s do this more!

Toilet Talk

I don’t believe in disabled parking spaces.

Just to clarify, I do know that they exist; I’ve seen them in the carparks.  What I mean is that I don’t think that they should exist.  I think we shouldn’t need them.  Of course, I understand that some people have a genuine need to park nearer to the door or close to a drop kerb or in a wider bay, in fact, I fully advocate and endorse that this should be facilitated.  I just don’t think that disabled parking, or Blue Badge parking, is the way we should be doing it.  For me, the disabled parking space in the carpark is a microcosm of the state of inclusion in wider society.  It’s a symbol of segregation and the product of a problem.  Segregated, ablest self-congratulation (or, sometimes, half-hearted box ticking, begrudging and tokenistic), abused at any given opportunity, and only really necessary because, without it, the true colours of society would be shown in all their glory… I mean, who doesn’t want to park near the door on a rainy day???  The disabled parking space is fraught with problems whichever way you look at it.  There are people who need them that aren’t allowed to use them (because they didn’t meet thresholds, because they don’t have the ‘right’ disability, because their need is temporary, because they forgot the badge) and people who don’t need them, and aren’t entitled to use them, but just park there anyway.  There may be days when a person with a disability arrives in the carpark but all the disabled parking spaces are full.  There may be days when no one with a Blue Badge is using that carpark and all the parking spaces are full.  Except, of course, those ones.  And don’t even get me started on the highly visible segregation or that bloody wheelchair silhouette logo.  The bottom line is this; we only need disabled parking spaces because we live in a selfish society.  Having labelled disabled parking spaces absolves us of our responsibility to our community.  Don’t park near to the door if you don’t need to.  Don’t park at the drop kerb if you don’t need to.  Don’t park in the wide spaces if you don’t need to.  Clearly, this wouldn’t happen and so we need to keep the disabled parking spaces… but I feel a little bit sad about it every time I see one.

The same issues that I see with disabled parking spaces I see with other aspects of provision for people with disabilities.  Take, for example, teaching assistants.  Teaching assistants make schools ‘work’ for students with additional needs.  They make it so they can cope in the classroom, cope in the corridors and communal areas, and get the things that they need, stated in the EHCP, that the school wouldn’t otherwise provide.  Having the teaching assistant absolves a school of its responsibility to make their school actually work for that child.  It enables schools to identify a list of things that make that child different and insert a segregated provision in order to address that list.  It’s the deficit model disguised as the social model and, I suppose, it is better than nothing; but that doesn’t mean that it’s the answer.

And what about disabled toilets?

Well, of course, I don’t believe in them. I don’t not believe in the need for public toilet facilities that cater to the full, wide and diverse range of people that constitutes ‘the public’, I just don’t think that having standard toilets and disabled toilets (and, if you’re lucky, a Changing Places toilet too) is the way to do it.

Disabled toilets fit the pattern.  They exist because the fabric of society doesn’t cater for some people and, although the system doesn’t actually work for many people, we stick with it because it makes us feel like we’ve done something, it’s better than nothing, Equality Act says so and so on.  People who shouldn’t use them do use them, then they get radar locked and people who should be able to use them can’t.  People get shamed because they don’t ‘look disabled’ (I’m blaming that bloody wheelchair silhouette symbol again) and, heartwarming as it is that ASDA have added a ‘some disabilities look like this [insert stickman]’ clause to their disabled loos, actually some disabilities don’t look like a stickman and their slightly larger cubicle with grab handles just isn’t going to cut it.

As is the case in all three of these examples, disabled loos are us seeing a problem or deficit in society and sticking a plaster over it instead of fixing the actual problem.  This might tick a legal box, make us feel good about ourselves and it might even make things better for a few more people but a temporary fix is always going to be flimsy and full of holes.  I’m not saying that now’s the time to ditch disabled toilets, parking spaces, teaching assistants or anything else that might fit this same pattern – we aren’t ready.  But there was a time we didn’t even have these things and we made progress, and now it’s time to make progress again – we are ready to start.  It isn’t over until society genuinely works for everyone equally.  The revolution will not have disabled access.

We could, for example, all use parking spaces more considerately (even with the disabled parking spaces still there).  This is going to mean different things to different people… but don’t park by the door if you don’t need to; someone might need that space.  Don’t park at the end near the path if you don’t need to; someone might need that space.

A complete redesign of the entire education system so that it meets the needs of all children – not just the ‘thriving few’, but SEND, just-not-quite-SEND and the ‘coping core’ as well – doesn’t seem to be on the cards, but this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can be doing. As soon as you stop seeing SEND students as something different to students; as soon as you stop applying a different set of rules, routines and expectations to them as a result of that perception, then things will start to change.  If you design a school for your least able and most vulnerable students, it will work for everyone.  The rigour, high expectations, challenge, accountability and expertise we afford our most able students is the entitlement of all children.  The level of care, individualisation, nurture and consideration we apply for our least able and most vulnerable… that is the right of all children too.

And enabled toilets.

Society has changed, over time, for the better.  We are more inclusive and more accessible than we have ever been in the past.  We are more exposed to more information so we can be more open-minded, understanding and accepting.  We are freer to be whoever we are without constraint of oppression on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability… we aren’t there, but there’s no denying that we have made progress over time.  I haven’t done any research or anything, but I’m pretty sure that public toilets are the same as they were when the first ones were installed in London in 1851 (okay, I asked Siri about that one specific detail).  The public toilet has not moved with the times.  What we need now are toilets that meet the needs of the society we live in.  A society where people with disabilities access the community, women breastfeed outside of their home, some people have hidden disabilities, some people have very complex and multiple disabilities, and some people do not fall within the gender binary.  A public toilet should represent and be available to the public.  It isn’t okay for someone with profound physical disabilities to have their personal care needs met lying on a dirty toilet floor and nor is it okay for someone to be challenged and shamed for using a disabled toilet when they don’t ‘look disabled’. It’s not okay for a mother to feel that they have to sit in a toilet cubicle to feed their baby and it’s not okay that some people’s gender identity precludes them from comfortably using any of the available options.

It’s fine to have male and female toilets, just not for these to be the only available options.  It’s fine to have standard sized cubicles and bigger ones with support rails, but not for these to be the only options.  It’s fine to have doors with wheelchair silhouettes on them and its fine to add a ‘not all disabilities are visible’ caption to it too… but some disabilities are visible and the standard disabled toilet is not sufficient.  And it’s fine to have bigger and smaller sized toilets, but it isn’t alright to label them ‘adult’ and ‘child’; there are other reasons someone might require a lower toilet than being a child.

The biggest barrier to inclusion, in schools and in society, is a prevailing attitude to disability that makes it okay for some people’s needs to be met (often barely, and sometimes not really at all) as a series of add-ons, afterthoughts, and annexed provisions that tick a box, make the able majority feel like they’ve done something, and enable society at large to comfortably turn a blind eye.  So long as we keep celebrating Blue Badge schemes, slightly bigger cubicles, and non-teachers teaching our most vulnerable students as enough for some people and enough for us to feel like we’ve done enough, we are celebrating segregation and preventing progress being made.  Creating a society that really works for everyone isn’t easy but, also, it isn’t optional.   And, actually, some of the things that need to change are pretty straight forward.  If, for example, each set of public toilets had men/women/neutral options, a disabled cubical and a Changing Places, we’d be doing pretty well!  Refusing to provide this, as I believe one of the big department stores has (refused to include a Changing Places because it would take up valuable retail space), is, to me, literally stating that some people are not important or valuable enough to be catered for.  You couldn’t say it about, for example, women and refuse to have a female toilets; why is this any different.

As always, for me it comes down to attitudes and behaviours.  Yep, there are financial implications, structural upheaval and space and time to be taken up… but nothing that we aren’t capable of if we decide that it’s worth doing!  The beauty of society is that we are all different but all equal.  We are capable of working together to do great things.  And – the great leveller – we all need a decent loo.