The variability that one encounters when visiting a school is often greatest when working with the children. Their uniqueness can introduce you to relatively rare conditions or needs with which the school is learning to cope. Even when there are several members with a similar need, the differences are personal and there is little that one can do except seek to understand the needs of each and every child.
Knowing the children as well as possible as individuals allows for nuanced intervention where this may be necessary, minimising the disruptive effects that inevitably accompany any adult intervention.
Of course, the more one does this, the more refined become the judgements, from greater awareness. I would suggest that this principle would pertain across many aspects of life. There are two key ideas. Do you know what you are looking for and do you know what it will look like when you see it? Within this mindset, anomalies will be identified to be investigated in some form.
While there will always be a range of attitudes with which children arrive at a school, deriving from their prior experiences, the preparation, modelling and articulation of expectations, from all the receiving adults working together as a coordinated team, provides the best possibility of children settling into their new environment.
Early years classes seek to provide settings that are similar to nursery or other pre-school group, enabling the children to feel comfortable in their new surroundings, within which they will begin the transition to more formalised periods of learning together.
It is important that positive attitudes are developed and maintained, as the children are then enabled to become more independent and active partners in their learning. Being offered opportunities, exploring, making mistakes and learning from these, across a range of challenges, supports a developing maturity.
Learner attitudes grow through understanding their place within the school, having a sense of belonging that derives from a good understanding of school expectation in terms of personal responsibility, for themselves, for their treatment of others and for their environment, as well as for their approach to their learning.
There are many schemes, some local as in Rights, Respects and Responsibility (Hampshire CC), or the UNICEF scheme, which provide background discussion topics that can be developed through assemblies, circle time or used to support one to one conversation.
Some schools extend these schemes to enable self-reference to adult support. This can often be seen in Primary schools as a form of lunchtime club, with a TA responsible for emotional literacy in charge. I have encountered self-reference opportunities in Secondaries, with different formulations of student support, including restorative counselling conversations.
A broad range of experiences that extend children’s understanding of their place in the world, through extending and broadening their minds, opening them to new possibilities is important, especially in areas of deprivation. Deprivation can be in cultural terms, with families not taking children to local areas of interest, libraries, galleries, museums or the local fields or the sea, even if they are close. Parent knowledge may preclude them from interpreting experiences to and with their children. An example may be an inability to move beyond the word “bird” to identify a blackbird, robin, pigeon, blue tit or wren.
After school clubs can offer areas not covered in the curriculum. This need not be a drain on teacher time, as a local sixth form college can be a source of willing workers able to offer a broad range of opportunities. These extra-curricular opportunities often provide opportunities for informal contacts that support in-lesson relationships.
Opportunities to do things together enhance a contributory, collaborative, collegiate approach to school, embedding formal PSHE into activities.
After a visit to a school, I was able to write the following about learner attitudes.
The children whom I met during the visit were, without exception, courteous, confident and articulate. They were allowed to speak freely and did so openly and honestly. They were a credit to the school. The discussions showed that the children were fully aware of their part in school life, could articulate their expectations and ambitions and knew in great detail how they could find the support that they needed should this occur.
They valued their school, their teachers and TAs, and saw how the school was enabling them to achieve at their best and represented a community that sees learning as the central feature of the establishment. There is a broad range of rewards, encouraging continuous involvement.
There are many layers of support for children’s behaviour needs, within the system, which allows intervention and decisions to be taken by both staff and children, being enabled to make “the right choices”. This is articulated through the “Going for Green” system, which was well understood.
The children are given responsibilities within the school, which they carry out with care, ensuring that their peers are able to learn effectively or are being supported emotionally. They value all that is available to them and take advantage of the many experiences available, in and out of normal school hours.
Induction and transfer arrangements are very effectively organised, with a significant body of evidence that shows clearly that the majority of children on the special needs register make good levels of progress within the school, specifically in reading and writing. There is a wide range of interventions, ably coordinated, utilising internal staff as well as external expertise. These interventions were highly valued by parents.
- Induction and transition arrangements very secure
- Communication systems in place throughout the school allowing children to articulate their views
- Children feel safe in the school and are regularly asked for their views
- Documentation illustrates the community feel of the school, with clear articulation of understanding individual needs, personalised approaches, broad understanding of the school community of individual needs and a strong support network surrounding children throughout their school experience.
- Children’s progress is tracked thoroughly.