Tuesday, 29 September 2009

SEN Provision

The recent action from Brain Lamb and the DCSF prompted me to think about the proposition that most parents would like their child educated in their local school provided that the school really could/did provide for their 'whole person needs'.

For me, the touchstone is :

"Every child having their needs met through their local high performing school"

Several challenges there, so it's an aspirational statement that cannot be universally delivered at the moment (maybe even never, but that should not stop us striving for it). So let's dissassemble the statement:

"Every child" - OK, there will always be a small number of children whose needs are so 'large' that a mainstream school could not reasonably be expected to provide. However the onus should be on the school to demonstrate that the individual pupil themselves or the rest of the pupils will be totally unreasonably disadvantaged by having our challenging pupil on roll - and this is not primarily about ££ as the resources available for such pupils are huge and the cost of alternative provision or hospital provision could be released to facilitate adaptation of facilities and staff capabilities.

"...having their needs met..." - the five outcomes of ECM, not just academic! If meeting those needs involves adaptations then let's make sure we make them. Those schools who think that their role in life is to prepare pupils for passing exams need a big wake-up call. We need rigorous accountability frameworks to make sure that all of the needs of our children are delivered with equal effectiveness. Let's face it, some of our brightest pupils are equally disadvantaged by their lack of social skills as our less-able ones are by their lack of academic skills! I personally came through a highly academic route, going to university a year early only to find myself totally unprepared for the new environment.

"through their local ... school" - not necessarily 'at' their local school but where possible that local school should have the pupil on roll and either bring in or send the pupil out to appropriate providers where the local school cannot (N.B. not 'will not' - which is a separate debate) meet them. This could be third party provision, on-site 'resourced provision', whatever...

"Local high performing school" - yes, we should aim for every school to be Outstanding in all respects. This is about personalisation, not ramming kids through a sausage machine - a vocational route suits little Johnny, an academic route Suzy, Henry 'simply' needs to be helped interact with the world...

"Local ... school" - The idea that we bus pupils, some of the already most disadvantaged pupils, for an hour or more at each end of the day is ridiculous in this day and age. not only that, but the cost is horrendous - something like £7m pa in my authority! I suspect that we could do much better with that money than spend it on buses, taxis etc.

And now the 'undiscussable' - the can't do/won't do debate. As we ask around the system it becomes very clear that the focus on academic results has led some schools to a 'won't do' approach. Capabilities/Skills can be trained, but if the ethos of the school is not truly inclusive then children who are less/disabled in any way will be discriminated against. This is not about schools, it is about staff. A school is an abstract entity that does not discriminate, it is the staff who work in/for the school, led by the Head, who discriminate - perhaps unwittingly. Let's aim for every school to have some form of 'Inclusion Chartermark' as a signal that even though they may not have reached the destination of full inclusion, they recognise the need and have started on the journey. How do we get this debate into the open?

Leadership - and if you are reading this then you are a leader - is (amongst other things!) about clearly articulating a vision, understanding the gaps and helping people fill those gaps to get to the vision. Openness and honest/committed dialogue are critical and in we can take people, even the doubters, with us if we show that we have a great Vision and are totally committed to delivery in a way that meets the needs of the most important players - the pupils. It is too easy to avoid or sideline the doubters, yet they are only doubting because they cannot see how our Vision meets their needs; we have to value this resistance and learn from it, not sideline it. We all know that a convert is often the best advocate.

Friday, 11 September 2009

"Wicked Issues"

In his own blog Chris Edwards lists the "Wicked Issues" facing him this coming year.

Well here are mine...

Bigger Picture

BSF – or some other mechanism to get our estates up to scratch

LILS – let’s get on with it!

Governance – what will the government have to say when (if) they finally publish Jim Knight’s review

Governance - making the many forums to which governors are invited more than just talking shops

‘My’ schools’ picture

Ofsted – due this term

Farnley Park – where will the kids go when work starts on the main school?

Specialist status – what do we go for?

Advanced Skills Teachers – surely they ought to be all over the SILCs?

Governance – helping all governors to make a positive contribution

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Reflections on Ripples

Some of you may know that I make a living (just!) as a coach/practitioner in organisational change. In that role I often use metaphor as a way of helping people explore change. Well, us governors have more than our fair share of change to deal with and I thought you might like to read my latest musing:

Market day in Tonneins - busy busy, hot hot, dusty dusty; lots of French (and a few English) locals, the usual North Africans, tourists, migrant workers for the plum/corn/sunflower harvests. The ‘ethnics’ all at one end with their brightly patterned and coloured clothing, their spices; the locals sifting through market stalls filling with fleeces and other autumn and winter clothing, picking the sweetest and juiciest tomatoes, melons, the first of the season’s prunes and the last of the haricots verts, jaunes et noirs.

It was an unprepossessing little fountain near the riverside ; no more than a piece of local rock about 6ft wide with a hole drilled through it and six 12” jets of water spurting from the top, splashing on the rock and into the pool around the rock. Still it offered a coolish resting place and the gentle tinkle of water on water. I sat on the surround for a brief rest, the fountain to my back. Drifting into some heat induced trance, I noticed the occasional wet spot appearing and disappearing in front of me, several metres away from the fountain. It’s not raining, no local child with a water pistol, they can’t be travelling so far from the little fountain – what’s going on?

Sherlock Holmes kicked into action – yes they were coming from the fountain after all, very occasional little splashes hitting the rock at just the right angle to reflect them out across the pool so far away as to seem improbable. The pool, and the ripples of the water splashes, had my attention...

As I watched, entranced by the ripples, I noticed that sometimes the surface was relatively calm, at others turbulent with the interactions of several ripples; sometimes small splashes, at others large blobs of water would disturb a great part of the pool - ever changing and always something happening, my attention gripped by the circles of light and dark as the ripples shed their shadows on the pool bottom. Always light after dark, the shadows fading as the ripple spread out across the pool, intersecting ripples throwing up sun-bright spots and night-dark shades.

I am sat focussing on the ripples and their shadows before my eyes, only just now noticing the contents of the pool – what was in the pool, on the bottom, floating on the surface, coming into eyeshot. Bunches of grapes, last night’s coke can, single leaves and leaves formed into mats solid enough to resist the charms of the water splashes, tiny tiny fish, gnarled rocks and smooth pebbles.

Suddenly a tsunami! Now the local boys had started playing in my pool, all the time they had been creeping up and now they struck coming from outside my viewpoint to change the whole pattern of my little ripples.

Well, I could sit here and philosophise or I could actually go get my pen and paper and record these thoughts – so I do so.

Coming back to the fountain I can see nothing, the glare of the sun on the ripples totally bleaches out everything. But as I walk around the pool to my starting place, the glare reduces as the angle of the sun changes until I can finally see all the original detail. It was worth coming back. I sit, I think, I write, I remember that 30 metres away from this mesmeric little pool, perhaps 3 metres across, flows the mighty Garonne River as wide as a bus and as deep as a house; strong enough to sweep away this little piece of rock without even blinking an eye. I notice again the hundreds of people going about their daily business all around whilst I muse on ripples and their metaphorical relationship to organisational change. I move on – if I stay I get damp or sunburned and neither of those is in your writer’s plan...

If you want to know my 'interpretation' or how I related these musings to change, do get in touch - leave a Comment or email me at geoff.roberts@developingminds.co.uk