Category Archives: School

Practice Analysis: Enquiry-based SEND Practice Analysis

 

My final essay for my MEd.

Introduction and background

The topic that I chose for this research project was looking at the effect of restorative conversations on modifying student behaviour.

It took place at a school for students with SEND including Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This is a school with a high staff to student ratio. Staff have all completed ‘Team Teach’ training, which, although it has a physical restraint section, focuses on de-escalation techniques, to help students learn to manage their behaviour better. It was clear to the Senior Leadership Team that staff did not consistently apply this knowledge across the school. There had also, in the previous twelve months, been input from a local behaviour specialist, who worked with a focus group of staff to develop the alternate provision in school for students who found accessing certain lessons difficult.  Staff felt that behaviour was not always good, with current sanctions of lunchtime and after school detentions not being as effective as they might be in deterring unwanted behaviours. This is backed up by research from Tom Macready (Macready, 2009) who says that “the evidence (exists) that rewards and punishments which are expected to raise the level of social responsibility in society has not been supported by a decrease in the proportion of the population who are excluded from schools…”  The Senior Leadership Team at school were keen to move away from after school detentions, which disrupt the routine of the students, and to get staff to engage positively with those students who are perceived to have done wrong. Research shows that this has been proved to be effective on a whole school basis as an alternative to exclusion and detentions. (Mirsky, 2011)

It is recorded that staff who work in a restorative way feel that this leads to “a shift away from sanction-based responses that aim to ‘manage’ behaviour, toward a more relational approach; Better relationships amongst children and staff; and a calmer, quieter and more productive learning environment.” (Cambridge Education Department, 2011)

The aims and research questions that were decided on were

Aims:

  • To find out how staff perceive behaviour and current sanctions
  • To provide a foundation for a renewed behaviour policy
  • To ensure staff are consistent when managing behaviour
  • To evaluate the benefits of being involved in the sanctions that they have set, including talking to students about their behaviour during a detention

Research questions:

  • How do staff feel about the current behaviour policy?
  • How do staff help students to manage their behaviour?
  • How effective do staff and students feel current sanctions are?
  • What impact do staff and students feel that a restorative approach has on behaviour management?

 

Description of the Methodological Approach

Practical issues

As a supply teacher, I was on a long-term placement at this school at the start of the project and was able to get the support of the Deputy Headteacher as well as the majority of the staff body. Sadly, the post that I was covering was filled before my research was finished, so an amount has had to be conducted from a distance, relying on my school contact to support staff to carry out actions needed.

Political issues

Harris (Harris, 2003) states that in order for changes to happen teachers need to have access to ‘meaningful professional development, …reflection time…and professional communities.’ With these in place, teachers are provided with ‘a shared pedagogical focus and the opportunity to try new strategies and to share experiences. At the core of (this) is a commitment to teacher development and generating collaborative ways of working.’

There was some resistance from members of staff, in terms of a long-term mindset in more established members of staff needing to be changed. Although many of the staff agreed that detentions were not effective, they were happy that these were a part of the school sanction system and did not want to see them go. There was a feeling that the students needed to see each other being punished as a result of poor behaviour, almost to make an example of them. In relation to the work from Harris, it is important that the stakeholders feel this piece of work is being done with them and not to them.

Ethical issues

I self-funded, and so did not have a research sponsor who was expecting a particular outcome to the research. When questioning staff and interviewing students it was essential that individual members of staff could not be identified at any time. Both staff, students and their parents were asked for informed consent before taking part, with the right to withdraw at any point being emphasised. As a result of ethical considerations, I did not re-interview students after the trail with restorative conversations had taken place, as I felt that this would easily identify the staff who had, and who had not, participated in the study.

 

Ethics

Staff were asked to give informed consent before answering the questionnaire, which was ensured by including a covering letter and a confidentiality statement which staff had to tick to say they had read. They were also informed of their right to withdraw in this fashion. In order that anonymity was retained, no questions were asked that could directly identify staff, for example by asking which subject they teach as most subjects only have one or two teachers.

Students were asked to give informed consent through information contained in a letter to parents and staff, and this was reinforced before the interview with them took place, as was the right to withdraw.

The questionnaires were done online, and as such the data collected was anonymous. The quotes taken from the student interviews to be used in the staff training PowerPoint were anonymised. Names and details were changed where necessary, and students did not name individual staff when answering questions. The recording and any transcripts were be deleted on completion of the research.

The research ethical statement and school safeguarding policy were adhered to at all times as well. (appendix 1)

 

Methodology and Methods used to collect Information/Data

This project sought to change the culture of the organisation in respect to the way some students are helped to manage their behaviour, which is often present as a consequence of their ASD, and manifests as anxiety and some challenging behaviour using the RADIO (research and development in organisations) model. This is a tool to negotiate research projects with a desire to evaluate the work that is being done. It identifies a collaborative research process along a given framework, which encourages stakeholders to reflect on the way that the process and outcomes can meet the needs of the organisation. RADIO allows for both quantitative and qualitative data to be collected and evaluated in a reflective way and seeks outcomes which lead to organisational change. (Timmins, 2006)

By clarifying concerns, negotiating a framework for gathering the data and agreeing areas for future action to implement an organisational change, the RADIO project relies on every stakeholder buying in to the process, and having an investment in the outcome. It produces a piece of research which is done with an organisation, rather than done to it. RADIO is suitable for this project as it is seeking to elicit a whole school change in the mindset of staff and the way that the detention system works. It is hoped that, by participating in the research, staff will be able to see for themselves that a positive change has taken place, rather than just being told that this is what we are doing and this is why we are doing it. RADIO fits into the Action Research methodologies, as it involves research which is happening in an organisation.

The aim of using the model was to involve all staff in eliciting their views on behaviour, and to suggest a different way forward for them to try supporting students with.

The ways of gathering information were

  • An initial whole staff questionnaire to elicit their views on behaviour and management systems
  • Initial conversation with selected students

Questionnaire

This was given to all staff electronically to elicit their views on students’ behaviour and how they support students to manage this at the outset of my research.

The main reason for using a questionnaire was that all staff could be asked to complete it, and by doing it online this meant that staff who wanted to take part were able to do so anonymously and data could be collected over a short period of time. (Cohen, 2001). A questionnaire gives the ability to ask a mix of open and closed questions, with some scaled questions and longer answers, meaning that a range of data sets which can be compared and contrasted is obtained. The other advantage of an online questionnaire is that by adding a couple of questions related to the research the same questions can be asked in exactly the same way at the end of the research period and avoids adding potential bias by asking the questions in a different way.

It was ensured that the wording for the questions was clear, and that the questions were specific and planned with data analysis in mind.

Interviews – informal conversations

Interviews were held with a small, selected number of students, to find out how they perceive behaviour in school and the way that they are helped to manage it. This involved a carefully chosen group, with some students who had no incidents of challenging behaviour reported as well as those that were persistent offenders. This was to avoid the bias of just talking to one of these populations of students.

The reason for choosing an interview over a questionnaire for the students was that, due to their ASD, many of them have associated learning difficulties and can struggle to read and interpret questions on paper and give a coherent written answer. By asking them in person, it not only gave the chance for students to have a voice and to find out what knowledge they had of the issue, what their values and preferences were and what they believe to be the best way to manage their behaviour, but also to pick up and expand on comments that they made while giving their answers.

It was ensured that the questions were open, but not leading, and students were encouraged to try give examples without naming members of staff involved. The interviews were recorded to transcribe later – allowing the students to be listened to carefully without needing to take notes.

 

Analysis

I had two data sets to analyse – the results of the student interviews and the staff responses to the questionnaire. I took a systematic approach to analyse these, using a qualitative method.

My step by step approach was as follows:

Step 1: Transcribe student interviews

Step 2: Read through the data several times, both the online questionnaire and the transcript of the students’ conversations

Step 3: Group data into themes for longer answers

Step 4: Decide on headings for themes. These were:

1) Knowing your students

2) Being consistent

3) Positive reinforcement of desired behaviours

Step 5: Revisit groups of data for any overlap

Step 6: Link themes into original research questions

  • How do staff feel about current behaviour policy (1, 2, 3)
  • How do staff help students to manage their behaviour (1, 2, 3)
  • How effective do staff and students feel current sanctions are (2, 3)
  • What impact do staff and students feel that a restorative approach has on behaviour management (1, 2, 3)

Step 7: Decide how to show data – bar charts, comments on themes, word clouds

 

Findings

The literature review that I carried out helped me to identify six key texts that helped to guide my research. It was interesting to note that only one of them, Restorative Practice and Special Needs (Burnett, 2015) dealt specifically with how restorative conversations could work, once adapted, with those with ASD in particular.

As all of the papers that I found were dealing with how restorative practice changes things for the better, they were all overwhelmingly positive about the effectiveness of restorative conversations, although Dix (Dix, 2017) and McCluskey (McCluskey, 2008) were realistic about the buy-in needed from the adults across a school in order to make the concept as effective as possible.

When considering how effective restorative conversations could be McCluskey provides perhaps the most detailed response, giving more than just anecdotal evidence. Drawing on the feedback from schools in the pilot study, she has split the responses from eighteen schools into primary/special and secondary. In terms of the successes that these primary/special schools reported after introducing a range of activities around restorative conversations depending on the initial need identified by the school, these included that the atmosphere of the schools became ‘identifiably calmer, with students more positive about their school experiences’ and ‘staff being fair and listening to both sides of the story’. The special school was one of those which made significant progress across the school, with interventions put in place such as a commitment to training staff in the process, and time spent training students to recall situations that they had previously been involved in.

In order for students with SEND to benefit from restorative conversations, it is important that these are made as accessible as possible. Burnett says that ‘what educators working closely with children who have special needs already know is that punitive strategies work less effectively to teach them the skills they need most to make the best of their lives.’ The book contains a section which looks at the major challenges that could impact on the process and considers how to make restorative conversations more accessible for students with a range of SEND, including ASD and speech, language and communication needs. It is important to remember that students with ASD have a rigid view of the world, often lacking flexibility in thinking and finding it hard to understand from the perspectives of others. Because of this, they often find themselves in trouble with members of staff, when they can come across as rude and challenging, usually when stressed or anxious about a situation. It is also important to be aware of sensory needs of the student when having the restorative conversation, which might involve being aware of the lights, noises in the room or perhaps unwelcome smells. The possible adaptations that Burnett suggests include using the students name at the start of the conversation, as well as using the adults name when talking about themselves. He also advocates for use of symbols or social stories to support the conversation, as well as keeping the language used simple and giving students time to process the information so that they can respond. Outside of the conversation, students will need to be taught appropriate ways of interacting with others, good and bad choices, and empathy. Finally, he suggests using the ‘repair’ framework as a basis for restorative conversations.

In light of this, and for the research to be successful, it was important that all staff followed the same structure when carrying out these conversations with students, and also that students were introduced to this change in a non-threatening way, such as during assembly or tutor time. A fully structured conversation helps all involved; by providing staff with a script, as well as a copy of the ‘repair’ framework, (Burnett, 2015) so that they could reflect on the way that they choose to have the conversation. It will also be necessary to develop a range of social stories and picture prompts to help the students engage in the process effectively.

Dix (Dix, 2017) suggested that students should be asked no more than five questions, and that younger students might need fewer than this to enable to process to be effective. This will be kept in mind when devising the script for the restorative conversations.

As part of my step by step analysis, I was able to identify three main themes from my data – these being that it was important to know your students, to be consistent and to reinforce desired positive behaviours. I had seventeen responses to the questionnaire, from an equal spilt of teachers and teaching assistants, with a good balance between those who had set detentions in the first term and those who had not. The majority of these had read the school behaviour policy recently. I asked some questions to gauge the level of feeling about the school in general, which showed that staff felt that students were safe, although behaviour was not always good or well managed. A large number of staff also felt that behaviour policies were not applied consistently by all staff.  The majority of staff felt that they knew what the school was trying to achieve, and that they were happy at the school.

In order to identify the main themes from my data I put each of the responses to the three longer answer questions, as well as a summary of the student interviews, into a word cloud app to see if there were any concepts which were mentioned on a regular basis. This was interesting as it showed that staff felt consistency was important, and also highlighted that staff felt they needed more training to help the students to manage their behaviour.

I collated the answers from the question asking how staff felt about trialling a restorative approach into a stem and leaf diagram. I had asked this as a sliding scale question which generated an overall positive result, although it can be seen that one member of staff was very much against the restorative approach.

 

 

 

0 (no thanks) 0
1
2
3
4 6, 9
5 (I might be interested) 0, 2, 9
6 2, 8
7
8 0, 8, 9
9 0, 0, 2
10 (yes please) 0

Figure 3: Stem and leaf diagram showing how staff feel about trialling a restorative approach

The transcripts from the student interviews show that they are concerned about teachers (adults in school generally) and the amount of help they are given. Common themes were how students perceived they were treated, being told off for being themselves and not finding detentions helpful. The word cloud for this was less helpful, as there were fewer students interviewed, so less words to analyse.

Overall, the feeling from the initial research was that the majority of staff would welcome a culture change in how students with behavioural needs were managed.

 

Action Plan

Following the research, I met with stakeholders. I shared both the results of the literature review and of the staff questionnaire, as well as outlining the responses from the student interviews. Given that the three main themes from the research were favouring trialling restorative conversations, the action plan was devised and written with that in mind.

Action plan

Action: To trial restorative conversations

Aim: To reduce the need for detentions by explaining to students what they are doing wrong and how to do it right the next time

Who is responsible for overseeing this: Deputy Headteacher

When: Starting from February half term, until Easter. Dix (Dix, 2017) suggests that something has to be done for thirty consecutive days to become an embedded habit.

Evaluation: A post-trial questionnaire will be sent to see if staff felt it made a difference. The questions will be in the same format as originally to remove bias, with a couple of extra questions about the perceived impact of restorative conversations.

Steps to make this happen

1) Deliver whole school staff inset session to introduce restorative conversations

2) Provide staff with a script for the conversations

3) Introduce conversations to whole school through an assembly

4) Reinforce assembly in tutor time

5) Carry out restorative conversations

 

Implementation and Evaluation

At the time of implementation I was no longer working at the school, due to a permanent appointment being made. This made the next stage rather tricky and as a result not all of the action plan has yet been put into place.

Training

A training session was delivered to all staff during weekly INSET time, outlining what a restorative conversation is and how staff were expected to use them.

Having read ‘When the adults change, everything changes’ (Dix, 2017), the five questions that will form our school restorative conversation are

  • What happened?
  • How did this make people feel?
  • Who has been affected?
  • How have they been affected?
  • How can we do things differently in the future?

He also suggests that younger students might struggle with five, as would our less able students. In these instances, staff would just ask the first and last questions. Staff were provided with a handout during the training session, which should be used as a crib sheet for these conversations.

As yet, there has been no work done specifically with students around restorative conversations.

At the time of writing the follow-up questionnaire for staff has only had three responses, all of whom have used a restorative conversation this term, although staff appear to feel that they would like more training and are still unsure as to the effectiveness of the process. There also remains a high feeling in school that staff do not consistently follow the behaviour policy.

I feel that, with time and investment in further training for both staff and students, restorative conversations could have a significant impact on both the behaviour of students and the way that this is perceived across the school.

 

Discussion

Currently, the outcome of the project is that some staff have received training in restorative conversations and fewer staff have trialled them. From the very limited number of responses to the second questionnaire, it appears that there is an appetite for change in the school, and that staff are gradually coming to accept that there are different ways of dealing with students’ misdemeanours to detentions and fixed term exclusions.

In order for restorative conversations to become a successful way of helping students to manage their behaviour, and to understand what they could do differently next time, all of the literature stated that for restorative conversations to be effective the whole school community needs to buy in to them, necessitating a culture shift amongst staff, students and their parents.

To continue the project further, I would re-run the staff INSET session in order to deal with any misconceptions and give staff time to practice the structure of the restorative conversation in a safe environment. I would also ask a member of the Senior Management Team to deliver an assembly to students, asking staff to back this up in the following mentor session, taking time to reinforce the ideas from assembly, including the structure of the restorative conversation. I would also write to parents asking for their support, giving them the same outline of a restorative conversation. Additionally, I would expect the staff in Student Support – the first port of call for students who are having trouble accessing lessons – to be having a brief conversation with students when they arrive around what they have done to be sent out of a lesson and what they might have been able to do differently. Of course, it is important that staff feel the student is in the right place mentally to be able to have this conversation. I would have liked to have been able to interview students who had taken part in restorative conversations to see if they found the process helpful, but with so few staff respondents to the questionnaire I was mindful that identifying these students would also identify those members of staff, so creating something of an ethical conundrum.

To help staff to see if this is having an impact on the incidences of negative behaviour across the school, I would also monitor how many students were receiving after school detentions, and the frequency of these. Over time, the ideal would be that these would drop away to nothing as staff work with students to identify undesirable behaviours and how to rectify these situations.

I believe that it is important for staff to see a school where restorative conversations are used effectively with all of their students. This may be a mainstream school, as there are few SEND schools in the local area with a cohort similar to this one. However, the setting is irrelevant, as a chance to observe the outcome of a conversation and talk to staff who are already actively carrying these out would be invaluable when using the technique back at their own school.

I think, additionally, more work needs to be done around how to make the restorative conversations work best for students with ASD. This would best be done by evaluating the outcomes of the conversations that are being had, looking at what makes a student change their behaviour and what does not seem to have any effect. There is really vey little literature available as to how this works best with students with any kind of SEND, and this would be an interesting field to develop further.

 

Conclusion

The following questions formed the basis of this research:

  • How do staff feel about the current behaviour policy?
  • How do staff help students to manage their behaviour?
  • How effective do staff and students feel current sanctions are
  • What impact do staff and students feel that a restorative approach has on behaviour management

I am going to consider each of these questions in turn to see if I have been able to answer them, before revisiting the aims to see if they have also been met.

How do staff feel about the current behaviour policy?

From conversations with stakeholders it was apparent that the current policy was due for an update, but that no one had been doing any particular work in school to update this, following the work done in the previous twelve months with an external behavioural consultant. From the questionnaire responses, 82% of staff claimed to have read the behaviour policy recently. However, 62% of those disagreed that the staff team consistently applied this policy. It appears then that most staff are positive about the behaviour policy but frustrated that it is not being followed consistently. Of course, when working with students with ASD, each of them has a different way of dealing with frustrations, and each of them need to be treated as individuals when staff are helping to support these behaviours, some of which might not fit neatly into the structure of the behaviour policy.

How do staff help students to manage their behaviour?

As can be seen, staff feel that a range of techniques help students to manage their behaviour, but this can be summarised as knowing your students, being consistent and modelling desired behaviours. This initially appears to contradict the frustrations of the behaviour policy not being followed consistently – for some students, the advised procedures would just exacerbate the situation, so staff need to be flexible. I feel that knowing students is the most important part of this; in order to help students to improve their behaviour, knowing what triggers might be and so avoiding those is essential.

How effective do staff and students feel current sanctions are

Some staff feel that giving students detentions makes the situation worse, while others state that it is an effective way of managing students’ behaviour. There is also a discrepancy where the person setting the after-school detention is not necessarily the person who the student will sit the detention with. Also, due to issues surrounding transporting students home from school, these detentions are often done more than a day after the original misdemeanour.

Students generally don’t find detentions useful, but those that I interviewed were not sure what would be a deterrent to misbehaving.

What impact do staff and students feel that a restorative approach has on behaviour management

Unfortunately, I do not have enough data to be able to answer this question.

The aims of my research were as follows:

  • To find out how staff perceive behaviour and current sanctions
  • To provide a foundation for a renewed behaviour policy
  • To ensure staff are consistent when managing behaviour
  • To evaluate the benefits of being involved in the sanctions that they have set, including talking to students about their behaviour during a detention.

I believe that I have met the first aim. However, having not been at the school to deliver training and provide support, I have not been able to help ensure that staff are consistent when managing student behaviour, or to be able to evaluate the benefits of taking part in restorative conversations. I would like to think that the analysis of the first questionnaire would provide a foundation for a discussion about the behaviour policy.

 

References

Burnett, N. a. (2015). Restorative Practice and Special Needs. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Cambridge Education Department. (2011). Restorative Approaches in Schools in the UK. Retrieved from https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/restorativeapproaches/RA-in-the-UK.pdf

Cohen, L. M. (2001). Research Methods in Education. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge.

Dix, P. (2017). When the adults change, everything changes. Carmarthen, Wales: Independent Thinking Press.

Ferrance, E. (2000). Action Research. Providence, RI.

Harris, A. (2003). Behind the classroom door: The challenge of organizational and pedagogical change. Journal of Educational Change, 4(4), 369-382.

Macready, T. (2009, September). Learning social responsibility in schools: a restorative practice. Educational Psychology in Practice, 25(3), 211-220.

McCluskey, G. L. (2008, November). Can restorative practices in schools make a difference? Educational Review, 60(4), 405-417.

Mirsky, L. (2011, December). Restorative practices: Giving everyone a voice to create safer saner school communities. The Prevention Researcher, 18, supplement, 3-6.

Timmins, P. B. (2006, December). Teachers and Consultation: Applying research and development in organisations (RADIO). Educational Psychology in Practice, 22(4), 305-319.

 

 

 

 

 

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A suggested, one page, student passport for helping staff support students with SEND

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Critical Analysis 1: A critical analysis of the role of speech, language and communication development within the educational context

 

Introduction

In this assignment I am going to consider the typical developmental pathways for a child to learn Speech, Language and Communication (SLC) skills, as well as providing an outline of the required SLC skills for achieving good educational outcomes. I will then consider what the consequences might be for students whose difficulties are not fully recognised or whose needs may not be fully met. Finally, this shall be put into context within my own practice, working with students with a range of Special Educational Needs (SEN) in a broad spectrum special school.

Typical developmental pathways for SLC skills

Scientists consider there to be three main models of language development. The Nativist theory was put forward by Noam Chomsky (SLTInfo.com, 2016), who argues that human beings are genetically pre-programmed to learn language. Due to the structure of human speech organs, the ability to produce certain sounds is unique to humans, as is the fine control over the diaphragm needed for speech. He believes that the speed at which children acquire language skills is another indicator for this theory, as is the concept that language is considered unique to humans.

Professor Narasimhan (Chandrasekar, 2008)  proposed the Behaviourist theory, where he argues that children acquire ‘Language behaviour’ which is explained as learning how to use language to manipulate or explore the world around them, and that they learn this from being exposed to a variety of language utterances and non-verbal inputs such as gestures and pointing.

He also believes that children need inputs from a language community around them to learn language, and that language behaviour is example driven; for example, that imitation, rehearsal and analogising all play critical roles in language acquisition.

The Interactionist theory was suggested by Chapman (Chapman, 2000) who argues that studies of parent-child interactions reveal the importance of frequent, positive verbal interactions in supporting rapid language acquisition.

 

For with children with a wide range of learning disabilities, it should be suggested that language acquisition occurs as a combination of all three of these theories – without the biological ability to be able to form speech, as well as being able to hear others communicating and interacting with them, children will never develop language. It logically follows that the better the quality of these interactions, the better the chances are for the child to learn to communicate. A child with severe cerebral palsy, for example, does not have the control over their diaphragm and muscles which are needed to produce clear, or any, speech sounds. These children may learn to communicate by gesture or by means of a computer based device, but this takes a lot of time and effort, requiring an innate ability within the child which may not always be present. Equally, due to the severity of their disabilities, it may be that a child will never understand what is said other than responding to known voices, regardless of the level of interaction that parents have with the child.

SLC skills needed for achieving good educational outcomes

A typically developing child will acquire arrange of skills over the first years of their lives which lead to language development, including understanding and responding to body language and facial expression, understanding social communication skills such as turn taking, and developing the use of expressive and receptive language.

The pattern of learning can be seen through summary documents such as ‘Universally Speaking’ from the Communication Trust (The Communication Trust, 2016). Those that don’t acquire such skills, including children with learning disabilities, will struggle to attain good educational outcomes without the appropriate diagnosis and support at as young an age as possible.

As a result of home circumstances or a disability, up to 10% of children will not develop their communication skills at the same rate as their peers. Up to 7% of these children may have a Specific Language Impairment (SLI), which means that although they have developed typically in other areas, they have difficulty talking and understanding language (iCan, 2016).

As a result of having an SLI, children who have an innate ability will feel frustration that they cannot understand long instructions or make themselves understood, and this often leads to behaviour issues. These behaviour issues then become the primary area of concern for the children, meaning that the SLI is often not diagnosed.

SLI is a very broad category, ranging from mild problems that are short-lived when given the right support to overcome these, to severe and persistent difficulties with both understanding and talking, although these children can be as intelligent as their classmates. Diagnosed SLI is more common in boys than in girls, with children born in the summer more likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

To function effectively in a classroom environment children need to be able to effectively use a range of speech, language and communication methods. This is the most important skill, and needs support and teaching from parents and care givers in the early years of a child’s life. If children have no language skills they cannot learn and so they struggle to function. The building blocks of communication are having the opportunity to initiate interaction and having motivation to communicate; having opportunities to develop eye contact, turn taking, shared attention and listening skills, as well as developing an understanding of body language and tone of voice; developing an understanding of spoken language and being able to use accurate speech sounds when communicating. (Hounslow NHS, 2016)

More severe SLCN difficulties include having very little spoken language, significant difficulties understanding spoken language and being unable to indicate basic needs. The majority of children with a learning disability also have SLCN. This can be caused by poor muscle development or coordination for speech and swallowing, social interaction difficulties such as autism, a profound hearing impairment or an acquired brain injury, as well as being part of a genetic condition such as Down Syndrome. (iCan, 2016)

A significant number of children with learning disabilities have a parent who also has a learning disability. This automatically puts these children at a disadvantage when developing SLCN skills, as their parent may not have these skills themselves, or have the understanding of how to communicate with their child during the early years when the child cannot talk back.

Consider the following student – a late summer born child who comes across as bright and interested in the world, showing that they enjoy engaging with people. Their speech sounds were poorly formed – ‘ch’ and ‘y’ in particular – and their conversational topics were quite limited. On getting to know the family it was obvious that both parents had a moderate learning disability, and due to the child’s slow development input was given to the family when their siblings were born, resulting in them developing along a more typical pathway. With the correct intervention for this child at a younger age their life chances may have been different.

Consequences of unmet needs or unidentified difficulties

It is quite clear that without the range of skills identified above, the typical child would struggle in a classroom environment, where the whole day is based on interactions with both adults and other children. Social interaction amongst children provides many valuable learning opportunities, and it plays a key role in social development and learning. (Howe & Mercer, 2007). Amongst students with a moderate learning disability and a SLCN, it is common that poor vocabulary can lead to problem behaviour as a child struggles to make their needs known clearly (Hartas, 2011). Language and behaviour difficulties co-occur in about 50-70% of young children and that this persists with age, with boys tending to become more disruptive than girls. A SLCN can affect the academic achievement, self-esteem, social acceptance, behaviour and emotional development in children (iCan, 2016). There is also a known link between SLCN and literacy problems. Children who are unable to understand complex oral language and word meanings will be poor at reading and without comprehension skills they will find it difficult to make inferences.

A lack of identification or support can lead to anger, frustration and challenging behaviour, which in turn can lead to social exclusion and criminal activity (iCan, 2016). Studies have shown that up to 20% of the prison population have a learning disability, and therefore are likely to have a SLCN (Rack, 2005).  For these children, it is important that all of the services involved work together, and that all staff in schools are well trained to deal with them. Where there is an identified need for communication aids to support children with a severe SLCN, such as Makaton, symbols, PECS (picture exchange systems) or talk boxes these need to be used consistently by all involved with the child.

As part of the research for this paper, a typical lesson plan was analysed. A range of potential issues for a child with SLCN were identified, which included difficulties communicating what they know to friends and adults, difficulties with use and understanding of key vocabulary and trouble understanding verbal instructions.

All of these may lead to challenging behaviour as a child seeks to find ways to return to their comfort zone, which will have a detrimental effect on both the child and his classmates. Alternately, a child with SLCN may sit quietly, feeling unable to ask for help as they are overwhelmed by the input they are receiving.

Special school classes tend to be much smaller than mainstream ones, and with a higher ratio of adults to students. This is to enable each student to work at their own pace, with an appropriate level of input from the adults.

Planning to meet the needs of these students is thus, in theory, easier, as there should be more awareness of the SLCN of these children. It is important, though, to ensure that the adults who work with these children have the appropriate training and do not do the work for the students, and that at some level the students have understood what is expected of them and that they are continually challenged to improve their speech and communication skills. By keeping work at an appropriate level of challenge students feel more confident to tackle it and challenging behaviour can be lessened. Regular intervention and simple explanation can help reduce the effect of an SLCN for a child with a learning disability.

SLCN in a special school

Within any educational setting, the role of speech, language and communication is key if children are to develop and make the progress that they are capable of, emotionally, educationally and socially. Working in a special school the focus is even more placed towards the social aspects of communication as for many children the complex requirements of the National Curriculum are not always appropriate.

Considering a typical broad spectrum special school, the students have a diagnosis of Moderate, Severe or Profound Learning disabilities. They all have an SLCN of some description and all have an Education, Health and Care plan (EHC). Of the 130 students on roll, just 18% of them have a diagnosis relating to SLCN identified on their EHC plans yet 50% of them are on the caseload of the Speech and Language therapist (SaLT). Referral to SaLT through school is a simple process, they will see anyone for an assessment if there are concerns, which explains why there are more students on their caseload than have a diagnosis, and it appears that the majority of students have been known to the service when they were younger. This means that the SaLT has an enormous caseload and may not be able to work with students on even a weekly or fortnightly basis. Often they give a series of exercises to both parents and teachers to complete in class on a more regular basis which relies on there being enough trained adults in the class to support this learning process, as well as time being able to be put aside each day to do this.

There is a need to for SLCN to be made explicit on the paperwork – after all, a diagnosis of Down Syndrome or ASD would imply a likely SLCN, but to receive the support necessary throughout their school years a student needs this to be implicitly stated. Conversations with the SaLT suggest that their aim is to get students to a point where they are able to express themselves clearly enough to make their needs knows, as the students have to be prioritised. This means those who are able to express themselves but struggle to understand or hold a longer conversation slip through the net, and teachers do not always have enough training to be able to identify and in turn support these students to reach their full potential.

As a school, Widgit (Widgit, 2016) symbols and Makaton signing are used to support communication for verbal students, with PECS and talk boxes being used with non verbal students, and it appears that the most volatile students are those who really struggle to make their thoughts and feelings known in an appropriate manner. Of these students the majority are boys, with many of those diagnosed with MLD having arrived from failed mainstream placements. It is therefore important to investigate and work to resolve the underlying reasons for these behaviours, which include not being able to express themselves clearly and a limited range of conversation, a clear indicator of undiagnosed (or forgotten) SLCN.

Conclusion

Although many children with an SLI or an SLCN due to environmental factors such as poverty or poor early experiences can be helped to overcome this in the early years of their schooling, those with learning disabilities leading to a more severe SLCN are unlikely to be able to function at the same level as their mainstream peers. Their learning disability is a long term prognosis which impacts on their life chances, and although any input may help to develop their speech, language and communication skills it will never cure them of their difficulties. These poor language skills will persist for life in line with their cognitive development and it is important that schools work to develop the social skills and functional language for these students – they need to be able to make their needs known in an appropriate way while functioning within society. As a result, the impact on the life chances of these children is significant, with many of them needing daily support for the rest of their lives, while some may be able to hold down a full time job with the appropriate support.

It is essential that all staff who work with students with life long learning disabilities are aware of the impact that SLCN will have on their lives, and how they can best support these children while they are in school. This means training all staff to communicate in the best way for all of their students, and ensuring staff are helping students develop skills and confidence in communicating all of the time.

In order to provide the best possible future for these students, is it also important to engage families to develop the communication skills that are needed to make progress in life once leaving school and in order to try and break the cycle of disruptive behaviours that seem to occur particularly in boys with moderate learning disabilities and SLCN which are not appropriate in society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Chandrasekar, R. (2008). How Children Learn to Use Language: An Overview of R Narasimhan’s Ideas on Child Language Acquisition. Resonance: Journal Of Science Education, 430-439.

Chapman, R. (2000). Children’s Language Learning: An Interactionist Perspective. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 33.

DfE. (2010). Investigating the role of language in children’s early educational outcomes. London: DfE.

Hartas, D. (2011). Children’s language and behavioural, social and emotional difficulties and prosocial behaviour during the toddler years and at school entry. British Journal Of Special Education, 83-91.

Hounslow NHS. (2016, July 25). The importance of speech and language. Retrieved from http://www.hounslow.gov.uk/speech_and_language: http://www.hounslow.gov.uk/speech_and_language

Howe, C., & Mercer, N. (2007). Children’s social development, peer interaction and classroom learning.

iCan. (2016, July 25). iCan. Retrieved from iCan talk – 1 SLCN and literacy difficulties: http://www.ican.org.uk/What_is_the_issue/I%20CAN%20Evidence.aspx

iCan. (2016, July 25). iCan – About SLI. Retrieved from iCan: http://www.ican.org.uk/da/What_is_the_issue/About%20SLI.aspx

iCan. (2016, July 25). iCan Talk series – 9 Children with severe SLCN. Retrieved from iCan: http://www.ican.org.uk/What_is_the_issue/I%20CAN%20Evidence.aspx

Rack, J. (2005). The incidence of hidden disbailities in the prison population. The Dyslexia Institue.

SLTInfo.com. (2016, July 25). Retrieved from sltinfo.com/innate-ability-for-language-acquisition: http://www.sltinfo.com/innate-ability-for-language-acquisition

The Communication Trust. (2016, July 25). Univerally Speaking. Retrieved from The Communication Trust: https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/resources/resources/resources-for-practitioners/universally-speaking.aspx

Widgit. (2016, July 25). Widgit. Retrieved from Widgit: https://www.widgit.com/

 

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The art of supply

I’ve been working on supply a while now and have been fortunate to have had a number of longer term placements mixed in with some casual day to day bits.

The same problems and concerns crop up at each new place. Here are some things that schools can do to make life a little smoother.

Day to day placements

  • Safeguarding. Make sure there is a photo of the designated person on any leaflets that are handed out, as well as time given to read and process this vital information
  • Facilities. A quick tour of the school to locate staff room, toilets and a safe space to leave your bag is always appreciated.
  • Introductions. I was once put in a classroom of boys with challenging behaviour and left to get on with it. This was after I’d been in the room with normal class staff for an hour. Introductions and a chance to look at behaviour plans would have prevented the carnage that followed.
  • ICT. It is so important to be able to log on to a computer, especially if part of the lesson you are covering requires it!
  • Access. Keys, swipes and codes.
  • Lunch arrangements. Is it only supply that use the staff room?
  • How to raise concerns. I guess this goes with safeguarding really, but I have found myself not invited back having raised concerns about things I have witnessed.

Long term placements

All of the above still apply, as well as

  • A timetable. It should go without saying that if you’ve booked supply you should know what you want them to do!
  • Appropriate tech and enhanced ict access. I can’t take the resister if I don’t have a log in, or a device to log in on
  • Shared expectations. Do you want me at briefing? After school meetings? Twilight? Parents evening? Will you pay me accordingly?
  • Communication. Please talk to me directly about decisions that affect me. Don’t expect my agency to act as a go between and pass everything on. Especially if you are going to change my timetable and my subject!
  • Be consistent. If you expect to observe me and judge my marking (really not a problem), then I deserve to be given a debrief session too.

Remember, there is no such thing as a silly question, it’s just something you’ve not been told the answer to yet.

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Plants

I’ve been working with students with a Visual Impairment this term, alongside other learning difficulties. Our theme was ‘minibeasts and animals’ and amongst other things we’ve had butterflies to hatch, visits from dogs and ponies and a chance to build a minibeast hotel.

Alongside this we have been exploring the local environment on a weekly basis. There is a (neglected) sensory garden at school, plenty of bushes and trees but very few flowers. We’ve been getting the students to interact with as many of these as possible along the way, often along the lines of ‘feel the tree trunk, here’s a leaf to explore’. I realised towards the end of term that we have inadvertently taught these students that when you encounter a plant, you have to pick a leaf…. I’ll have to think more carefully next year about how I deliver the practical side of investigating plants.

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#30dayswild 28, 29

The caterpillars have finally turned into butterflies. At some point this afternoon, another one emerged from its’ chrysalis, but it waited until we were not looking!

As the whole school has got their own caterpillars at various stages of development, I did a sensory assembly today, based on ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. While I read the story students experienced the range of fruit and cake that the caterpillar eats in the story, before being cocooned in a blanket to experience emerging as a butterfly!

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Inclusion International (3)

I think that this was my favourite session – Cultural Inclusion. I just wish that it had been longer.

There are no levels in the arts. There is no discrimination. Anyone can express themselves through art, theatre, music, dance or storytelling.

Books beyond words

These guys were actually a stand at the exhibition, but they fit in nicely here. Books without words, adult picture books, describing a range of health related issues, as well as a couple of pure stories. They have set up book clubs, where people tell the story using pictures.

Culture for everyone

Max from C and T told us about their work using drama and digital media. They use technology and theatre skills to increase cultural engagement. He talked about the Monday Night Club, a club set up by adults with LD, and the impact on membership that a music video had made. He explained how they use technology to break down barriers to inclusion, including how to use motion capture to enhance the use of sensory rooms. The first (and only) presenter of the day to talk about working with those less able people with LD.

He also said that they were always open to new projects in school or community settings.

Stay up late

A long, ongoing campaign for people with LD in care settings to be able to stay out past the traditional 9.30pm shift change. As part of this, they have set up Gig Buddies to allow people with an LD to be matched with a likeminded person who will go with them to gigs, theatre, sporting events… and as a result raise the self confidence of the person with an LD as well as introducing them to more people and widening their friendship and social circles.

Mosaics of Sound

This was presented in Spanish with an ongoing English translation and focussed on how the Spanish communities are building a society where art and music come together. They talked about a project involving orchestras, interpreting music using a range of techniques. The link is in Spanish.

Town Hall/Symphony Hall

A very brief chat. The aim of TH/SH is to celebrate ability, not disability.

There are many challenges to programming, but they have tried hard with their buildings to get them right. This has included putting in more flexible seating, designating quiet and chill out zones for those that need and making sure that everyone is welcome at a gig. Where people have complained about other gig goers making involuntary noises, those people have been moved…(love it!), as TH/SH believe that people have a right to express themselves. They have done a lot of work around photographs and videos to help prepare people for their visits. They have autism accreditation and run regular ‘relaxed’ performances. Ace

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