education special education special needs

School: Reconnection & Relationships #SENExchange

Re-connection and Relationships in the Post Lockdown Return to School

Re-connection and relationships. This is a record of the #SENexchange Discussion following the wider reopening of UK schools for the easing of lockdown on March 8th 2021. Many schools had been closed to most pupils from January. Children with an EHCP, vulnerable pupils, keyworker children had been attending according to individual parental or school decisions. Special school attendance was around 40-50%. Approximately 34% of all pupils with an EHCP on roll in state-funded schools were in attendance on 13 January, down from 75% on 16 December. Approximately 40% of all pupils with a social worker on roll in state-funded schools were in attendance on 13 January, down from 76% on 16 December (Source). In this chat we wanted to look at the impact of relationships on re-connection with face to face education.

SENexchange Returns!

This was the first #SENexchange discussion of the year. I was taking some time to prioritise family following the birth of our daughter. Therefore it was a shorter chat with a few key contributors. Download the wakelet record here

re-connection and relations #SENexchange discussion questions on school reopening.

Over the last year how have relationships helped you manage the challenges we faced and how have any additional needs impacted this?

The root of all successful SEND (and mainstream) education is the relationships we form. Pupils and teachers, teachers and parents, pupils and pupils, pupils and site teams. All the possible combinations of interactions can feed into the communities experience of the school. This can equally apply to other settings including 1:1, PA’s respite care etc. Without these being positive and supportive the last year will have been much more difficult for many.

Assistant Headteacher @TeachPMLD said that from a school perspective, our lifelines have been our Family Liaison team who have been that point of call, that go between and held many supportive conversations with families and staff – allowing teachers to still teach. Which brings up one of the most dramatic changes to education – the switch to remote learning. Which anecdotally has been popular with some pupils who face school anxiety. This is one aspect of the changes brought about by the pandemic that could have real long term benefits if schools are willing to accept that it does fit some pupils better than face to face education.

Relationships with Families

Mary Isherwood wrote that having strong relationships with families enables honest and supportive conversations about the challenges being faced and together exploring ways of managing / solutions. This year has really shown the importance of working in partnership with parents. Schools have often been caught between government decisions and doing what is right for their community. Often we have been the people explaining and enforcing government guidance especially around testing and self isolation. Usually with no more information than that available to families.

Having preexisting positive relationships with partner agencies has helped overcome the awkwardness of virtual
meetings (with technical issues included). I pride myself on the strength of the relationships cultivated with social services, CAMHS etc and this really has helped when supporting vulnerable children, shielding pupils etc. Reconnection will be especially important for those shielding who will have had minimal contact outside the home for over a year.

Elly Chapple, parent, TED speaker and founder of #Flipthenarrative said that relationships have been critical to thriving. Their value has been highlighted enormously in the past year, as uncertainty gripped us all. From my point of view this is true, there has been so much anxiety and the situation has really highlighted how teachers and parents can empathise with each other when we are all facing the same challenge (and some teachers are also parents and vice versa). Just humans facing the same struggle.

What, or who are you looking forward to reconnecting with this year?

This from TeachPMLD sums up my thoughts as well. “The children. Face to face. And staff, supporting everyone to take on board everything they’ve learned from this year and use what new skills they’ve developed.”. So many people have been pushed out of their comfort zones. By embracing virtually meetings we have been able to engage with a much wider range of stakeholders. This is something that Lily and Claire from Oaklands Autism, a specialist autism provision alongside mainstream primary had found. Much quicker consultations with CAMHS has been reported. For other sometimes even having grandparents at wider family at annual reviews. We have been able to have multiple discussions in a day without travelling time taking teachers away from their bubble for a day.

Lily and Claire stated that they were really looking forward to being able to see parents and carers face to face again. We’ve talked on the phone a lot, and zoom a bit, but it’s really not the same. I’m looking forward to seeing them smile when I tell them all the brilliant things their children can do. So the other side to virtual meetings is that feeling of disconnection you can get, the missed cues from body language etc.

Scroew82 Inclusion Lead at Special School in Cumbria, has found that they have had a much higher attendance by parents and professionals using virtual meetings than we did using face to face meetings. We are going to continue offering them as an option after lockdown.

With the wider return to school how has your child coped with reconnecting with education or returning classmates?

TeachPMLD shared the positives – “With absolute delight and joy! Incredible excitement from parents, careers, pupils and staff.”. Elly also had a positive “With a fantastic Primary school focusing on wellbeing and health, first”.

Personally speaking I know my son, who has been in really benefited from the smaller class sizes and fewer interactions to process. We are currently working with the senco on managing the transition to busier environments. Joanna Grace from The Sensory Projects stated that she has had lots of conversations with parents whose autistic children no longer feel like they can return to school.

Does anyone have experience of school (or other provision) being more flexible with face-to-face attendance now or planned?

Joanna mentioned “I met a wonderful school who were finding ways to allow an autistic girl to stay at home, just come in for an hour or so until she feels able to return.”. This low pressure stance is the same as we are taking. We still face many challenges and continued cases that impact on staff, parent and pupil anxiety.

At TeachPMLD’s school they have some children starting slightly later. They will access our morning circle time virtually before heading in to school. They will also be leaving slightly earlier as we are on a campus with other schools so it can busy. This will really facilitate the reconnection SEN pupils need.

Share any resources you have found useful in preparing for reconnection or building relationships.

Joanna Grace has put some resources here. She also recomends that as the thing she’s seen so many people worrying about is anxiety. And Best Medicine’s online’s playful approach to anxiety workshops have been superb.

TeachPMLD has found benefit in using restorative approaches and checking in. Zones of regulation. It’s ok to be yellow, red or blue! ‘Happy post’ to staff with a postcard and a scratch card! (I hope if they win, they still come to work!) Reconnection with staff, some of whom have now been shielding for almost a year is really important too.

We hope you enjoyed reading our chat. Look out for future #SENexchange chats on twitter most Wednesday nights at 8:00pm. Anyone in the SEND community or with an interest is welcome.

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