I’ve been a Governor at Swiss Cottage School for 4 years now. I originally volunteered to be a Governor in an attempt to do something useful while working for an investment company in the City. I’ve always been passionate about everyone’s right to get a good education - I was nearly written off myself because I went to a bad school and was developmentally slow. Thankfully my next few schools were great, and I proved the initial forecasts wrong – I was lucky enough to go be able to walk out of college at Oxford and stand over the grates outside the Bodleian library to smell the books.
Giving up my time to become a governor seemed like a good way to give back but I hadn’t considered then being recruited by a special school. What a journey it has been…
Last week Alcove attended the Roadmap for Life conference organised by the School (@SwissCottageSch & @MargaretMulhol2), a Special Educational Needs (”SEN”) event aimed at parents and professionals planning better futures for young people with SEN. The School is outstanding (proud to be 5-times outstanding according to OFSTED) and has its own development and research centre. It’s an excellent school that helps the young people that attend it to be the best that they can be but it also has a bigger vision to disseminate excellence in special needs education across the UK and the World.
As is now happening across the board, there is a push towards greater collaboration between institutions. Every young person with SEN is shortly expected to have an EHCP (Education Health & Care Plan) under the new (292-page) SEND Code of Practice 2015 (this light bedtime reading can be found here). Education is leading the push in the development of these personal plans with greater engagement from health and care required to make the worthy vision a reality. Ensuring the involvement of young people and their families in decision making at every stage will help create the personalised services, those that meet both needs and aspirations, that everyone wants.
But what happens to young people with learning difficulties after their formal education years (post 19-25 depending on how you interpret the new legislation)? What is the point of attending an outstanding school and getting the best education, health and care services as child if they cease to continue being outstanding when you become an adult?
I spoke to the mother of a boy with autism at the event whose son went to an excellent SEN school and was now struggling to cope in a supported living environment. She felt distanced from him, with little knowledge of his daily routine, the challenges, successes and failures of his day-to-day life. Even if progress was being made, she wasn’t made aware of it so it’s not surprising she thought he was going backwards. The lack of communication and transparency clearly raised anxiety levels, triggered suspicions about the quality of his care, as well as causing feelings of guilt and huge pressures to do something to make it better. To me, this was a good example of a situation in which relatively low cost technology could be used very effectively to give her comfort around his wellbeing and progress; enable better communication between him, his friends and family; promote trust between service providers and service users; empower and engage the care and support workers working with him; and help deliver better outcomes overall. All without infringing on his or her privacy and security.
She herself knew that technology could help– she had heard another father talk about his child sending him images of the important little successes like making himself a piece of toast in the morning – how could her son to do the same she asked me? She feared that her digital illiteracy was negatively impacting on her son’s life and she was keen to do something about it. Support is clearly needed in these situations – making the offering as simple as possible on a device that is intuitive and easy to use with as much free training as needed to ensure continued use. Customer service equaling here’s my mobile number – call me any time of day or night if you need to ask me anything or can't work anything out. Not suggesting 15 apps doing 15 different things, and leaving someone to work them out for themselves. She wanted one simple route to access everything important to her about her son, and for her son to have the same support and access to everything important to him. It’s not that much to ask really when you look at it like that.