Why would schools and colleges want to develop as person-centred organisations?

02 October 2015

With the publication of the new draft Additional Learning Needs Code of Practice for Wales, Vicky explores why schools and colleges would want to develop as person-centred organisations, and the resources available that can help.

I have recently been working with groups of SENCo’s to explore how person-centred practices can support children and young people with Additional Learning Needs. One of the questions we explore early on is ‘what do we mean by the term person-centred?’ Well, I’ve never met a teacher who doesn’t say that they don’t have children at the very heart of their planning and teaching, and to be honest, I hope I never do! But is that enough? Does that mean then that all teachers and schools are therefore person-centred?

The answer that these teachers came up with was most definitely, no! They pay great attention to the educational needs of a child, making sure that they provide a differentiated curriculum, with support to help pupils to learn, but the main drive is still around the needs of the school. They provide statistics and data needed to demonstrate that the school is succeeding. One SENCo even told me that the Head had asked her for just one more pupil to achieve level 5 so that they could meet whatever criteria they needed for school performance tables.

This certainly doesn’t reflect what we mean by the term person-centred.

The new draft Code of Practice for Additional Learning Needs in Wales was published on 30th September 2015, and in chapter 2, it describes the Principles of the code. Point 26 describes how meeting the needs of learners with ALN should be part of a whole school approach to school improvement. It says:

“The key to meeting the needs of all children and young people lies in the

teacher’s knowledge of each child and young person’s skills and abilities. The

teacher’s capacity to then match this knowledge with identifying ways of

providing appropriate access to the curriculum for every child and young person

is also critical. Consequently, improvements in the teaching and learning of

children and young people with ALN cannot be isolated from improvements in the

teaching and learning for children and young people across a school as a whole.

Improvement in one should be mutually supportive of improvement in the other.”

 

Implementing person-centred practices within a school or college is the key to ensuring that the holistic development of all pupils, including those with ALN, are approached consistently and using the whole school approach as described in the Code of Practice is the cornerstone of the reforms in Wales.

So how can schools and colleges first of all have a clear understanding about how they are doing in implementing person-centred practices, and what do they need to do to improve their practice? We have been delighted to work in partnership with Welsh Government and Gwynedd Education Department to develop a new resource designed to help schools and colleges do just that. You can find it on the Learning Wales website, and it is available in both Welsh and English.

The resource is divided into three sections, each of which supports three key questions that Estyn (Wales’ Inspectorate) aim to answer in their school inspections:

1: How good are the outcomes?

2: How good is Provision?

3: How good are leadership and management?

In section one, schools and colleges are asked to assess themselves on how well they involve learners, their families and any other agencies involved in co-developing and implementing person-centred outcomes for each learner. This is more than setting educational targets. It means thinking about aspirations, and setting realistic outcomes and actions to move a learner towards a life that they want and has meaning to them.

Section two looks at provision and how to develop personalised learning for pupils. It asks schools to assess how they are doing in using the person-centred thinking tools and practices to make sure that they have good person-centred information to support the development of a good quality Individual Development Plan (IDP), and to make sure that learners are at the centre of the process, and all decision-making that affects them (COP chapter4). These tools will help schools and colleges to gather the information required for the content of the IDP (COP chapter 11).

Section three looks at how leadership and management teams need to support the development of skills, knowledge and understanding of staff and others in person-centred practice, and how good practice is shared through Professional Learning Communities’ both locally and nationally.

The ‘Developing as a Person-centred Organisation’ assessment tool is an excellent resource to make sure that that the right approach is adopted in the whole school, not just by an SEN Department or lead. The assessment tool is used by staff to find their starting point, and then to develop an action plan to improve their practice in person-centred thinking and reviews.

As I was writing this, I received an e-mail from a SENCo who attended some recent training I did about person-centred reviews. She wanted to share with me how well the person-centred reviews she has just facilitated have gone. She wrote how one mum had said that “it had been the most useful meeting about her son, and she had really enjoyed it.” The SENCo added “I feel that I have been able to be much more specific and get down to the really important details about the child. Annual reviews have been tedious and more about paperwork in the past. I won’t be going back to the old system!”

 

So again, I ask, why would a school or college, whether in Wales or elsewhere, want to develop as a person-centred organisation? Yes, they can make sure that they adhere to future legislation, be seen as an excellent school, a beacon of good practice. But isn’t the real answer that working in this way would be so much more rewarding for staff, and even more importantly, would make such a huge difference to the experience and lives of the children, young people and families that they work so closely with.

Vicky Jones

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