I have been out on secondment for the last fifteen months with my local authority central education team. I have been part of the Additional Support Needs Team and although my official title has been Education Support Officer, I have been allocated duties equivalent to those of an education officer.
The other day, someone asked me exactly what I have been doing while on secondment, as they are considering taking on a similar role. This made me think that it would be useful to write a post about it. I am also motivated to write about the learning that can be achieved by undertaking such a role; for me the learning opportunity has been invaluable. Obviously, every authority in Scotland will allocate duties to members of the central team differently and there is variety in role titles and remits. I am not sure whether equivalent roles even exist in England any more but my role has been akin to that of the old ‘county advisor’. (I hope my visits to schools over the last year have not instilled the same fear and trepidation as were generated by the words “the (wo)man from county is in next week…..” back in the nineties!)
The strapline job description for my role has been to ‘support schools in the West of the authority in matters relating to ASN, GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) and Child Protection.’ The tasks that I have undertaken are as follows:
- Supporting establishments to meet their responsibilities in terms of ASL Act and other relevant legislation
- Working with establishments to identify and support young people particularly those with ASN – visits, assessments, recommendations (as part of staged intervention model)
- Member of scrutiny group relating to deployment of ASN assistants and pupil support teachers.
- Supporting establishments to improve learning for young people with additional support needs – including training on autism, attachment, behaviour
- Working with other services to develop inclusive practice in education – includes sitting on Argyll and Bute Autism Strategy group and training sub-group, Parental Mental Health working group
- Working closely with Area Principal Teachers (ASN) – operational line management, monthly case load meetings and PRD (professional review and development)
- Working closely with Visual Impairment and Hearing Impairment teachers– operational line management and regular case load meetings
- Organising / chairing working parties to move forward with ASN policy update – Staged Intervention, Highly Able Pupils, Looked After Children
- Supervisory and de-brief support for education Child Protection Co-ordinators and other staff involved in Child Protection as appropriate
- Education rep at corporate parenting group
- Education rep on EEI (Early and Effective Intervention) screening panel
- Education rep on IRTD (Child Protection Initial Referral Tripartite Discussion) audit group
- Education representative on the GIRFEC implementation group
- Supporting schools to embed GIRFEC practices and procedures – joint working and support with Area PTs
- Education rep (West) on GIRFEC advisory group
- Working with staff from education, psychological services, health and safety, administrative services and unions to develop practice guidance around managing challenging behaviour and related violence and aggression
- Participating in school review processes and preparation for School Inspection as appropriate
- Working to review process for recording and reporting in relation to ASN within SEEMIS (School and education management information systems)
The top ten things that I have learnt during my secondment (with a few explanatory notes below):
- Everyone, from the highest to the lowest grade employee in the organisation is a human being. In all our interactions we need to remember this and ensure the same quality of respectful relationship with every single person we encounter.
- People deserve a prompt response if they phone or email you because you are the person there to support them. Understandably they get upset if they do not get an answer.
- If you want people to do things and buy into change, you need to take the time to explain to them why it is a good idea. In your explanation, try to get a point where the person asks ‘why wouldn’t I do this?’ rather than ‘why would I?’
- Inclusion and equity are very complex issues. My personal belief is that we need a wholesale social and political re-think and that schools cannot do it all. However, as educators, we can play a huge part in influencing the attitudes and beliefs of the youngest stratum of society. But it takes a whole-school approach.
- Austerity and addressing the needs of children who need extra support are not comfortable bedfellows. There are efficiencies that can be achieved through careful, robust and intelligent scrutiny by those who really understand the issues. But there are also times when they cannot.
- Educating and changing the attitudes of those who work with children and young people are often more important than anything else.
- If you say you believe in transparency then you need to be transparent. There is no place for Secret Squirrel.
- The higher you go and the more you have to do, the more you need to be able to say “I’m not sure but I know a person who does…”
- When you have been out of school for too long, you may forget what schools are really like.
- Not everyone works in the same way. Sometimes I need to be more patient and realise that my impulsivity and tendency to challenge things that I perceive to be wrong are not always welcome or helpful.
I have had an amazing time and I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn from fantastic, committed and hugely experienced colleagues. I will miss them hugely. I predict that the remaining three weeks until I return to school may see me with something in my eye on at least a couple of occasions…….
- Recently, when I was overwhelmed with workload and anxious about not being able to get back to people, a colleague offered a practical solution; if you are too busy to respond, you should set up an email response or voice message to say so and direct them to someone else who can help.
- I have written about inclusion here: https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/included-or-not/
- I have written more about this here: http://staffrm.io/@lenabellina/oqwybVmNl8
- I have worked hard this year to encourage staff to think about not labelling children and challenging their own pre-conceptions. There is more on this here: https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/sticks-and-stones/ and here: https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/when-is-a-consequence-not-a-consequence-abcs-and-more/
- I am a great believer in having processes and systems written down so that everyone understands how things work. It is no use sharing information in meetings if the information is not also recorded for those who could not attend or come into post after the meeting has taken place. Communication, communication, communication.
- Margaret Heffernan’s Ted Talk has great advice on this: Heffernan, M (2015) TED talk – Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work.
- This is a tricky one. How do we ensure that those at the centre (and indeed those who make decisions at national level) keep in touch? We certainly need to allow for regular communication and honest and open discussion with those at the chalkface. But there is something about being in schools and working with actual children and parents in a meaningful and regular that ‘keeps it real’. Secondments are a good idea but can lead to too much turnover, lack of long term team ethos and inefficiency in terms of sustaining expertise. I have long envied Tom Bennett (TES and government behaviour consultant) for his position as part time teacher and part time consultant and often wonder if that is the way forward.
- There is more on this here: https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/a-difficult-lesson-and-the-need-to-keep-learning/