Friday, 18 May 2012

Olympian Plus

Ahead of the Channel 4 Paralympics coverage this summer, they've produced some really good trailers. This one, featuring Oscar Pistorius, is particularly inspirational:

He makes two really powerful points about accepting yourself and focusing on your strengths.

"I've got two disabilities, I've got millions of abilities..."

"If you can give me a Ferrari 999GTR, I'd rather take that than my legs!"

I'm going to be recommending Form Tutors at our school show these their students during registration times to challenge their assumptions and raise awareness (and respect) for people in this situation.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


This morning saw proposed reforms to Special Educational Needs provision in schools hit the national headlines. One of the changes in the media spotlight - aside from the proposal for parents to have greater say in allocation of funding for their child - is proposed reforms to the way students are identified as 'special needs', specifically with a view to a reduction in numbers of students placed on SEN / Additional Needs registers in schools.

My own experience of this is that there has historically been a problem of over-identification and of students being placed on registers for a temporary difficulty, but then never progressing off them. The knock-on effect is Learning Support / SEN systems and staff become overloaded, particularly with paperwork (in the past, for every student we would write an IEP and so on) - this then distracts from practical action.

In our efforts at Thornleigh Salesian College to make our provision more efficient in identifying and addressing additional needs within our community, one of the first things we did was draft a criteria for who comes under the remit of Learning Support and importantly, who doesn't. This has allowed us to really target those students who need the kind of support we have to offer and to move responsibility for some other aspects of support to pastoral teams and subject teachers in Maths and English where, as specialists in these areas, they often have much to offer. I've uploaded the criteria we use to my TES page this morning for any colleagues interested in implementing something similar in their schools. This is an ongoing project, and any feedback is appreciated.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

No Big Deal

There has been some controversy this week over The Sun's frontpage following the appointment of Roy Hodgson to the position of England football manager. Whilst Jonathan Ross - famed for his 'rhotacism', and sometimes his very bad humour - defends the mockery as harmless fun, The Independent has published two thoughtful critiques on why The Sun was arguably wrong to mock Roy Hodgson's speech impediment in the way it did.

Jeremy Laurance observes in his commentary that Roy Hodgson will no doubt be very resilient to this kind of ridicule (having been affectionately nicknamed 'Woy' by Fulham and West Brom fans), but questions what message it sends to young people who experience the same kind of difficulties - highlighting that 60% of children with a speech impediment experience bullying and related emotional issues such as low self-esteem.

Another commentary, by Joan Smith, basically yawns at the latest 'joke' from The Sun and suggests that Roy Hodgson should in fact be celebrated for overcoming his specific difficulty to achieve such a high-profile, demanding role. Away from his football coaching skills, she also notes that Roy Hodgson is an adept linguist - able to speak five languages.

It's also worth highlighting that Harry Redknapp, the other leading candidate for the post, has previously described himself as having writing and organisational difficulties (The Sun was notably more sympathetic on this occasion). Again, the fact this has not hampered him in his career is something that could be shared with young people who experience similar difficulties.

In my current setting we do this with a simple display titled "It doesn't hurt to be different...", situated on a main corridor, which features photos and a short description of various celebrities known to have experienced specific learning difficulties at school.

I suppose with difficulties of this type, there's a time for good-natured humour (the test being where the butt of the joke genuinely laughs along too), a time for celebrating those who bypass / overcome them, and most of the time, simply seeing beyond them. Most people would not even know Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp had these difficulties, because it's their personality and achievements that define them, and ultimately that's how it should be.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Tough Love

Having spent a substantial part of my teaching career working with students who present with social-emotional issues - such as low self-esteem, disaffection, anxiety, anger etc. - and struggling daily with questions as to why they do what they do and what to do about it, it was a genuine revelation when I was finally introduced to the Nurture Group initiative and Attachment Theory back in 2009. Since then I have undertaken the Nurture Group Network training (which I recommend) and I'm currently awaiting confirmation of accreditation.

As part of work around Nurture Groups in my current setting, I created two presentations (one for senior leadership and one for whole-school) to raise awareness of what the provision is / isn't and a resource booklet for day-to-day use in the Nurture Group itself. I have made these freely available on TES to download. You will see that we have placed our own Nurture Group within the framework of Catholic Salesian mission, and I would advise colleagues to consider their own school's ethos and vision (what binds you together and motivates you) when developing this kind of provision - that way it becomes 'owned' by the school rather than being viewed as a 'pet project'.

SkillsBase Nurture Group @ Thornleigh

I would also add that in our work with students with Specific Learning Difficulties, even if it is primarily a learning issue such as reading we are dealing with, we still have to be aware of the emotional aspects. For example, recent neuro-biological research has shown that the human brain 'shuts down' parts that facilitate learning during periods of anxiety, which will naturally impact on a student's ability to focus, process and comprehend. This was also, interestingly enough, something that Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham touched upon in their pioneering work over 70 years ago around dyslexic-type difficulties - proposing that interventions put in place for students experiencing difficulties in literacy must also be 'emotionally sound' by deliberately ensuring they regularly experience a genuine sense of accomplishment. This is a good reminder that as we engage in the business of learning, we also have to actively engage in the business of building secure attachments with our students - putting down roots - and that this is not wooliness but in fact a hard-headed approach to raising achievement.