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Supporting children through induction and transition at I CAN’s Dawn House School.

Kathy Horton is a Learning Mentor at Dawn House School, I CAN’s specialist school for children aged 5-19 with severe and complex speech, language and communication difficulties. We spoke to Kathy about how students at Dawn House School are supported during their initial induction into the school and throughout their school life.

Tell us a little bit more about your role and the work you do at Dawn House School.

I am a Learning Mentor at Dawn House School so a large part of my role is around induction and transition for new students. I also do work supporting young people on an everyday basis around their wellbeing and I deliver small group sessions on emotional literacy. The biggest part of my role is supporting new students coming into Dawn House School and working collaboratively with the team and making sure they’re successful.

Transitions are difficult for many children – can you tell us a few of the ways that you help students at Dawn House School to prepare for this?

It all starts with the initial assessment; students are put forward for assessments by their Local Authority or parents. Assessments are completed over two days and include a member of the teaching staff, a speech and language therapist and an occupational therapist; they all have input into the report and then meet to decide whether the school is a suitable place for that young person. If it is decided that it is a suitable placement and the Local Authority are also happy with the placement then we have a ‘placement meeting’. The meeting involves sharing information and deciding what the best induction plan is for that young person. Some are done very quickly and are very straight forward and some are slower and take a little longer. For example, there is one young man who has been with us for a few months but only attends part time. We may come across young people who have been out of education for some time because their previous placement broke down or they may have been out of education for some time for another reason. We often find that there are young people who attended mainstream primary schools and were able to manage because of the smaller environment and the specialist support, but then the move to secondary schools is a huge change and the demands are very different. Many of our students have started at mainstream secondary schools and by the half term the placement has broken down.

Once we’ve had the placement meeting I collate all of the information, share it with all of the relevant staff members and meet with the core team to discuss in more detail what’s on the student’s profile and give them as much information as possible to support the young person’s integration into the school. Before the induction our Family and Community Liaison Worker also meets with the student’s family in their home and takes a welcome pack to them. This is a pack that we’ve produced which includes lots of visual support for the young person and the parents around routines, safety, staff and as much information as we can give them before they come to the school. The Family and Community Liaison Worker maintains that link with the families and supports them with anything they need. I also send a personalised timetable for the student’s first day and a DVD so that students can see what the school building looks like.

When students come on their first day, it’s about meeting and greeting them and settling them into the timetable. I’m in regular contact with pupils and parents, certainly in that first month, and for a lot of students that support continues indefinitely. I also have a referral system as part of my role where pupils come to work with me on emotional literacy and any other support they need, but it’s also about helping staff to support the young person.

Are there signs that you look out for to identify if a child is showing signs of difficulties?

At the placement meeting we decide on a plan for the young person’s induction into the school, however we do revisit that plan to see if it is going well. If it is working well we may speed up the process or if it’s not going so well we’ll slow it down and make changes. It’s all about observing the young person, having regular contact with them and their family and talking to the staff who are working with them in the classroom. We look for certain behaviours, for example, whether they are taking themselves out of the classroom. We talk to parents to see if there are any signs of the young person expressing anxiety.

Preparation is key I expect – what are some of the things that can go wrong if children aren’t supported early enough?

If young people aren’t supported they may refuse to come to school and show behaviours like aggression, refusal and high anxiety. It could be that the student seems fine at school but at home the parents may see them expressing these feelings and behaviours, another example of why communication is key. We’re learning about that young person and getting to know them so we have to keep that in mind; we’ve got the paperwork but seeing the young person daily is different. It’s about talking and building up that relationship of trust so that they can share their feelings about things. Some young people may not like to go into certain rooms if they have sensory issues because they echo or smell a certain way. Once we have that information it’s good for the student to know that we’re listening to them and reassuring them that they’ve got someone to talk to and a safe place to go to if they need it. A lot of students come to us and have had negative experiences where they haven’t been listened to or negative experiences of other school settings, so we have to show that we’re there to support their learning. Each family and each pupil that comes to Dawn House School all need a different approach, and because we know that and we get to know these young people we can prepare for that and try and support them in the best way possible.

To find out more about Dawn House School please visit the website www.dawnhouseschool.org.uk

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