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Going back to my roots to make a difference – Interview with Rob Walton

Rob Walton is the new Headteacher at our Meath Primary school. Take a look at his hopes and aspirations for the role and what he wants to achieve with the children he’ll be helping and supporting below:

What are you most looking forward to about starting at Meath School?

This is my first headship and it’s great to be back in primary education which is what I originally trained in.

Being a Headteacher and part of I CAN means this isn’t a normal leadership role, it’s something special and part of something much bigger.

The Headteacher role in a mainstream school and working for a local authority is very different to working for a charity. I CAN is a much bigger organisation with the potential for more impact.

You were working in secondary schools before this, is that correct?

I was at Moor House School & College, which is very similar to Meath. It is a non-maintained charity school for students KS2-5 age, working with a larger range of students.

I’ve seen what these students have experienced when they come from Meath. I’m in a good place to help prepare them for what happens next.

I wanted to work in Primary again so I could think about the expectations, where to push these students and what’s possible.

I’ve seen great outcomes. Even though they’ve faced some difficulties I’ve seen the progress that can be made. I can set high expectations as I’ve seen the potential of what they can achieve. That helps inform the curriculum, supporting the staff in school and working with families too.

There can be quite dark days for parents. I can be there saying, “it’s going to be a difficult journey, but there are real possibilities here”. This is what we’re going to fight for and work towards. We should always be thinking about the end game – a young adult at 19 years old, living independently and appropriate life skills.

Once they get to year 6 they can start thinking about the future and long-term possibilities.

What are the challenges that face families and children living with and alongside SLCN?

All parents of children with SEND are struggling. There are changes to funding taking place and all families with SEND children are affected. The extra hindrance is that (mainstream) schools can be poor at identifying language needs. The support isn’t as obvious to help children who are diagnosed.

There is a real challenge to make sure families of children with language impairment or disorder are understood and prepared. It isn’t always identified and can be harder to explain to a wider audience. It can be a real hidden impairment.

Children can seem as though they don’t appear to have any obvious need to some who meet them. These are the most vulnerable children.

Families have issues keeping children safe, especially given the rise of social media and the internet. As children get older, families need to prepare for it. Lots of primary children face this challenge. It is an added difficulty if they have language impairment.

It’s difficult for mainstream schools. There is a lack of training where specialism is needed. Much of the training is on the job so the specialist support often is not there.

Mainstream schools generally don’t have the money to provide the correct support and identify the issues.

The children who are identified quicker are those with behavioural issues. A lot of the time, disruptive children will be looked at first compared to the child who is struggling with the work but does not present with any challenging behaviour.

Could you give me some examples of how you prepare young children for when they turn 19?

We need to give them functional skills, for example, Early Occupational Therapist input. The earlier we implement this the better. Students need to practise their skills in real-life scenarios.

At Meath we have an Occupational Therapy (OT) department. A lot of people don’t realise the difference it makes and the younger the input the more effective.

Parents have to fight and get a diagnosis. The language impairment is their priority and often OT needs are not thought of.

There is a greater need to focus on children’s health and wellbeing. Pastoral care is so important. We need to take a holistic approach and think about the children’s next steps.

Is there anything you would like I CAN / Meath Parents to know about your appointment?

This is a real opportunity to make a difference. I’ll be working in a school environment, looking at evidence based practice and research opportunities. This is the way it should be and that doesn’t happen often in education.

Having the chance to work on ideas that can be used elsewhere as well as making us the best school we can be is very exciting as a leader. My job is about making sure education and therapy work well together to ensure the best possible outcomes for the students.

More information about our Meath school can be found here.