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Pupil Participation Conference 2018 at Dawn House – a day of fun and education!

Pupil Participation Day is always a fun and informative occasion. Held at Dawn House each year and led by school staff, it brings people together for a day of workshops, activities and talks that bridges the educational and relationship gap between parents and teachers.

Increased technology use and the impact of ‘no ball games’ means that children today aren’t getting the same social interaction and cognitive development that previous generations enjoyed.

Jo Stockdale, Trainer and Consultant at Well Within Reach wanted to re-invigorate parent’s willingness to let their children explore through meaningful play, whatever their age. She outlined the science behind its benefits in her talk entitled ‘The Neuroscience of playfulness, curiosity and fun’. Jo outlined her thoughts on the day:

Pupil Participation Day is a fantastic medium. It allows teachers and parents to be on the same page and have the same level of information.

“It allows parents to ask questions whilst the teachers are here and get a measure of what’s important to them about their child.

“Equally, it gives teachers a chance to communicate what’s important to them in a learning environment.

The workshop explained how different parts of the brain are responsible for processing different experiences and provided an insight into structures within the brain’s hard-wiring which prove that the human brain thrives and learns most effectively through curiosity and play.* The session also explained how some emotional health problems, such as anxiety, manifest at a neurological level. Jo was keen to highlight the educational gap between parents and teachers and how her job fits into this:

“There’s not enough dialogue between schools and parents and the students and so often there’s little or no space for parents to ask questions to find out what’s going on. This (Pupil Participation Day) is a fantastic opportunity for schools, parents and students to come together in the same space.

“The parents of Dawn House obviously have greater concerns for their kids given their SLCN needs. One concern I’ve heard a lot is that their kids might not make that transition effectively into adulthood because they’re going to need extra support, possibly for their whole lives. It’s not just a question of using this kind of information to nurture the brain.”

It’s not just play that’s been influenced by social media either. Staying safe on the streets and the internet has become a much bigger and more complex conversation than it was even ten years ago. Young children with social media accounts are now published authors. The rise of new social media platforms means we need to give our children guidance on how to protect themselves and parents the ability to spot the warning signs.

Resolving conflict in schools can have a real impact on children’s self-esteem, mental health and life chances. In recent years, one example of this has been the method of restorative justice, which schools are increasingly utilising.

PC Nicholas Stenner, Schools and Early Intervention Officer for Nottinghamshire Police was at Dawn House to discuss restorative justice and why it’s so successful.

Nick talked about why restorative justice is even more important when dealing with children who have SLCN:

“Restorative justice is important in building bridges between parents, schools, police and children. Children like to be listened to. All we’ve got to do is behave the way we’d expect them to behave so we can set the standards going forward.  

This process is almost more important for children who live with an SLCN.

We have to communicate to them in the right way, the way that they understand and give them time. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for them to say what they’re thinking; the important thing is that they say it.

The reason restorative justice is so successful is how it differs to the more traditional routes we used to go down. Normally, we would talk to a parent whose child had been involved in an incident, we’d tell them off and the parent/s would become defensive or overprotective about their child.

“What parents don’t realise a lot of the time is that when they’re in school, children speak freely, they’re open with staff and quite willing to talk. The reason restorative justice works is because the talking HAS to come from just the people involved i.e. the victim and the perpetrator.

 “Having been posted to this area, I wanted to talk to the kids and build those links.

“Just because I’m a police officer, it doesn’t mean I’m not approachable.

“My ultimate aim is becoming that go-to person for them and that community figure they can trust.”

Whilst it was great to hear what the practitioners and speakers thought of Pupil Participation Day, it’s the parents who will benefit from the activities and talks the most. One parent spoke to us on how they found the day:

“Pupil Participation Day’s been really useful. I’m a parent of a child at Dawn House so it’s useful to see from the perspective of other parents what the school is like so many years on from their children graduating.

“It’s been great to get more knowledge, network with other parents, get more of an insight into how the school works, how they want the children to progress and speak to former students about their experiences.

“At the root of it all, my son’s mental health is the most important thing. I wanted him to be in a place where he can feel comfortable and reassured so he can move onto developing other skills.”

We want to say a massive thank you to all the brilliant staff at Dawn House who put on the Conference every year and dedicate so much time to making it a huge success! We can’t wait to see what next year holds!