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‘She’s Sound’- my personal view On Additional Support Needs

I make no apology for the fact that throughout my teaching career I have developed awareness and empathy for children with Additional Support Needs. These needs may arise from a physical or learning disability or social or familial circumstance and so a barrier to learning has been created.

It is our responsibility as teachers to ensure that these barriers are removed and that all young people are given access to a broad and meaningful education. We are getting this right on so many levels across Scotland but, as always, there is room for improvement and a need for ring-fenced funding to be available.

I was chatting to a close friend and educationalist G yesterday in regard to the above and we both agreed that what is needed is an approach to education that is protected from the ravages of political debate, unrest and unease. There is a wide range of agencies, services and private/public partnerships who are providing incredible resources for many young people across the social divide in Scotland, but for whom each year is a gamble as to whether funding will be continued. One successful establishment is Newlands Junior College , the result of businessman’s Jim McColl’s vision of getting it right for a number of young people for whom the mainstream approach to education does not fulfil their needs.

I wonder, does anyone have a national overview of what is actually on offer? And are we smart enough to want to share good practice, develop a sustainable approach and ensure that Scotland really can be a leading light for getting it right for our young people? In order to even consider this we have to remove the barriers we create to our own learning and development and create an educational culture that is fully inclusive regardless of need and which is protected from political maelstrom.

Having worked in several authorities and in a range of social demographics I am acutely aware that any ‘newbie’ on the block is going to be treated with a certain amount of suspicion and has to run the gauntlet of proving their worth.

I have my own benchmarking tool by which to measure my success at being included and integrated into the ‘body of the kirk’. There are two levels to this benchmarking: one is that the relationship which is built between myself, the pupil and their parents or carers is based on mutual trust and respect. I will do my utmost to ensure the child in question has a package of learning and experience that suits their needs. This might be achieved through months of fraught meetings, phone calls,  emails and often involves multiple support workers and agencies. So many parents and carers are let down by the ‘system’ and pushed from pillar to post losing faith, trust and belief that there is a positive pathway for their child.

My other benchmark comes from my dealings with young people who through no fault of their own have become enmeshed in a negative view of education and so rebel using bad behaviour. They are disillusioned, fed up and angry at a system that doesn’t respond to their needs – often those from social and familial deprivation. I show consistency, empathy, respect and genuine concern as I work with them in a solution-focused approach to their problems.

How do I know when I’ve been successful? I hear these magic words when approaching a group of disengaged pupils, hoodies pulled up, scowls etched deep into young skin,  ‘Aye, its Miss P, it’s alright she’s sound’.

We have to keep believing that we can succeed and realising that nothing less that excellent is acceptable. Excellence which emanates from considering each and every pathway option for Scotland’s children regardless of any additional support they need to reduce or remove their barriers to learning.

She’s Sound – a poem

Your shoulders are hunched there’s no way in

a scowl is etched on your youthful skin

your fear and anger at what you have seen –

of what life is like and what might have been –

informs your actions as you try to hide

away from the pain that sears from inside.

Dont walk away believe if you can

there are people out there who have a plan

to guide and support you and show you a way

that will last you a lifetime not just for one day.

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