Can I put the pupils voice at the heart of our ‘request for support’ form and what will I learn in the process?

Educational Enquiry Masters Unit. University of Bath. 15th Nov 2008 Kate Kemp

 

 

Introduction

 

In this account I intend to tell the story of how a ‘request for support’ form came to be changed and to identify the part I played in making the changes.  I will also describe how, in the process of changing the form, I became clearer about my own values and became more confident in sharing those values with my colleagues.

 

The form in question is that which requests support from the Specialist Behaviour Service in Bath and North East Somerset, which is the organisation I work for.

 

A form is, in simple terms, just some words on paper - we complete them all the time to get money, passports, employment, services, tax bills and so on. We provide information in order to get something in return.

However you can also learn a great deal, by the way that the form is structured, the language used, the kinds of questions asked, about the organisation it belongs to and the values of that organisation. For example has an effort been made to make the form user friendly? Is the language accessible? Does it have to be completed in black ink inside the boxes or can it be handwritten and allow room for creativity?

 

Some forms can be completed in a few minutes; others involve collecting information from other people and places. The questions asked determine what actions the person completing the form will have to make in order to complete it and therefore get whatever it is they are requesting. It became apparent to me during the course of the development of our form what a powerful tool a form can be in both demonstrating and promoting the values of our organisation.

 

Colleagues attending the weekly ‘Conversation Café’ have supported me in writing this narrative. This is an informal weekly breakfast meeting at which we reflect on our practice and discuss ways to make more public our personal or embodied knowledge. We have shared a wide range of literature, some of which I have referred to in this account. More invaluable still has been the critical feedback of my colleagues. I have found these discussions invaluable in clarifying my values and identifying how they underpin my practice In my account I include a video-clip in which I am expressing the value of ‘unconditional positive regard’ (Rogers, 1996) which I believe that I bring into my educational relationships. The expression of this energy and value forms an explanatory principle in the explanations I give for why I do what I do in education.  My desire to live this value as fully as I can explains why I worked so hard to amend the ‘Request for Support Form’.

 

In answering my question, using a narrative form, I am supporting the current moves to bring narrative research into the mainstream of educational research (Clandinin, 2007).  I am also drawing on McNiff’s (2007) approach to educational research in which she shows how she uses narrative to create her own living educational theory.  McNiff uses Whitehead’s (1989) original idea of a living educational theory as an explanation of an individual’s educational influence in their own learning and in the learning of others. Current government policy to make teaching a masters level profession does not recognise this type of narrative research in its assessment criteria. I hope to demonstrate, through using this method myself, the validity of exploring my living educational theory. 

 

 

Context

 In 2003, the Government published a green paper called Every Child Matters. This was prompted by the death of Victoria Climbié, the young girl who was horrifically abused, tortured and finally killed by her great aunt and the man with whom she lived. The report into Victoria’s death had particular identified the failure of the services where she lived to share information about her and that there was a lack of integrated working and accountability. The Children Act of 2004 provided the legislative framework which brought together the separate departments of education, social care and health into one organisation namely Childrens Services.

The Every Child Matters website states the following:

The Government's aim is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to

Š                 Be healthy

Š                 Stay safe

Š                 Enjoy and achieve

Š                 Make a positive contribution

Š                 Achieve economic well-being

This means that the organisations involved with providing services to children - from hospitals and schools, to police and voluntary groups - will be teaming up in new ways, sharing information and working together, to protect children and young people from harm and help them achieve what they want in life. Children and young people will have far more say about issues that affect them as individuals and collectively.

Over the next few years, every local authority will be working with its partners, through children's trusts, to find out what works best for children and young people in its area and act on it. They will need to involve children and young people in this process, and when inspectors assess how local areas are doing, they will listen especially to the views of children and young people themselves.

  DCSF ‘Every Child Matters’  website

There are two major challenges here for those working within Childrens’ Services.

Firstly professionals from different disciplines and training are expected to work together. It might be over simplifying matters to say that each of the three types of professionals involved-educationalists, social workers and health professionals-believe that their profession is the most important! However each has perceptions of the others which are often quite entrenched and not conducive to cooperative working.

Secondly there is a much greater emphasis on the participation of young people and their parents. This is an area where social care is probably more advanced than either education or health. The medical model of ‘you’ve got a problem, I’ll diagnose and treat it’ and the educational model of ‘I know some things and I’m going to get you to learn them’ are not participative. Asking for pupils views on their education or patients views on their treatment are often only required at inspection time.

The development of the request for support form was an opportunity to address both of these challenges.

 

Background

 

Although I have devised a number of forms in my time as an educationalist I was not involved in the initial Specialist Behaviour Service ‘request for support’ form. The purpose of the form was for schools to use to request support from one of the Specialist Behaviour Service teams. We began to use the first version of the form in early 2007.

 

One of the things that made it different from other forms in use at the time was that it had to be signed by a parent as well as the school requesting support.

The reason given for this on the form was for data protection purposes-parents are agreeing for the sharing of information about their children.

 

The form fairly soon became amalgamated with another form requesting support from the various teams within Inclusion Services. Some revisions were made at this stage that, again, I was not involved with.

 

The form in Appendix A therefore is the combined Inclusion Services/ Specialist Behaviour Service form which has been in use for the last year and around which most of work revolves.

 

 

 

What are my concerns?

 

Schools send their completed request forms into our Service. My job is to collect all the requests for each Area Support and Placement Panel and then create the Panel agenda that includes both new requests and updates of current interventions. Before each meeting I prepare a précis of the request and usually speak to the person who has made it. I do this because I often feel that form has not given me the whole picture. Sometimes they are incomplete but more often than not it is because I want to have a sense of the pupil and their parents and I don’t get this from the form or accompanying paperwork.

 

At the Panel itself I present the new cases, taking care to give as rounded a picture as possible. As schools are requesting support for pupils with SEBD inevitably there is a focus on the difficulty. I consider it my responsibility to keep alive a view of the whole child-not just the difficulties they are having.

 

Over the last year I have become frustrated at the lack of information given on the form in the box ‘pupils’ successes and interests’. These are almost all presented as the adults’ view of what these might be for example:

 

‘He focuses well in some lessons where he has a good relationship with the teachers’

 

‘Above average progress in Maths, Music and Technology’

 

‘She is very kind and caring toward pupils of lower ability and ensures they are included in activities’

 

 

 

Why am I concerned?

 

I often wondered how the forms came to be completed in the first place. I know that parents were involved because they had to sign the form but often, I suspected, this was an afterthought, rather than them making a significant contribution. Equally although there is a space for the pupil’s views more often than not this is left blank. Very occasionally the pupils themselves have filled this in and I always make sure that I read this out at the Panel.

 

As is often the way several things happened around the same time that prompted me to want to change the form.

 

Over the last year or so we have begun to use the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) within Childrens Services as a way of capturing the needs of young people and identifying appropriate services to meet those needs. One of the principles of the CAF is that is as much a process as an end result ie how it is done and the conversation between child, parent and professional is as important as the end result. The CAF training emphasises that the process of completing the form is a partnership and that the authentic voice of both parent and child should be heard.

 

‘CAF is a tool to support early identification of wider need and to support a coordinated response. It must be considered more broadly than ‘a form to be filled in’ and should be a collaborative process ensuring all information is recorded fully and agreed by the child/young person and parents/carers.

CAF enables and encourages information held to follow the child/young person and enhances effective communication and practice

 

 

 

Guiding principles for undertaking Common Assessment in B&NES Dec. 2007

 

 I had been mulling over the CAF and how it related to our ‘request for support ‘form when I was alerted to the research that Lynn Attwood (B&NES parent partnership officer) had published on the parents’ views of professionals. This showed that parents are often very critical of the professionals with whom they interact. Lynn includes many comments about the lack of consultation, partnership and poor communication with parents about what is happening with their children.

 

‘The research project arose from some parents explaining to the Parent Partnership Service their difficulties in working with professionals and, in particular, being distressed by negative communication directed towards them and their children. In addition the researcher had witnessed some less than desirable interaction between parents and professionals…this is a fundamental area to address as a means of improving childrens’ outcomes and working in partnership’

An evaluation of communication between education professionals and parents and its impact on families and working in partnership with parents

 

Lynn Attwood  MA 2007

 

Lynn came to the Conversation Café to discuss her findings with us and this prompted me again to consider both how I personally involve parents and also how the ‘request for support’ process, for which I am responsible, involves them.

 

The following week I received a form from a school requesting intervention by the behaviour support service and in the successes/interests box the referrer had put ‘sport and guinea-pigs’. I was intrigued by this comment. Sport is quite often put as an interest but I had not come across an interest in guinea-pigs before. I wondered how the referrer knew that the boy concerned liked guinea-pigs and wished I knew more about this. (We had guinea-pigs when I was growing up and so my imagination had leapt to the wood and wire runs my Dad used to make and the frequency with which our guinea pigs met untimely deaths).

 

I talked about the forms and the sport and guinea-pig boy at Conversation Café that week and said how I would like my form to be more like the CAF form in the way that it involves pupils and their parents in the request process rather than it being something which is done to them. We talked about transforming the form so that the pupil’s voice in particular came through loud and clear. I remember us discussing how much of the form could be changed and that maybe it would be too radical to change the whole form but that by changing how and where the question of young people’s interests or successes was captured could change how the form was completed. I thought that if the referrer had to put the pupils’ and parents’ own words in they would have to have had a proper conversation with both and I could legitimately send the form back if it had not been completed in this manner.

It seemed to me that I had a power to change something in a subtle but significant way.

 

I was aware that there was already a group of people meeting to look at how our Inclusion Services ‘request for support’ form could be merged into a single point of entry form for all of Childrens Services. Before I had time to find out who was on this group I was asked by my line manager to join it; I agreed with alacrity!

 

 

 

What I did

 

The first meeting I attended about the form was held at the end of March 2008. Various professionals from health, early years and inclusion services were present. It happened that I knew all of them and I think this was helpful as what I had to say was seen in the context of their knowledge of me and my long involvement with and commitment to young people in Bath and North East Somerset.

 

They had met previously to discuss this form and the meeting in March 2008 was intended to be the last before launching the new version. I was given the opportunity to explain how I thought we should take advantage of the revision to follow the example of the CAF and make the pupil and parents voice more central to the request for support. This was met with general agreement and, as there were other concerns expressed for instance how the form would work from an IT point of view and what guidance would accompany it, it was agreed that there would be a further meeting to explore these issues with the Assistant Director responsible for this area of work.

 

When the group met again toward the end of April 2008 many of the same discussions were reiterated. I explained again my views about the pupils’ voice and we agreed that we would include a section on the first page of the form and where the pupil and parents view of the current situation and reason for the request would be recorded in addition to their views of the pupils successes/interests.

 

A number of other alterations were agreed. These included taking out the need for accompanying paperwork but including more information about who else was involved with the pupil. We agreed that a revised version would be tried out with some schools and settings and that if everyone was OK with the final result we would not need to meet again and the form would be issued for use at the beginning of the new academic year.

 

I received a copy of the revised version in May 2008 (Appendix B). I was disappointed, as it did not seem to me to be hugely different from the original. It somehow lacked the question which would ensure that whoever was completing it had to have had a conversation with the pupil concerned. I expressed my concern to the person organising the revisions and it turned out that I was not the only one still unhappy.  Frankly I had begun to question whether I was being too obsessive about this idea and that perhaps I should be content with moving the successes and interests box to the front and including parents and pupils’ views. However I decided I was not content and that I should do my best to be clear about how I wanted the form to be different. I want the form to have the pupil’s own voice within it, verbatim, not interpreted by anyone else.

 

A further meeting was therefore arranged to address the outstanding concerns. Earlier on the same morning at Conversation Café I asked for help in finding a way of genuinely including the pupil and parents perspective. We had a wide ranging discussion about the purpose of the form and how far it was possible to ask open-ended questions of the pupil which might promote an exciting conversation between referrer and pupil but that might not seem relevant to the purpose of the form ie requesting support.

For example it was suggested the question might be ‘what float’s your boat?’ in other words what is the pupil excited about?

 

However I have to keep reminding myself that the form is not for my use only! The form will be completed by a wide range of professionals and will be requesting support from a wide range of professionals so it seemed to me whatever question was asked needed to relate more closely to the request for support.

In the end we came up with the question ‘what could make things better for you?’ which seemed to be both pertinent and open-ended.

 

About an hour later I met with 3 other people - the CAF coordinator who had been working on the form, the school nurse team leader and the early years team leader. We therefore represented 3 of the 4 recipients of the form. There was no-one present from Inclusion Services.

We worked through a list of concerns, which included mine but also some voiced by health (its still too education focussed), early years (its still too school focussed) schools (the guidance on the first page is still too confusing).

We had a further discussion about the principle of putting the pupils voice at the heart of the form and debated how far the form was a ‘door opener’ and how far a participative process. Having agreed that ideally it should be both we debated what question to ask of the pupil/young person. I floated the Conversation Café one –‘what could make things better for you?’ but the view of the meeting was that there were two questions needed – one which captured something about successes and interests (sport and guinea pigs) and one about views of the current situation and what help might be needed.

Sue, the school nurse, suggested some wording which they use for recording information which was strengths and difficulties and eventually we agreed that the bottom box on the front page would be divided into 3 and would have pupil, parent and school/setting’s view of the pupil’s strengths and difficulties in their own words (or drawings).

This would then negate the need for the following question –reasons for the request- as the reasons should be apparent from the responses to the strengths and difficulties question.

 

We then agreed that we still needed to include at the end of the form both the pupil and the parent’s view of the request.

 

Caroline, the CAF coordinator went off to make these changes and some others to the guidance page and this version is in Appendix C

 

 

How I did it

 

I was able to influence the development of this form in a number of ways.

I have worked for Bath and North East Somerset and before that Avon County Council for 16 years. I have had several different posts but all of them have been to do with supporting vulnerable young people and their families. Consequently I have had the opportunity to develop working relationships that go back years. I enjoy feeling that I am part of a system where I am known and I know others. I am genuinely pleased to see people I work with or have worked with in the past and find out how things are going for them. It also means that people know me and know what I have done in my work. I believe that I have a reputation for commitment to young people and their families and wanting the best for them.

 

The quality of the work relationships I have and the knowledge that others have of me I think meant that my views were listened to and taken on board even though I came to the redesigning process quite late on.

 

Over the years I have come to recognise the relationship between the work that I do and the values I hold. My belief, which comes from my Buddhist practice, that every one of us is of value and has a unique contribution to make to the world underpins my interactions with both pupils, parents and work colleagues. In his essay ‘ A sense of purpose’ Daiseku Ikeda, President of the Buddhist organisation to which I belong, writes:

 

Everyone has some kind of gift. Being talented does not mean just being a good musician, writer or athlete. There are many kinds of talent. You may be a great conversationalist, or make friends easily, or be able to put others at ease. Or you may have a gift for telling jokes, selling things or living economically. You may be punctual, patient, reliable, kind or optimistic. Or you may love taking on new challenges, be strongly committed to helping others, or have an ability to bring them joy. Without doubt, you possess your special jewel, your own unique talent.’

 

Daiseku Ikeda, 2004 page number?

 

 It is this belief that also has supported my determination that the uniqueness of each pupil be recognised when the request for support form is used.

I was delighted to note that my colleague Marie Huxtable, APEX Coordinator for B&NES, had used this quote in a recent article (Huxtable 2008) and see this as evidence of how I have been able to introduce my beliefs to others in a helpful but not intrusive way.

 

 

Reflection – so what have I learnt?

 

When I reflect on this narrative I am aware that I have reached the end of a chapter rather than the end of the story. The process is far from complete. Although the new form is ready to be used there are issues to be tackled about how to launch it, how to make sure all other old forms are destroyed and what to do when it is returned incomplete.  It remains to be seen how the form is used by referrers and whether it does indeed promote conversation with pupils and parents. Will it mean that the referrer has a greater knowledge and fuller picture of the young person and their parents than they would have done otherwise? We shall see. What I think I have learnt for myself in this process is that if I am sure about my beliefs and values and able to articulate them then it is possible to effect change.

 

For example, in the video-clip at:

 

 

 

 

 

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=cDcggqIb7J4

 

I am expressing values which give meaning and purpose to my life and which I use as explanatory principles for why I do what I do I am always open to other people’s ideas and can easily get enthused by them. This can lead me into hopping from one idea to another or being swayed by contradictory arguments. During this process however I stuck to my determined principle of making sure that the pupil’s voice would be heard and that the voice that is heard is one of possibility not just of problem. I am pleased with the result.

 In reviewing, at Conversation Café, what I had done the thought occurred to me that only I could have made these changes. I was in the right place at the right time and seized the opportunity to put my values into practice.

I will now find out if the pupil’s voice will be heard.

 

When I reflect on the process of writing this narrative I am very aware of the constraints of the written word and, in particular, describing how I live my values at work. Were I to have related this story in person to an audience I think they would have a much greater understanding of how I came to effect the changes to the form than just by reading what I have written. An audience would, I think, be able to experience the energy and commitment which I bring to my work and the warmth and compassion I bring to my relationships. Our challenge is to find a way of showing this energy without actually being in its presence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

Attwood, L (2007) An evaluation of communication between educational professional and parents and its impact on families and working in partnership with parents   MA thesis

 

Bath And North East Somerset, Guiding Principles for undertaking Common Assessment, December 2007

 

Clandindin, J. (2007) (Ed.) Handbook of Narrative Inquiry. London; Sage.

 

DCSF Every Child Matters website

 

Ikeda, D (2004) A Sense of Purpose, in A Piece of Mirror Soka Gakkai Malasia

 

Huxtable, M (2008) Living Theory and TASC: A multidimensional, inter and intra relational, flowing knot of enquiry, In Gifted Education International, 24 2/3

 

McNiff, J. (2007) My Story is my Living Educational Theory, in Clandinin, J. (2007) (Ed.) Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a Methodology. London; Sage.

 

Rogers (1996)

 

Whitehead, J. & McNiff, J. (2006) Action Research Living Theory. London; Sage.

 

Whitehead, J. (1989) Creating a living educational theory from questions of the kind, "How do I improve my practice?'. Published in the Cambridge Journal of Education, Vol. 19, No.1,1989, pp. 41-52

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendices

 

Appendix A   Original version of the form (before January 2008)

 

Appendix B   Revised version of the form (May 2008)

 

Appendix C   Final version of the form (July 2008)