SEN: A focus on psychology

Written by: HTU | Published:

Frederick Bird School is a Nasen Outstanding Schools thanks to its SEN provision, which includes the extensive use of psychologists. In this profile of its work, we talk to staff and the psychologists to discuss how they meet the needs of all pupils

Frederick Bird Primary is a large, mainstream school in the West Midlands with a high proportion of pupils for whom English is an additional language. Rated as outstanding by Ofsted in 2011, the school is characterised by a fundamental commitment to inclusion and prides itself on promoting the welfare of all its pupils.

The school aims to celebrate the diversity of its pupils, working in partnership with parents, the local community and with educational experts to ensure that the needs of all its pupils are met. 

Support from external agencies plays an important role in this, as assistant headteacher for inclusion Natalie Franklin-Hackett explained: “As a school, we decided a couple of years ago to commission an outside agency to work alongside us, because the local authority could only offer us a limited amount of hours per term. We decided to get support from a clinical psychologist and an educational psychologist who could be here one day every week and become really embedded within the culture of the school.”

The psychologists were introduced to monitor and analyse student behaviour, and help staff to make sure that procedures are in place to allow teachers to provide the necessary support to pupils with SEN within the classroom setting so that every child is included.

This measure enabled Frederick Bird Primary to place its staff in a position of strength when it came to ensuring that teachers’ time in the classroom was utilised for the benefit of all pupils.

“We give staff reassurance and the chance to build relationships with all of the children, whatever their needs,” explained Dr George Harris, a clinical psychologist working with Frederick Bird. “If they’re having difficulties, they know that we’re always on hand to help.” 

Instigating positive change

Frederick Bird works hard to foster an attitude of positivity, encouraging good behaviour by a number of different methods. Little incentives like stickers and sunshine mood boards help children see a tangible reward for good behaviour, which helps to engender a culture of achievement. These boards are where children, depending on their behaviour, aim to stay on the sunshine board or can get moved to cloudy or stormy skies if they misbehave. The children can move up and down, depending on how their behaviour progresses.

Frederick Bird also offers a “SENCO Surgery”, where teachers can drop-in and get advice, which helps the SENCO to gauge which measures may need to be put in place to meet the needs of all of their pupils. 

Ms Franklin-Hackett continued: “From the sessions at the SENCO Surgery, the teachers can go back and try some of the strategies we’ve discussed, or perhaps they’ll say that they have tried all those things and ask for additional intervention, and it is at that point that I’ll seek support for those teachers from an outside agency. 

“This helps us to identify where we can meet the needs of pupils with our existing expertise and where we may need additional help and training.”

Lisa Sabotig, an educational psychologist, is part of the team that comes to the school and works with the SENCO and wider staff. She explained: “We ask questions about the challenges the teachers face, and how they have been addressed so far. But most importantly, if teachers want change to come about for a particular child, we discuss what that change will look like.” 

This approach to tackling issues in the classroom enables the SENCO to reflect critically on the issues that the staff have raised, and better help those staff to implement measures which will bring about positive results. “We help the people we work with to see things from a slightly different perspective,” explained Ms Sabotig. “It opens up what can sometimes be quite an entrenched situation and helps to shed new light on it, to bring about progress both for the teacher and the child.”

Empowering staff

This method of working with the psychologists is one in which concerns are identified, possible underlying causes are discussed, observations are made, strategies are suggested and implemented, and the impact of those strategies is then reviewed. 

By observing children who are having behavioural difficulties in the class, the psychologists can get a first-hand idea of where any issues arise, and can then relay these findings back to the teacher and the SENCO. 

“We find it helpful to work together in order to make sure that we are both seeing the same behaviours, and so that we can agree what the difficulties are,” explained Ms Sabotig. 

“We also deliberately choose to watch the pupils that teachers are concerned about during the lessons that we know will probably be difficult for them, as well as the transition between the classroom and playtime, which can also spark behaviour problems.”

After the psychologists have made their classroom observations, they meet with the teacher and the SENCO to feedback and see how the new information fits with that which had already been gathered: “What we’re hoping to do is empower the teacher to implement the strategies themselves,” explained Dr Harris. “We’re trying to not only build the self-confidence and belief of the teacher, but also maintain the confidence of the pupils in the classroom.”

This collaborative approach to strategy empowers staff at the school and enables them to intervene effectively when an issue arises. 

“For one child, for whom we noticed there was an attachment issue, we implemented interventions such as a visual timetable, to help him to see what all the next steps were going to be,” said Ms Franklin-Hackett. 

“A lot of the difficulties came because he was looking for attention from the teacher, so we gave him an object to look after during class. It’s simple but effective, because rather than constantly needing the teacher’s attention, he was getting that attention from the object.”

Interventions such as these enable pupils to remain within the classroom and feel supported, without disturbing the learning of their fellow pupils. 

At the end of the process, the staff have a review session with the psychologists, discussing what the successes have been and what may not have gone as well as they had hoped, as well as discussing any new behaviours which may have developed. It is at that point that they will then start to discuss the next level of support which a child might need. 

Professional development

Working with external agencies has been a significant help for the staff at Frederick Bird, allowing them to accurately meet the needs of all pupils. It has helped the teaching staff to more accurately identify underlying causes of behavioural issues and create effective strategies for addressing them, helping to bring about positive change within the classroom.

“Because of our regular contact, we have the opportunity to think at the beginning of the term about what we can do with the school”, Ms Sabotig continued. “The CPD element is very much focused on the needs at that particular time for the staff.”

An example of this is when the staff at Frederick Bird noted that some pupils had attachment issues. The team decided that it would be helpful for staff to have additional CPD training and sessions with the psychologists to help build a better understanding of what attachment issues were, and what they can mean for pupils affected by them.

This not only better equips the staff by boosting their knowledge and developing their thinking, but means that children who arrive at the school with similar issues are coming into an environment of people who are able to identify those difficulties and handle their individual needs as effectively as possible. 

Having the teachers involved in the process of support from beginning to end, combining external support with a comprehensive internal process and network of support between teachers, has meant that Frederick Bird has been able to provide outstanding support for children with SEN. The staff feel that they are able to come and talk about the children in the knowledge that something will be done to support them to give them best possible education, whatever their individual needs. 

Further information

Nasen is a professional association embracing all special and additional educational needs and disabilities. Its Outstanding Schools project seeks to identify, recognise and share the very best SEN practice. Visit www.nasen.org.uk. Frederick Bird works with psychologists from CPA Ltd.


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