Like many other schools, Beaufort have seen their NHS service diminish over time and their search for independent alternatives had been challenging! Those who are familiar with this client group well know that therapists with the necessary level of knowledge, skills and experience are ‘as rare as hens’ teeth’. When I first met Kara (Head at Beaufort) and Fiona (Executive Head) they were very clear about what they didn’t want:
They were also pretty clear about what they did want:
…. and then a period of time for them to get on with things before inviting therapists back to recap and decide where and what should be on the agenda next
This wish list met with all-round approval by the specialist therapists – they called it ‘enlightened’ and ‘by far the best way forward’.
From our point of view all that was left to do was to:
School promised ‘whole staff sign-up’ and this was certainly true. When Soundswell Director Diana made a preliminary visit to school, without exception staff were enthusiastic in voicing their support for the plans and were very much looking forward to the arrival of the therapists.
It was clear from these initial discussions that school staff saw understanding and developing communication skills as an integral part of their role. They weren’t looking to perpetuate the thinking which still exists in some establishments – that therapists would come in and ‘do’: that communication only happened once a week on a Thursday and usually in a room away from the class.
What they wanted was validation of what they were already doing, ideas to develop things further and support where they felt at a loss as to how to proceed.
To deliver the wish list took around 16 days in school and some time off-site writing up observations and researching the training options and resources school needed.
Next week both of Soundswell’s directors Diana and Jo will visit Beaufort to get more detailed feedback and to see how school are planning to progress the recommendations – a number of which are either underway (classroom and individual children’s plans) or already in the diary (in terms of training).
It is almost certain that school will want a follow-up block of time and we very much look forward to the opportunity to be able to deliver that.
There is much to learn from the Beaufort approach. NHS-funded therapy into special schools will never again reach the dizzy heights of years gone by – where most schools had at least a day a week and some had considerably more. It’s only when this luxury – taken for granted by both schools and services alike – is no longer there, that we begin to think creatively. Within the ever more stretched health economy, how can we meet the needs of some of the most disadvantaged and challenging children and young people?
Reduction in resources has resulted in the SLT role becoming more and more a consultative one – and this is right, provided the necessary support is available. The therapist is able to pass on a myriad of knowledge and skills to experienced staff in schools like Beaufort – who, in many instances, have been working with this client group for a number of years and know a very great deal already. At the end of our first block of time in Beaufort school staff gave glowing feedback and so did the therapy team. Let’s capitalise on this and look to develop and expand the Beaufort trail-blazer.