Achieving Pupil Voice

Pupil voice is surely at the heart and soul of inclusion – or should be. The Headteacher of Camberwell Specialist Support School in Moston, Manchester is justly ‘proud’ of the school’s OFSTED report of Outstanding. The school’s acronym PROUD’ stands for – Passionate, Respectful, Organised, Understanding and Dedicated. This particular school has found its own appropriate and effective ways to exercise pupil voice for its population of children with the most severe learning difficulties and disabilities. But what exactly is pupil voice? Could all schools achieve it? How? I have answered this question with an extract from my first book in the parents series : Parents Help Your Child Succeed : now in hard copy ‘Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (from Lulu, Amazon)’

Extract from Chapter 9: Pupil voice and Independence
As part of independent learning, children with SEND need to understand themselves and their individual learning problems. This must be the starting point. Some children with the most severe difficulties may never achieve independence in the way we often perceive it but many children and young people with SEND can, especially when independence is a focus of learning in school, and is reinforced at home.
Questions for learners who are mature enough to strive for independence:
• What do I mainly struggle with?
• How do I learn best?
• How do I help my teacher and supporting adult to teach me in ways I understand?
• How can I best learn from my lessons?
When learners leave school or college they are on their own – in charge of their future lives. Those with SEND, though supported, will still have to make decisions that affect their lives. So from the start, and throughout school, it is important never to lose sight of where a child is heading – the long term aspirations.
Problems are always going to arise – but when schools, parents and learners regard these problems as challenges to be overcome, workable solutions more often appear, as if by magic. Consider these situations with regard to your child or young person? What areas of independence does your child need to develop?
1. Alan, Year 10, with Asperger’s Syndrome (EHCP)
– Alan came home from school upset because he had struggled in his History lesson. It turned out that the teacher had asked him to role-play a historical scene. Alan explained that he does not like working in groups and hates role-play. His parents were also upset because the school had suggested that Alan should drop history altogether.
– For Alan, there are two issues – group working and role-play as a way of learning. The skills of working with others in groups are needed by all of us, at school and for future life, including Alan, however much he dislikes it. The solution is not to avoid it, but to feature this set of skills as a target on his Personal Plan and teach Alan how to work as part of a group.
– Role-play is more difficult. Alan does not have the empathy to be able to place himself into the role of a historical character. Such methods cause him stress. But he does not have to, as this is not needed as a life skill. The solution could be for him to opt out of role-play and make notes as he observes the groups. In this way Alan is still learning History but not in a way that causes him undue stress.
– As an independent learner, Alan could have done two things:
o Politely informed the History teacher of what causes him stress, and then suggested an alternative way of working in the lesson
o Accepted that there are some things he needs to learn to do and let the school help him towards it, ie. work with different groups as necessary.
The school could have responded better to that particular challenge, and applied flexible strategies rather than ask Alan to drop the subject. There are ways in which Alan could have succeeded in history. Instead of that, he was made to fail.
2. Claire, Year 4, with difficulties in speech and language (EHCP)
– Claire, Year 4, with difficulties in speaking and listening (EHCP) Claire has made great progress since Year 1. The main difficulty is vocabulary and from Year 4, most areas of learning are wrapped around increasingly complex vocabulary. To support her independent learning, Claire is trying to:
o Note down new words from some of her lessons
o Make sure she understands them and ask an adult if not
o Talk about the new words in the context of the topic – with her parents.
These targets for independence are now a key part of Claire’s PP.
3. Nathan, Year 2, mild learning difficulties, but with the potential to keep on track.
Nathan struggles to write sentences. He has good ideas, but tends to lose control of his sentence structure as he attempts to get his ideas down on paper. Nathan’s independent approach to sentence writing features a personal checklist – his own editing tool. Nathan checks his writing for such things as:
– Missed capital letters and full stops
– Words missed out
– Verbs that don’t match with the right tense (for example, ‘ed’ endings missed off).
Both the teacher and the class TA agree not to look at Nathan’s writing until he has firstly gone through his checklist himself.

I could have included many more examples of independent strategies, but hopefully these are enough to stimulate thoughts about what your own child could do to support his growing independence. Pupil voice and independence belong together and we need to teach children how to exercise both.

Of course the fairy tale ending to independence is that all children learn better. As a result, all teachers can teach better. The school achieves better results ….and schools become such delightful places that both adults and children skip for joy as they arrive at the school gate! Imagine!

Practise independence at home
The journey towards independent learning starts at home, for example:
• Encourage your child to make choices from an early age – what to wear for the weather, from a selection of activities which to do first and so on
• Encourage self-responsibility from the start – putting toys away, keeping the bedroom tidy, putting sweet wrappers in the bin, keeping track of own belongings, spending money
• When it seems right, let your child plan his own events with your oversight, for example, birthday parties – he could make a list of tasks, send out invitations, help with food choices and so on
• From the nursery stage encourage your child to talk about learning
• Make sure your child takes responsibility for homework (with your oversight) and tells you if it is too difficult (or too easy)
• Once in KS2, your child should be starting to understand himself and guide his own learning forward (with adult support)
• Your child should know and understand the targets on a Personal Plan and how to work towards them
• All children should gradually come to know how they learn best and use that knowledge to advantage – for example, helping teachers to teach in ways that benefit specific learning needs, or using tools to support a learning difficulty without always being told
• If your child has a SEN or disability, he needs to learn to manage it by himself as much as possible (with adult support)
• Encourage your child to be organised – getting his own things ready for school and for other activities
• NEVER regularly do anything for your child once you know he can do it alone, for example, getting dressed.

Independence starts small and grows with maturity so that by the time he leaves school, your young person has acquired that trio of confidence, self-discipline and inner strength. Remember – you as an adult cannot always be there to fetch, carry and lead the way. So help your child to know what learning is and how to be an independent learner – for his own sake.

Encourage pupil voice.

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