Person-centred Planning: post-Covid

When it comes to preparing young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) for independent adulthood and the world of work, person-centred planning is crucial. What is PCP? It’s at the heart of preparing all young people with SEND for adulthood, and has been around since the 1980’s, mentioned in various legislation. Post-Covid, PCP is even more important now as a strategy for getting young people back on track with their lives and aspirations.

The SEND Code of Practice (2015), building on the Children And Families Act (2014) requires schools to begin planning for adulthood well before a young person with SEND reaches Year 9: starting from high aspirations and expectations that can only be achieved by young people being supported to express their personal wishes clearly. In other words, young people must have a voice to determine their future.

When I was teaching, and helping schools to implement Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) for pupils, person-centred planning lay at the heart. Goals revolved around different timescales: termly (short-term)- leading to annually (medium term) – leading to longer term aspirations for when a young person leaves school: the idea being that, on a child’s Individual Education Plan – shorter term goals and targets would lead naturally into longer term ones, thus showing progression over time. I helped teachers to write targets that were: Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Actionable, Relevant/Realistic and Timed.

So how is SMART target-setting also person-centred? A specific target is written in a way that everyone, including the young person, fully understands. For writing, a non-smart target: I will write better sentences – made Smart: I will use capital letters and full stops correctly. For maths, a non-smart target: To improve multiplication – made smart: To know times tables up to eights instantly. We see the difference.

SMART targets can be measured. They are not woolly. As a scored goal – the ball has either been kicked into the net, or not. The outcome is clear, evident – and once achieved should lead onto the next smart target, with an achievable challenge.

Targets should also be achievable within the stated timescale. Success depends on having targets that are within the capabilities of the child or young person. While on the one hand we, as educators, need to be aspirational and aim as high as possible, we also want to avoid failure. What action is needed to enable that young person to achieve the set targets? What does the person himself have to do? What additional support is needed – in and out of the classroom? Where do parents fit into the action? Person-centred planning infers that the person is leading the action forward and is fully on board. Whatever the type or level of learning difficulties, the young person should feel confident and in charge of his/her learning journey.

Targets that are relevant and realistic are also important to the future of the young person. They matter because they are rungs on the ladder that will enable the person to achieve and become as independent as possible in the world of work and adulthood. Such targets are neither incidental nor trivial. They represent what the young person feels strongly about.

What about timed? Are targets to be achieved in a month, term or year? It depends on the target – and the type or level of learning difficulty. How long does it take for a child with Dyspraxia to learn to catch a ball thrown from three metres? How long for a person with Dyslexia to read the first 100 tricky words by sight? How long for a person with moderate learning difficulties to add numbers to a total of 1000? Timing depends on knowing accurately what a young person is fully capable of.

Back to PCP. If there has been a history of SMART targets throughout school, the following questions should be easily answered at planning meetings:
Who are you?
What is important to you?
What support do you need in order to achieve what is important to you?

The first question clarifies what makes that person tick as an individual. What has the young person achieved? What areas of skills and knowledge have surfaced as strengths? Much will depend on the type of SEND – mental, emotional or physical. What interests does the young person enjoy: maths, art, reading, writing, sport, music? The planning meeting is an opportunity for all involved to determine strengths and weaknesses – to tease out where each individual’s talents lie. Having gained a complete picture of the young person, the second question explores more deeply. What do that person’s strengths suggest for future work and a happy life? Weaknesses too need to be explored. What are they – and how important does the young person feel they are as barriers to achieving something in the future? Again, what support is needed to overcome areas of weakness – and can they be turned into strengths?

Person-centred planning is about what an individual desires to achieve. Yet, those of us who support – as professionals and parents – will always want the best, so will inevitably attempt to steer planning in the direction they may see as reasonable and achievable. The aim of education is to enable as many young people as possible to live independent adult lives. For some, independence will have been carefully nurtured throughout school – implanted as an ‘I CAN,’ in the brain. The aim of PCP for young people with SEND is to help them to: know their strengths and be proud of them – understand and accept limitations and know how to get around them – develop their unique talents – and arrive eventually at their chosen destination with a feeling of success.

During this pandemic, gaps between the achievements of young people with and without SEND have widened significantly – and alarmingly. Post-Covid, as we all surge forward towards a new normal, person-centred planning must help to close those equality gaps.

I am author of thirteen books for schools, plus five for parents. If your child has SEND, Book 1: Support Your Child with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: a guide for parents, offers all you need to know about the SEND system. Books 2 to 5: Support Your Child At The Early Years Foundation Stage, At Key Stage One, At Key Stage Two and At Key Stage Three – offer a comprehensive outline of WHAT should be taught and HOW. Available from Lulu or Amazon.

Sylvia Edwards

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