... was thinking about what saved my SENCo bacon!
Results day is over and I've officially closed the last chapter of my teaching career titled "SENCo". I'm getting ready to draft the next page as an Assistant Headteacher in a PRU. I'm off on my holibobs on Saturday, and when I get back, it's a freight train to my new challenge as an educator. So it got me thinking, is there anything that I will be taking from my SENCo days with me onto my next career move ?
I was a SENCo for three years, and I have to say, they were potentially the toughest three years I have ever had in a school, and definitely the most challenging role I have ever had. I have always been a big believer in inclusion, and it is a personal belief of mine that all teachers should do at least one year as a TA before they are able to achieve QTS. The amount that I learnt from my own TA days going from class to class, subject to subject, ability to ability, whilst working with a child on the SEN register, was invaluable. I genuinely think that that year of experience taught me more than my PGCE ever did.
The SENCo life was very challenging for me though. I'm still not sure whether it was the nature of the role, the status of my school (it was put into special measures four months after my arrival, I'm pretty sure it wasn't solely because of me though!) or the size of my school (very, very small rural school) that made it so difficult, but what I did know very quickly, as I tried to adjust to my new school, new middle leader status, new staff, parents and pupils, whilst also having to complete a postgrad in SEN due to the new requirements because of the 2014 code of practice,
I. Was. Overwhelmed
You see I can say it now, because I've come through the other side, and I absolutely know my SEN onions (for now, we all know that the changes in Education is like the weather at a British beach). But I'm pretty sure I have a mild form of PTSD from some of the (mis)adventures of the last few years. I remember in my first week, the SEN monitoring officer visiting me, and throwing more acronyms at me than underwear at a Tom Jones concert (that is not as dated a reference as you would think, my TA's went to see him in Cardiff last year and apparently it was raining cotton!).
The word's "accountability" and "statuary requirement" and "legal documents" were thrown around. Her parting assignment for me was to locate the schools Provision Map, and we would start from there.
Provision map? What?
Yes as a fresh faced SENCo, not only did I not know what a provision map was, I also didn't have a first clue where to start. My horror only increased when I realised that there was not a usable provision map in my new school, and that there hadn't seem to have been one for a good few years.
I started researching free resources, and although all were okay, they were basically all over complicated excel documents that had been formatted several years previously and that would only take a rogue comma to send the VLOOKUP into a spin. With my background as an ICT teacher I am actually very Excel savvy, but I was beginning to detest the amount of time I was having to spend repetitively looking for information, or trying to adapt the model to make it run more efficiently for me. I was in ExHell
The biggest horror for me was when my monitoring officer informed me that my calculations were all wrong, because I had to ratio the calculations spent per pupil and divide the teacher's and TA's rate of pay by the pupils involved. This coupled with my increasing teaching timetable and a few incredibly challenging and time hungry pupils that would bang through my office door at a moments notice, not caring that I was halfway through a long calculation, as they needed me NOW, was resulting in a very chaotic spreadsheet, and my increasing resentment towards provision mapping.
I started to get very stressed, and to feel very inadequate, as I had two pupils who were desperately in need of EHCP support, but I just didn't have the evidence to back up that as a department we were going over their notional spends and were in dire need of additional support.
Then during one of my postgrad lectures, a primary colleague recommended Edukeys's Provision Map Writer . Yes, this was a genuine game changer readers. I'm going to tell you my top 5 reasons why every SENCo should at least trial this software, because once you go Pro Map, you don't go back!
- It saved me a buck load of time - There is nothing more precious to a SENCo than time. Honestly, on more than one occasion, I wished that I had Hermoine's time turner. The software has every intervention under the sun already pre-populated, with space to add your own. Once you have set everything up, it will even calculate how much time and money you have allocated to a pupil. I personally found the spends functions to be the most important thing, it automatically calculated the provision spends accurately per pupil. With information such as teacher hourly rate and how many pupils are in the session, there were no arguments from the SEN panel about whether this time and money was dedicated spends on that pupil; and in providing this information upfront, I found I could be completely transparent to all involved.
- It prints off plans so that all stakeholders can easily access information - There really is no point in putting together a provision map if you are doing it for the sake of ticking a box. When the O people visited my school recently, they were particularly impressed with how accessible the information was. Staff are able to see in a snapshot what is happening for a pupil, and what they may need to take into consideration when planning lessons for them. It means that a neat pupil passport (with the school's logo) can be produced for each child and provided to all the people involved. Especially parents! Parents who by the way can also communicate with me via the software, and I can keep a log of all of our meetings, also very useful for evidence information for the time spent working with a pupil.
- My technophobe TA staff could work with it - I think there are few things more stressful than introducing yet another new initiative or new piece of software to staff. The IT teacher in me knows that I can teach most software to pupils, but my staff weren't always that easy to get on board, It was totally different with this software, especially as it was their responsibility to maintain plans and keep them up to date. All of a sudden, there was a genuine bit of kit that at the heart of it, was the reduction of admin time! Winning all round. The interface is simple, the usability is spot on and the online training was with an actual member of the provision map team. There is also a nifty round robin attachment which meant that TA's could ask teachers for information regarding the pupils and it was easy for the staff to respond back.
- Data, data, data - From an SLT point of view, I'm just going to say, all of a sudden the justification for spends became a lot more succinct and accountable. I even used it for EAL, year 7 catch up funding and specific Pupil Premium projects. Honestly, it was mega the visuals that I could take from it for presentations to governors, making it very simple for my link governor to know what was going on, and take away tangible evidence of our time together. It also was the most excellent way of getting a very quick snapshot of a lot of information whenever it was needed.
- Its just so darn pretty - I struggled with this point, but its just how I feel. It is so nice to look at when I sit and do a big mapping session. It produces visuals, passports, graphs and it uses the schools' logos to individualise it, imports pictures and other pupil data from SIMs (yes I've touched on this point but seriously, time saver.) And when I come to print my pupils information off for their packages, it looks like an immense amount of time has been put into the presentation (It hasn't! Time.Saver!!)
Ok one bonus point that I think needs a paragraph on its own. It helped me at panel immensley when demonstrating that the school were going above and beyond, and spending passed the notional budget on a pupil, meaning that I was able to secure additional funding for numerous pupils.... Im just going to let that sink in for a second....
If you are a new or current SENCo, or you are finding that you're teaching commitments are increasing because your time timetable says you are "free" so you have been taken for cover (again) or just that you want to be more efficient on the collation of information for you SEN pupils cohort, go have a squiz at this software. You won't regret it!