DYT Director Chris Rossiter reflects on his own experience to discuss how to become an effective SEND Governor…
I am a governor at a two-form entry infant school in a leafy suburb. My responsibilities include being the SEND governor, but I am also Vice-chair and chair of the teaching and learning committee. I’m due to take up the role of Chair in the next couple of weeks.
I’ve been a governor for three years now, but I’ve never quite understood what it is to be effective. Unlike some of my colleagues, I am not a parent. Despite government plans to remove parent governors in favour of ‘professionals’, my experience tells me that parents – who are in school a lot of time – always know the school best, hear the playground gossip first and genuinely know our teaching staff. I can’t claim any of those things. I don’t see myself as particularly effective.
That is until I met Amelia.
Amelia is in year 2. She’s intelligent, alert and hard working. Amelia also has ASD. Her needs are such that she is accompanied, at all times, by a TA as recommended in her EHCP.
At my school each governor is assigned to a class and on my annual visits and in class assemblies it was obvious that Amelia had requirements and that for the most part these were being met by her TA, Miss Lee. Miss Lee works with Amelia all day every day. The only time they are apart was during morning break, at which time Amelia is supervised by the teacher on duty. Miss Lee is a skilled TA, she’s had specialist training and she knows how to support Amelia’s learning.
BUT, Miss Lee found the intensity of their relationship exhausting. The situation was such that Miss Lee felt constantly tired, irritable and frustrated both by her responsibilities and the apparent lack of progress Amelia was making in becoming independent, and that’s before we get to Amelia. Amelia is used to having Miss Lee around, she is very much part of her routine. I’m not sure that Amelia sees Miss Lee has part of her team, but she is a constant. Amelia struggles with her social relationships, she doesn’t have friends. Miss Lee plays all of these roles. Amelia wants to join in with all the childhood antics, but she finds it overwhelming and falls back on Miss Lee. She very much has one foot in and another out.
It was only after a desperate phone call from Miss Lee where she told me of her concerns, her worries about the impact her work was having on her home-life, not being able to spend enough time with her own children because she was simply too tired after work, that I began to understand Amelia’s school life and how the experience of this one child reflected the whole school – including us as governors.
Miss Lee was ready to quit, but like so many who work in schools with SEND and disadvantage young people, had a keen sense of guilt. She knew she wasn’t coping well at home or in school.
Miss Lee essentially works alone. The school does not have capacity for a job share and we probably couldn’t afford one anyway. The recent resources committee meeting had confirmed the budget – no money, no flexibility. Our SENCO only does her role for one day per fortnight. In that time, she must monitor those children with an EHCP, make arrangements for assessments, contact the multiple agencies involved in the school, deal with endless reams of paperwork and do her best to liaise with families.
Leadership and management
Having spoken to Miss Lee, Mrs West (Amelia’s teacher), our SENCo, staffing governor, the chair of resources committee, I found myself in the head teacher’s office. Miss Lee was adamant that she didn’t want to make a fuss and certainly not complain. She understood the circumstances and despite the challenges found her role enormously rewarding.
Our head teacher listened intently. She complemented Miss Lee’s work. We agreed that everyone involved wants the best for Amelia, but we’re in a pickle. We can’t recruit another TA to job share or increase hours elsewhere. The words ‘special school’ were bounded around. But, no. Amelia’s parents wanted her at our school, in her community.
So, we made a plan.
Miss Lee would rotate with another TA during lunch times. This would give her an additional 30 minutes a day to complete paperwork, do preparation and collect her thoughts. A few weeks in to the new term she is feeling refreshed and for time being Miss Lee and Amelia seem happy with the change. There is still a long way to go until Christmas, I wonder.
What I’ve learnt from this experience is the need to collaborate, talk, think and problem solve with the widest team possible. As a work and organisational psychologist I could intuitively see how all of these factors were playing a role and spiralling away from and toward Amelia’s personal experience of school.
What I understand is that the role of the SEND governor is one which truly spans the whole school and there is no area which not affected by SEND – resources, staffing, teaching and learning, leadership, management, building and sites..
Despite the obvious differences we all wanted to find a solutions and it seems we have for the time being. However, pressures remain and we want to make sure that we consider everyone’s wellbeing. I met, talked and listen to people who I only would have seen occasionally in the staff room.
I felt part of the team, adding value, sharing the workload burden.