08 January 2021
Kim Bent is the principal of Meath School in Surrey. Below, she explores new beginnings and new challenges
When I accepted my first Headship at a speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) school I was over the moon – I just could not wait to get started and work with the fabulous staff and children at Meath School. Although I was looking forward to the job, I was also very aware of the challenges it brought from both a leadership and SLCN perspective, but I had never anticipated quite how challenging my first year would be!
I literally accepted the job as the nation moved into the first lockdown and I saw the challenges of the role unfold as I worked closely with the outgoing acting Principal to plan and prepare the school for the September start. Instead of working collaboratively with SLT’s and teachers to deliver an intertwined curriculum that solely focused on developing and aiding communication through the curriculum, I was planning with the staff what COVID secure bubbles we could have in place, one way systems and how the children would arrive and depart from school safely!
If someone asked me “What are the biggest challenges for supporting SLCN needs in our school during COVID times?” I would say the following:
Zoom/videos – as we are unable to meet as a whole school, we have had to convert to video assemblies and whole school celebrations. Some of the children have found it difficult understanding the communication during the videos as you lose the facial expressions, and the signs can not always be seen clearly. I have certainly had to brush up my signing techniques to deliver my weekly assembly videos!!Communication between children – It is well known that opportunities to communicate with peers is an essential ingredient to developing a child’s communication skills. The restrictiveness of bubbles has some what hindered these opportunities as our children are limited to their class for communication opportunities. Previously the school would use unstructured school times such as break/play time to facilitate social communication and discussions across many different peer groups. The challenge now is to continue these opportunities with the same peers on a consistent basis. We very much look forward to one day being able to roam about school freely communicating with everyone! (maybe we should remove this sentence Neill?)
Mask wearing – As we have all experienced, hen wearing a mask, it is very difficult to understand what the other person is trying to communicate to you. As an adult, on a daily basis I find this really hard, so for a child with SLCN I can only imagine the size of this barrier in assisting them in communicating. At Meath we ae are lucky enough that currently the government do not advise Primary aged children to wear masks in and around school so our barrier has been slightly lifted, although we have taken extra precautions and made mask wearing compulsory during feeding or when working in close proximity with the children within the school day.
But in reality, when I read back what I have written it makes it look all doom and gloom, but I would not have changed my new beginning for the world. Despite its COVID challenges I have loved every minute of working at Meath school with the staff and the children and parents. It really is special what Meath has to offer for any child who has SLCN with such an integrated approach.
For anyone that would like to know more, Meath School uses sign supported English (SSE) which is an umbrella term that means ‘signs used to support spoken English’ (as opposed to BSL which is a language in its own right). It is essentially core Makaton based with a few adaptations to make sure we use high level signing for grammar too. If you want to find out about learning Makaton go to https://makaton.org/TMC/TMC/LearnMakaton.aspx
My biggest piece of advice for anyone working with children with SLCN needs at this time is to just keep going! Repetition, reassurance, and opportunities to practice is the key. We will overcome any challenges faced in our path – we just have to believe and focus on our end goals. 😊
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