As part of our social work module, we are required to undertake a placement within the local community in order to develop an understanding of working together across different professions. This is a really great way of conceptualising the work we are doing within our lectures & group work. This morning our group attended our placement, working with in the pupil support zone with Yvonne and Elaine, who have backgrounds and extensive experience in CLD and social work. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and have summarised the key points from the visit below.
Baldragon Academy is situated in the Kirkton area of Dundee. As is stands, Kirkton is in the top 5% of deprived areas in the whole of the UK and so the need for additional support for pupils within the school is very extremely high. Yvonne and Elaine have worked as Pupil Support workers within the school for 12 years and 11 years respectively, and so were able to share a vast amount of information with us on the progression of the school and the importance of inter-agency working. At the core of everything they do is the individual pupil and their specific needs for successful development, and I personally found this incredibly inspiring.
Within the school, the support workers use a referral system which then allows them to timetable visits for pupils. They have managed to establish a great relationship with the school teachers through this and note that they will never be a ‘dumping ground’ for children with poor behaviour. It took around two years to establish this working relationship, prior to which there was an element of collaborative inertia; in that the teachers were not fully aware of the role of the support workers, and so did not want to utilise the service. Now, all staff within the schools as well as external agencies work together and play to their strengths to allow for the best support for the young people involved. Yvonne and Elaine focus specifically on filling gaps in the needs of the school and this seems to work extremely well for all involved.
In terms of working together, Yvonne was able to explain to us lots of the ways in which all of the agencies and professionals stay in focus with the common goal. She noted that as support workers, they work closely with the guidance team and are involved in school house meetings and depute rector meetings. Yvonne and Elaine can provide a link between parents and school staff, as sometimes parents feel more comfortable to talk to them as they can discuss issues more informally and they feel that their children know the support workers very well. Furthermore, each month they meet with external agencies such as the police, social work and CLD to look at any issues which may be arising that will affect the child. This could be something within the community or a situation where a child may be vulnerable – these issues are discussed in total confidentiality to allow Yvonne and Elaine to support the individuals.
The pupil support workers are very confident with their particular strengths, but are also aware that there are areas that they do not excel in. In this case, where they feel they cannot offer something ‘in house’ they look to external organisations such as ‘Kick it Kick off’ and Fairbridge to provide appropriate programmes/services for the young people. ‘Kick it Kick off’ has proved largely successful across many schools in Dundee and Angus and it is great to see that Baldragon Academy have such excellent links with this programme.
As an Education Student, I was particularly interested in the transition work carried out by Yvonne and Elaine. They go into catchment primary schools and work with Primary 6&7 pupils to facilitate a smooth transition into secondary school. During this time, they identify children who may need extra support for whatever reason and place them in ‘nurture groups’. These nurture groups usually only run for the first term of the child’s first year of secondary school, but often it can be seen that they will need further support and so the groups remain active for those who need it. Each day, the support workers meet with a different nurture group from across the school. The set up for the nurture groups is very informal, Yvonne and Elaine look at how they can help the individual and so it varies from group to group. The nurture groups receive breakfast, usually toast, and have the opportunity to chat, dance or take part in tasks with the support workers. The main aim is to help calm the pupils so they can settle in to the school day.
As well as nurture groups, Yvonne and Elaine offer one-to-one support for pupils who need it. This could be in the form of bereavement counselling, restorative practice, anger management or focussing on greater self-esteem. Addressing these areas can be vital in allowing pupils to progress and reach their full potential as a learner. It is often the case that pupils who have received one-to-one support go on to receive extra support in groups with external agencies. Today, we were able to speak with Helen Smith who was working with a group of young girls on promoting ‘confidence’. I thought this was amazing as often a lot of young girls lack confidence and it may stand in the way of their success.
As I previously mentioned, Kirkton is a very deprived area and so a lot of the parents and families within the community lack basic skills such as the ability to read and write or cook. This can be detrimental to the child as support from home is very important for their progression. As part of their role, Yvonne and Elaine have previously conducted ‘survival cooking’ workshops for parents – this allows them to learn to cook basic meals and promotes better nourishment for the children. They said that this can be achieved through simplifying recipes or providing instructions in picture form. In doing this, the support workers have created a way in which parents are able to help and interact with their children which is essential for their development, both on an academic and social level.
With a budget of only £500 per YEAR, you would think the pupil support workers are limited to the services they can provide for young people. However, I was impressed to discover that they do not let this low budget affect what they do. Each day at break, the pupil support room operates in a very inspiring way, around 200 pupils come along to the area and are given a mid-morning snack of toast and juice. This is open to all pupils across the school and helps to ensure that pupils are not facing the day hungry. Since introducing the service, there have been massive improvements in children’s behaviour. The expenses of this are met by fundraising and donations, and the bread is always bought for reduces prices from super markets late at night. This huge commitment made by the families and friends of the pupil support team, allows this service to continue to benefit the children coming along each day. I am so inspired by this that I will definitely be furthering my research in this area and considering how this could benefit other schools, both primary and secondary.
Overall, I found the visit to be very encouraging. I loved hearing Yvonne and Elaine’s stories and also seeing the children in the pupil support room environment, they were all very comfortable and I can really see how this service is of benefit to them. It was great to see the way in which the work of Yvonne and Elaine is respected through-out the school and discuss the positive changes they have already made for pupils of Baldragon Academy. They work seamlessly with school staff and external agencies with the child at the core of everything they do and in doing so provide a great model for working collaboratively. I am very inspired and will take all they have said into consideration to allow successful working collaborative through my studies and career.