As a behaviour and education support team (BEST) coordinator, Tony Nicholson has a wide and varied role. Here he gives an insight into his role and the work of the BEST team

The BEST way forward
Involvement in the Behaviour Improvement Programme (BIP), of which BEST is a part, has allowed us to provide a non-prescriptive, needs-led, wraparound service, embracing the local community and schools, to enhance the lives of young people and their families. This integrated practice seeks to provide better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable young people and their families.

My role in a nutshell
I am the BEST coordinator for Thomas Hepburn School and its nine feeder primaries. I took up the role in 2003 but prior to this worked in Thomas Hepburn on a social inclusion project. My role involves line managing the team and facilitating and coordinating the work of BEST to engage children, young people and families with early intervention and preventative services from the primary stage right through into secondary education. It is my job to ensure that holistic support is provided, when needed, to both the young person and their parents. I also work to ensure that the service that BEST provide is consistent and sustainable, and integrated into pastoral support systems in cluster schools.

A key aspect of my role involves fostering links with statutory and community services and identifying ways for agencies to come together, share information and work collaboratively to effectively meet the needs of pupils and their families. I cannot actually think of a local provider that we have not worked with and I strongly believe that the service has succeeded because of its focus on developing professional trust, and by liaising and building up good relationships between organisations. The youth and inclusion support panel, for instance, brings together colleagues from the youth offending team involved in preventative work with pupils at risk of engaging in crime and representatives from other agencies supporting this work. These meetings, which take place at Thomas Hepburn, draw on local knowledge and expertise of a range of partners. I also facilitate appointments and drop-ins involving pupils and partners agencies, for instance, the Crossroads drop-in for young carers. Moreover, I facilitate referrals to the BEST team and have been involved in the development and sustainability of the multi-agency forum.

A typical day

  • 8.20am – I arrive at work and greet the pupils already gathered at the base. This is a real positive start to the day.
  • 8.50am – I encourage any pupils who are congregating around the school gates to get to class for registration.
  • 9.00am – I check in with colleagues and consult the whiteboard to see what is scheduled for the day.
  • 9.15am – I check emails and phone messages and make some calls to organise holiday activities. I return calls from parents and arrange appointments when necessary.
  • 10.00am – I accompany a pupil to an appointment at NEETA, a local training provider.
  • 11.00am – Myself and a member of the team go on the yard. Pupils often gravitate towards us and this is a good opportunity to pick up any issues pupils may require support with.
  • 11.15am – I facilitate two appointments between pupils and staff from the Amber project, the preventative strand of the youth offending team.
  • 12.30pm – I grab a sandwich, provide lunch cover for staff in the day 1 provision (alternative to exclusion) and check in at the ‘chill and chat’ club.
  • 13.15pm – I meet with the attendance manager and the EWO. I report back on attendance of pupils at local training providers.
  • 14.00pm – The community police pop in as they frequently do and we catch up.
  • 14.30pm – We facilitate some group work with Year 8 pupils which is part of a joint initiative with an education psychologist, looking at resilience and confidence building.
  • 15.15pm – The bell rings and staff go out in force to say goodbye at the school gates. Some pupils drop in at the base after school for a chat or to do homework. We are here to provide any support that is needed.
  • 15.30pm – Meeting with Year 11 pupils, involving the deputy head and the family and young people’s worker, to look at training for setting up ‘Supportive Friends’ – a support, buddy and mentoring group for younger pupils.

The multi-agency forum
The Every Child Matters (ECM) framework is at the heart of everything we do as a collaborative team. At the multi-agency forum, a core group of contributors bring cases to the table: the voluntary sector, housing, police, health services, youth offending team/Amber and council services are among these. The topics discussed are usually about lower-level concerns. Organisations contribute to the picture about the child and family which enables the forum members to better understand the child’s needs and, if necessary, appoint a lead practitioner. These arrangements make it much easier to coordinate services and prevent overkill, where parents and children are unnecessarily bombarded with services. In many ways it allows the forum organisations to work almost like a single organisation.

The activities of the forum have led to real improvements to the referral process, allowing practitioners to discuss and identify the precise needs of the young person. In total the forum members have made fewer referrals but the ones made have been more successful. We have all observed a noticeable change in working culture, and we are now able to share information and coordinate support to meet the needs of children and young people at a much earlier stage.

The work of BEST in East Gateshead
The team currently consists of a youth and community worker, a transition learning mentor, a part-time teacher, an attendance manager, two admin workers and myself (we did have a health worker and social worker on secondment who have now returned to their substantive posts). We work proactively both in Thomas Hepburn and in the nine cluster primaries and are based in a Portakabin at the front of Thomas Hepburn. The logo on the front of the Portakabin reads ‘The BEST place in East Gateshead’ and we like to think that is true! Our services are certainly accessed by many pupils, including some from 8am.

Our work here, and in the primary schools, really is wide and varied. Raising school attendance is one element and BEST offers the support of an attendance manager and ‘first day absence’ telephone calls and letters, plus administrative support in primary schools to raise the profile of attendance and punctuality. In conjunction with education welfare, we have assisted with the organisation of numerous rewards and incentives for good attendance within the East Gateshead Cluster. BEST also provides a number of activities, which take place over a lunchtime, aimed at young people using their leisure time constructively. These include friendship groups, play and sporting activities. During the summer holidays, we work with the organisers of the Active Kidz, a recreational activities programme, sponsoring some places on the programme, and we also provided additional activities and outreach work with identified individuals. 

We are involved in various events in school (including family evenings, record of achievement events etc) and outside of school. For instance, we were involvement in a parliamentary visit to the region, during which members of the team, along with school staff, discussed transition work and multi-agency involvement (I subsequently received an invite to a reception at 10 Downing Street and was extremely proud to go on behalf of all staff involved in managing and delivering this work). We have also attended the regional anti-bullying conference and the LA’s social inclusion conference where we facilitated a workshop on multi-agency collaboration. The programme has also contributed, in the LA, to the common assessment framework, meeting with the requirements of Every Child Matters, Youth Matters and the Change for Children Agenda, and to the Children’s Services Plan and the Passport to Services (Child Index) pilot.

Our transition strategy

The transition summer school at Thomas Hepburn has become one of the most important elements of our transition strategy. In the early days, the provision was supported by the Children’s Fund and more recently, other funding streams have been used to extend the scope of the initiative and to embed it firmly within our primary school liaison programme.

At its heart is the need to ensure that transition from primary to secondary school is a positive, productive and enjoyable experience for every single pupil. When pupils are in particular need – because of academic, social or other difficulties, the value of such an initiative is even more obvious. It was this awareness about the needs of individual pupils – an awareness that arose from detailed discussions with primary headteachers and staff – that led to the establishment of the summer school.

The educational and social based activity programme, which runs during the first two weeks of the summer holidays, provides the opportunity for young people to meet with BEST, teachers, our pupil services manager, head of Year 7, learning mentors, chairman of governors and members of the wider Thomas Hepburn community. From the BEST perspective, we are able to promote our service and ensure that pupils know we are there for them, to offer support with a range of issues. We also facilitate activities and join pupils on visits to local galleries, museums and other places of interest. They get to know us and, as importantly, we get to work with pupils and identify the more vulnerable pupils that may require some additional support from the team during their transition.

Another aspect of the transition work involves facilitation of group work for Year 5 and 6 pupils. This work, for a morning a week over a four-week period, focuses on social and emotional aspects of learning and covers issues such as raising self-esteem, anger management, non-school attendance and supportive friendship groups. BEST also support transitional activities in others ways. For instance, we help facilitate the Year 7 intake day and the Year 7 Christmas party and we offer a ‘chill and chat’ lunch club for the more vulnerable pupils new to Thomas Hepburn. Through involvement in all of these activities, we always offer a listening ear and remain attentive to any issues that arise that suggest a young person requires some additional support.

When we evaluate initiatives here at Thomas Hepburn, we often ask ourselves ‘so what?’ In other words, does all of the planning and delivery provide a valuable service to these young people? The answer in this case is a resounding ‘yes’. Our follow-up work shows that pupils who attend the transition summer school fare very well throughout Year 7 – and beyond.