Tags: SEN – Special Educational Needs | SENCO | SENCOs

Ian Summers, husband of a SENCO employee in Norfolk, describes how he developed a SEN diary to help his wife save time at work, thus enabling her to focus her attention on meeting the needs of pupils.

Autumn 2001

When my wife began her role as SENCO at an infant school a few years ago, she quickly realised that not only did she need to manage those who were on the special needs register, but also the many others about whom she and her colleagues were concerned. As every SENCO knows (even in a relatively small school), there is quite enough to do concerning those on the register without adding any further work to what is already an impossible task. Undaunted, she devised a Microsoft Word document to be used to gather information about what she calls her ‘Amber Children’ – those not yet on register, but of concern. This quickly proved a difficult and awkward task – she had as many Amber Children as there were children on the SEN register.

Spring 2002
One day, frustrated and stressed, she said to me, ‘When you get a moment, do you think that you could make me a database to track all the SEN children and the Ambers?’ Well, at the time I was very busy with an important project, but was most intrigued – so I took a look at what was required and started. In fact, ideas conceived for each of the two projects (the important one for which I was being paid and her database) fed off each other – so both gained.

The SEN capability of the existing school database system was inflexible, with its main failing that, in reality, only the school secretary was able to use it and would, when she had a few spare moments, ask my wife to tell her what she wanted to enter into it. Annoyingly, every entry was stamped with the date when it was made, so no chronological sequence of events was possible without attending to it every day. Further, the only way to indicate that a pupil had left the school was to delete him/her – so no historical data was ever possible.

Of course, the source of the data for the school secretary was a large filing cabinet with a folder for each child – all my wife had to do when summoned by the school secretary was to root through the paper files and find all the most recent information. Needless to say, these moments were when other, child-centred tasks were taking place, ie they were thoroughly inconvenient and took far too long – the answer: a database that did all the hard work for her.

Easter 2002
The specification for the new database that met her initial requirements was thought through and, by Easter 2002, I’d knocked together a draft system and she started to enter the details of the children in her care.

Now, what could be done with the data? If constructed carefully, it’s amazing what you can do with the data in a database. Needless to say, her database fitted her requirements exactly and proved its worth very quickly. Once the basic details about each child had been entered, it was easy to add information to what was, in effect, a diary. Once we had begun to explore useful ways of extracting data, the initial time spent entering the basic information was repaid many times over.

Summer 2003
In the intervening year, lots of new ideas and refinements took place as the amount of data grew.

Many other products have what might be called a ‘free-text’ diary, ie not structured in any way and, therefore, relatively useless as far as extracting useful reports. The secret to the success of her database is that each diary entry relates to a specific type of event (eg IEP, telephone conversation, school support team meeting). It is, therefore, easy for the database to pick up every occurrence of, say, when the next IEP is due, and report back with a ‘to do’ list. The diary has many columns, each with a specific function, just like the diary entry type mentioned above – the next most important column is the ‘done’ column. With this it is possible to indicate that an event has not yet taken place (unticked) and, when it has taken place, the ‘done’ column is ticked, and thus removed from the ‘to do’ list. What could be simpler?

January 2004
We both thought that there must be many other SENCOs out there tearing their hair out with the administrative side of the job. With this in mind, I began to turn a one-off application into a downloadable application that anyone could use. That shouldn’t be difficult, you may say, but it was an eye-opener to me how much needs to be done. Until I began to make it useable by anyone else, any problem was solved by me popping into my wife’s study and sorting it out there and then – any change was relatively easy to make (well, some took a lot longer than others). A published system needs to work without any requests for help! I went through everything and tested every feature until they all worked perfectly. I then made sure that they all worked together. I succeeded and set about building a website to describe what it does and how it benefits SENCOs.

I had some help from another SENCO in a secondary school who tested it with her own data. She came up with some good ideas which made it more useful for secondary schools – these were incorporated before the product was published.

April 2004
Published at last as SEN Diary – a modicum of advertising and, later in the year, exposure at a local special needs exhibition, and the product was launched.

November 2004
I have always asked for feedback and I have had quite a lot – almost entirely positive. I’m very pleased about the amount of support that the product has required – very little. However, in order to make the resource as intuitive as possible I undertook further revisions during 2004.

August 2005
Ten months later, version two was complete and ready to be published. It has been warmly received by those who have taken the simple step of downloading it and installing it on top of the existing installation. In fact, like the rest of SEN Diary, installing and upgrading is simple – I’ve done all the hard work. But then, that’s how it should be.

Purpose of SEN Diary and brief overview The purpose of SEN Diary is to enable SENCOs to manage effectively and efficiently the needs of children with special educational needs. It:

  • is designed specifically to meet the requirements of The SEN Code of Practice
  • stores pupil data and SEN history
  • produces statistical reports on SEN for SENCO and headteacher monitoring; also, a PLASC checklist – all at the touch of a button
  • stores contact information
  • can be password protected for confidentiality.

It’s as simple as keeping a diary – the main objectives are achieved by making diary entries in the specially designed database (the lower half of the screen, shot shown above). Each diary entry has the following:

  • Action – chosen from a customisable list such as: ‘add to register’, ‘assessment’, ‘behaviour’, ‘next IEP’.
  • A tick to say whether the action is done.
  • When it was or is planned to be done.
  • Who’s involved.
  • What was or will be discussed.
  • Some actions have scores associated with them – these can then be set up to appear in check lists.
  • A diary entry can be flagged with an ‘H’ to indicate that it is important in any way you choose.
  • A tick to say if the information is confidential.

With reference to the screen shot above: 1. Filters enable you to concentrate your data entry and reports on a sub-set of pupils

  • The filters enable you answer questions about the pupils who, for example, are in Year 8 and have SEN type ‘Behaviour Emotional and Social Development Needs’ (BESD).
  • Order the pupils by any column (and finally by name) – means that you can provide check lists in the order most useful to the way your school works.

2. Pupil summary – highlight the pupil whose diary you want to edit/publish

  • You see the same pupils in the pupil summary as will be published as check lists and other useful reports.

3. Panel selector

  • Individual diary – the diary for the pupil highlighted in the pupil summary.
  • Extra columns – you can set up 18 of your own extra columns to store the information that is pertinent to your school – they can be seen and most edited here.
  • Contacts – can be used for mail merge or simply for letters to parents/guardians.
  • Quick new entry – make diary entries for many pupils without having to find each in turn – you can also copy diary entries to all the pupils in the pupil summary.
  • View – set up one or many predefined views on your data – useful when the SENCO role is shared.
  • Publish – flexible ways to publish your data from diary entries (includes ‘to do’ list, and new pupil summaries and agendas).
  • Utilities – delete pupils; Year change; health check and auto set-up.
  • Help – access to user manual and crib sheets.

4. The currently-selected panel – the individual diary panel is shown here, which is used to record:

  • incidents that have taken place
  • actions that need to be done
  • meetings that have/will take place
  • ‘to do’ items integrated – simply don’t check the ‘done’ box.

If you tick the ‘conf’ column, you won’t accidentally reveal sensitive information.
There are two new columns for recording a score and putting an ‘H’ against the diary item to indicate that it is important in some way.

Further information and 30-day free trial of SEN Diary: visit www.sendiary.co.uk or contact tina.mcgowan@optimuseducation.co.uk (tel: 020 7954 3433).

Time savers The whole rationale behind SEN Diary is to save SENCOs time and allow them to attend to what really matters – the pupils in their care. This is achieved by:

  • a proactive ‘to do’ list
  • just ticking to indicate when an event has actually taken place
  • simply produced agendas for meetings
  • diary entries that can be flagged as important
  • publishing complete diaries of one or many pupils at the touch of a button
  • producing bar charts showing the differentiation required by colleagues
  • summarising the numbers of pupils at the various stages on the SEN register
  • producing the annual statistics required by government (PLASC) (takes a couple of seconds)
  • exporting details for MS Word mail merge
  • copying the same diary entry to many pupils
  • producing check lists for a specific sub-section of pupils to answer awkward questions from headteacher/colleagues/ local authority/Ofsted.

Michael: a case study Michael, a very vulnerable child who was having a troubled time at home, has shown little progress ever since his Reception Year. Now he is in Year 2, the school feels that it is no longer able to provide for his special needs through normal school resources. He was recorded in SEN Diary during his first term at the Amber Stage (when there was concern, but he had not yet been added to the SEN register). Detailed notes of all discussions, incidents and liaisons with outside agencies have been recorded, and reminders to review IEP and detail the concerns to be discussed with others were noted in SEN Diary – a very simple process no different from keeping a diary.

When the case was being made for statutory assessment all my wife had to do for supporting evidence was print out the diary. This exemplifies the purpose of SEN Diary – to reduce the stress on SENCOs.

Further information and 30-day free trial of SEN Diary: visit www.sendiary.co.uk or contact tina.mcgowan@optimuseducation.co.uk (tel: 020 7954 3433).

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Feb 2006

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