In our last issue, we considered some important principles of multi-agency working and how to establish good relationships amongst professionals from a range of different services and backgrounds. This issue, we consider how SENCOs, as key workers, can organise productive and worthwhile meetings with colleagues

Support for SENCOs
In practice, joint working can be difficult; getting together three or four busy professionals from different agencies can prove a huge task, especially where funding is separate and different agencies have different priorities. These are not reasons to avoid joint working, but they are reasons to make sure that proper arrangements are in place and that everyone involved in a meeting or review comes away feeling that it was worthwhile and that they made a useful contribution.

Making arrangements for this type of working can be very time consuming and if you are the SENCO in a large school, you will almost certainly need someone to help by providing efficient administrative support. This person may help the SENCO to set up a comprehensive, up-to-date database of individuals from outside agencies, with:

  • a description of their role
  • details of when they work; which days; which hours
  • an office base for working (may be more than one)
  • contact details – telephone (switchboard/reception, direct line, mobile, email)

There are some common-sense, but nonetheless important, aspects to remember when arranging multi-agency meetings:

1. Contact individuals with as much notice as possible, to arrange meetings or assessment/ therapy sessions for children. Confirm the arrangements in writing or by email rather than relying on telephone calls.

2. Book an appropriate room and inform individuals where it is, including staff on reception so that they can welcome participants and guide them correctly. As someone who regularly visits schools I can vouch for the less-than-hospitable ‘welcomes’ offered in some establishments – and a significant amount of time can be wasted by waiting for the ‘right person’ to be found.

3. For meetings, make the room as inviting and comfortable as possible: having a table to sit at is better for making notes and gives a more ‘business-like’ impression. Arrange for refreshments to be served and explain where cloakrooms are. If there is a shortage of space in school, consider asking a nearby school/college or Community/ Health Centre for the loan of a room.

4. Send out any relevant information prior to the meeting so that people can come prepared – including an agenda and any specific requests, i.e. ‘Stephanie, – please come prepared to give us an update on Ben’s progress and your opinion about his ability to start joining in with PE lessons.’

Chairing meetings

Being able to chair a meeting efficiently is a very useful skill, and one worth developing, as it will save you time, win the respect of colleagues, and ‘get the job done’. Try keeping the following in mind:

  • Prepare properly for the meeting – make sure you know what you hope to achieve. Try to avoid coming out of the meeting with a load of extra work – think beforehand about what can be shared between participants, and how much can be done during the meeting itself – for example, can an admin assistant take minutes (on a laptop?). Be sure to document what different people have agreed to do – and by when. This is particularly important when senior decision makers are involved and have to commit to funding a child’s provision. If that person moves on, is ill or on holiday, and there is nothing ‘official’ recorded, the whole business of getting things sorted out can become delayed.
  • During the meeting, make sure that everyone speaks and makes a contribution (check beforehand whether it’s appropriate for someone to send in a written report rather than have to attend the meeting). Guard against one person ‘hogging the floor’.
  • Support parents involved in the meeting, perhaps suggesting beforehand that they bring a friend or relative with them if they lack confidence. It can also be useful to provide a brief outline of the points they could cover e.g. ‘Do you feel that your son has made progress/is happier/is more settled? Are there any particular concerns? How do you think your son could be supported?’
  • Be assertive in keeping everyone ‘on task’ and keeping to time.
  • Avoid acronyms and jargon – make sure that there is a shared understanding of terms. Confusion about what exactly is meant is one of the biggest barriers to successful joint working. (Arranging for joint training can do a lot to alleviate this sort of problem.)
  • At the end of the meeting, recap main points and decisions taken. Agree a date and time for the next meeting if necessary.
  • Finish on time – this shows that you value people’s attendance and will improve your chances of getting them back next time.

See Rita Cheminais excellent little book ‘Developing and Evaluating Multi-Agency Partnerships’, a David Fulton book published by Routledge

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.