Outdoor and out-of-school activities are summer term features that should be equally as accessible to, and enjoyable for, children with SEN. This article explores how SENCOs can ensure this is the case
The summer term is traditionally the time for adventure camps, field trips and visits to places of interest − enriching the curriculum for all children and often providing them with memorable experiences. How can we ensure that these activities are as enjoyable and positive as possible for pupils with SEN?
Staff should make every effort to ensure that out-of-school experiences are accessible to every child who wants to participate, irrespective of special educational or medical needs, or disability. There are effective 'risk assessment' processes now in operation in all schools and LAs, and these will undoubtedly make reference to pupils with SEN/disability. SENCOs may find, however, that colleagues look for advice and support when considering out-of-school activities, and there are a number of ways to help them. The checklist below may help to guide teachers in planning and managing off-site experiences.
1. Consider the reasons for the activity/visit; will pupils with SEN achieve the same objectives, or will these need refining?
Over time, you will gather information about successful trips and venues in terms of their relevance to and suitability for pupils with SEN/disability − be ready to share this with less-experienced colleagues. If an activity centre focuses on climbing and canoeing, for example, what are the options for a child with cerebral palsy who hasn't got the upper body strength and coordination to participate in these activities? Liaise with other schools (including special schools) to find out where they go and what works for their children. Build up a directory of 'SEN/disability-friendly' venues.
2. Find out about any particular needs the children may have and how to make 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure that they can participate.
As SENCO, you may have additional information about a child, which you can share with staff. Involve the parents/carers; they know the sort of issues likely to arise at off-site venues and can suggest how to deal with them. For example, a child's behaviour may be effectively managed within the school, but leaving that setting may mean that those behavioural issues become more of a safety issue, eg some children may have aversions to particular sounds or animals and their intense fear may cause them to behave violently. Most parents are very keen for their pupils to be part of these experiences and will cooperate in any way necessary − including accompanying them on a trip if this is appropriate. Be sure to contact them in good time for best results − a face-to-face chat can also be much more effective than a standard letter.
3. Find out about the venue. The teacher in charge should do a site visit if at all possible − or at least speak to someone who has been. Many places now provide a completed risk assessment checklist, demonstrating how they have considered various issues such as suitable toilet facilities and ramps. Less common is an awareness that children with special needs may have a limited attention span or difficulty with understanding complex language, for example.
If the venue is within reach, make a visit and consider its suitability under your expert scrutiny. You may be able to make suggestions to staff on the site, and/or alert the teacher organising the trip, of possible issues. If there is any sort of 'conducted tour', try it out for length, ease of understanding and interactive elements. Individual risk assessments may be required to ensure that the specific needs of pupils can be addressed.
4. Brief the children. Make sure that they know where and when they are going and what will happen when they get there; make your expectations of behaviour clear. Draw up a timetable and talk them through it.
This preparation will be especially important for ASD pupils: you may be able to show them photographs of the venue and provide more detailed information about what will happen during the visit, such as who will be keeping an eye on them, for example. If necessary, make sure they have appropriate communication cards with them for the day.
5. Brief the staff and helpers. Careful planning will pay dividends: make sure that every member of staff and every parent/grandparent helper understands their specific role on the day. In some situations, making an adult responsible for the safety and wellbeing of named pupils works well. Hold a briefing meeting rather than relying on running through information during the journey there. Prepare a short briefing sheet for all concerned.
As SENCO, you may be able to advise on the different strengths of support staff and suggest appropriate roles for them. It's important that they are experienced in, and familiar with, the particular needs and behaviour patterns of the pupils who will be taken on the visit.
It's important to remember that a higher than usual staff-pupil ratio may be needed when there are pupils with SEN/disability in the group. Factors likely to impact upon the decision about staffing/helper levels include:
- the need to administer medication
- the possibility of having to deal with a medical emergency
- the likelihood of a pupil getting lost or running away − most venues will be less secure than the average school
- how being in a different setting will affect behaviour − for example, some pupils have unpredictable fears and phobias; those on the autistic spectrum may need the reassurance of one-to-one support
- the need for an adult of the same sex to accompany a child to the toilet
- the risk of challenging behaviour and the need for appropriate response
- the requirements for manual handling and personal care of pupils.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2008
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.