The Hiatus Update

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After an almost two year hiatus TIM is back, and you might be wondering why I took a break and (of course) why I have chosen to pick up again. So this post is designed to feed your curiosity.

So here are my three thoughtful reasons for taking a break from TIM:

Capacity & Change
Depending on national and local decisions about SEN/D or funding, sometimes additional space is needed to think through the implications and logistical issues.

Since the funding changes of 2013 that proceeded the SENDA 2014, Higher level SEN has had an impact on school budgets and depending on a school’s size, resources, offer and ethical perspective, this has meant rethinking the organisation and delivery of inclusion, including staffing.

For my setting that led to a reorganisation in 2015-16 and a restructure in last half 2016-17. The former was a mainly positive experience which gave staff an opportunity to reflect on their skills and future interests and allowed the school to invest in leader specialisms in key areas.

The latter was forced by the recent Fair Funding Formula (a political oxymoron) and the government’s much favoured research by the Sutton Trust that has been used extensively to influenced thinking in the sector about the role and effectiveness of support staff in classrooms.

Restructures are just plain awful. Period. It’s an anxiety ridden process that triggers deep seated emotions and feelings amongst staff. I really hoped that we would get a change of government policy in time, but it wasn’t to be and it was traumatic to lose people who had contributed to our success, but there wasn’t an alternative way forward.

As a TIM who has trained and lead the majority of the support staff – over a number of years, these two processes dominated SLT time, thinking and energy  so TIM just had to take a backseat.

Wellbeing & Authenticity
I started writing TIM because of my first hand experience of the impact of the stresses of TIM’s role. I was quite simply struck by the simple question: How are other Inclusion Managers and SENCOs dealing with the demands of this mammoth role?
However over the last two years that discussion has had to continue at an even more personal level as my own health was challenged by emotional overload and physical illness. At the time, it was tough to talk about experiences or share reflections with others when I was still weathering the storm myself.

For me, ‘praxis makes perfect’ and TIM is about all sharing the ‘praxis’ – words and action, that have helped me and I believe can help staff to meet the demands of Inclusion more effectively. However, if I haven’t got that right for myself – I can’t speak with authenticity, so silence is always a useful option.

Celebrating successes & a new season
So 2016-7 marked our fifth year since our last Ofsted and in amongst all of the above, we were confident that as a school, we had capitalised on our strengths; addressed our development points and were ready to upgrade our category.
Our inspectors eventually arrived in May 2017 and over three days with 5 different inspectors, lead by one of OFSTEDs senior inspector, we got the result we wanted.
For our team it was an emotional time: Over the last seven years we have certainly seen our school community go through some extremely difficult times, and we went through that with them. That struggle has been present in our community for more than a few decades – so it was a sweet reward to be recognised for what we are offering and to be able to celebrate with our families and our supporters. We celebrated in exuberant style.

So – no more inspections for us, under the current schedule, but we still have plans to take over the world or maybe just the DfE, so watch this space!

In amongst all of this, I managed to complete my SENCO Award qualification and rediscovered my love of academic study and learning so now that things are more settled; the systems are well embedded and our teams are confident, I will be carving out some time for engaging with some non – education based study – just for the love of it.

So what does it take to lead on Inclusion?: Reality checks in on TIM’s daily bread.

The Inclusion Manager (aka TIM) is a special breed of school leader.

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They can be highly passionate people who are working closely with very vulnerable children and families in complex situations. For a range of reasons, these families may be unable or adversely affected in their ability to engage with the rigorous advocacy of their own child’s needs. And so into the ring steps TIM.

Alternatively, TIM might be required to consider and articulately  challenge nonsensical interpretations of statute law, or opportunist ‘entitlement complexes’ that seek to capitalise and make a mockery of the intended purpose of equalities and inclusion principles.

The ability to switch from diplomat to counsellor; from political advocate to trainer; from school improvement consultant to HR manager has to be part of the core skill set of the job, without forgetting the range of children whose personal stories; emotional learning journeys and staffing management have to be contained and constantly ‘held in the mind’. TIMs diary is ever busy and bustling with things to consider, plan, respond to or ‘crack on’ with.

To be effective, the role has to be strategically empowered and accountable – and in contexts that describe themselves as ‘challenging’, TIMs really should  be senior leadership team appointments.

Long gone are the days of the insular ‘niche’ EMA coordinator or the shy and softly spoken SENCO.

TIMs of this modern era are part warrior, part life coach and essentially advocates who have to be able to:
– Set the principles, boundaries and methods of a team.
– Step up to the plate to hold SLT and teachers accountable.
– Negotiate and sometimes battle with the LA officials and an entourage of other professionals.
– Support the fears, grief and occasionally desperate behaviour of exhausted, isolated and vulnerable parents.

It’s definitely not a role for the faint hearted. Striking a consistent balance between these diverse identities can be tiring and TIMs should be encouraged (or directed) to engage with quality external supervision. (FYI School Business Manager… A ‘quick chat’ with Head really won’t cut through the chaos.)

The role constantly demands resilient emotional intelligence, critical thinking, communication and social skills that enable TIM to facilitate inclusion by overtly informing, influencing and instigating staff, parents and children – yet covertly and deliberately allowing space, time and dignity for intrinsic motivation, personal learning and reflection.

TIMs day might start with counselling parents through the slow death of deeply held dreams to acceptance and new optimism and aspiration for their children. It might end with supporting staff through the experiences of challenging behaviour, allegations or extended seasons of regression.

Whilst it can be exhilarating to note that ‘no two days are ever the same’… over extended periods the impact of such a diverse range of tactical roles and emotional ‘gear changing’ can and does take its toll.

It is an emotionally expensive role and TIMs should check to ensure that they have the personal and professional support required – before they ‘open for business’.

At times, when the situations are extremely emotionally draining or even toxic, TIMs need to be especially mindful of the impact on both themselves and their teams.
Sometimes this means having  to make the difficult decision to change or withdraw the support to protect against abuse, or give everyone involved some respite but even within these moments there has to be the genuine desire for better more positive relationship. The olive branch must always be there to be grasped.

For some TIMs, the strong and seemingly ‘natural’ desire to robustly ‘step in’, support, intervene and ‘put right’ has to be actively counter-balanced with effective personal – professional boundaries and an awareness that seeks to empower children, parents and staff to step up to the plate.
This ensures the support is person-centred yet critically biased towards the best interests of the child.

Patience is also a key ingredient because families must be able to own the decisions made, and this can take a very long time. It can be a frustrating and time consuming business – but priceless in its reward.
In situations where the child is not at risk, TIMs main role is to retain the synopsis of ‘the journey so far’, reflecting back to the family and other professionals the key discussions and thinking on the way towards a particular decision.

With the right vision, planning, systems and support it is an exhilarating, challenging and even rewarding role.
Without these, think carefully about accepting the post.
If you are particularly passionate, brave or confident… remember to punch and pirouette carefully.