One of the biggest challenges we face in Special Education is ensuring that the progress we enable our pupils to make is transferable beyond the school, that they are enabled to have rich and fulfilling lives within which they are active members of the communities in which they live. One area in particular which causes significant challenges is that of independent travel, letting children make their own way without the direct supervision of staff. The risks are significant, but so are the rewards and it is our job to work in partnership with the students and their families to make this a reality for as many of the children we teach as possible. But how do we judge who is in a position to make that step towards a greater degree of independence and how do we put in place the right level of support to ensure we find that difficult balance between enough freedom, but enough security. Below is a simple chart which we use to help us make that judgement and arrive at the right level of guidance for the individual child and the individual journey.
By using this method to evaluate the level of guidance, the complexity of the journey and how the pupil’s progress and safety will be monitored, we are able to take a developmentally progressive approach to increasing the degree of independence that our pupils have without placing them at risk. If you follow the link below, you can see a short film which demonstrates the success of this approach as one of our students talks through their experiences whilst demonstrating excellent independent travel skills.
Independent Travel Film
I have recently returned from a short residential trip with one of our classes, having been asked to help out due to the complicated nature of a couple of the pupils, one involving challenging behaviour and the other medical needs. We have a policy that unless the family doesn’t want their child to go, then every child gets the opportunity no matter what their level of need is. In order to make this a safe experience for all, the trips are very carefully risk assessed and where necessary a member of SLT accompanies the group to provide the class teacher with support.
On this trip I had one very specific role and that as to make sure that during a trip to a water park I was no more than arms length from one pupil who is prone to quite severe epilepsy and is particularly sensitive to changes in temperature. The emergency plan to ensure that he got access to this opportunity included an additional member of staff poolside carrying the emergency medication, towels, dressing gown, a full change of clothes for me as well as my wallet and phone, notification of the on site life guards and the wearing of a fairly discrete yellow wristband, (their requirement not ours). This would mean that in the event of a seizure occurring in the pool I would be able to summon assistance whilst a colleague prepared a safe, soft flooring space and got the emergency medication ready in case it was needed. I’d then have clothing and money / phone in order to go straight to the hospital without having to go and get properly changed in the event that emergency medication had to be administered. The child’s parents were staying somewhere close by in case they were needed to meet us at the hospital.
The reason we do this is that in Special Schools, as with Mainstream, our responsibilities extend beyond education, in the sense of enabling children to acquire new skills and knowledge, to include the sharing of experiences. For a small number of our pupils, if we don’t ensure that they get these opportunities then it is quite likely that they won’t get them at all, due to the complexity of their needs. In this particular case the partnership between school and home ensured that the child could participate and that the family would be on hand should the need arise, for them to reassure their child and reassure themselves, although their availability wasn’t a requirement.
In this instance we spent the day moving from one section of the park to the next, ensuring line of sight with my colleague on the side and joining in with all the fun being had by others in the group. This mainly involved me being dunked, made to stand under torrents of falling water whilst being laughed at and going up and down slides. It is a fine balance between ensuring safety and ensuring enjoyment and can be quite demanding over long periods of time, continually making and remaking dynamic risk assessments.
The day passed off without a hitch and thankfully none of the plans we had put in place needed to be used. The next morning at breakfast the child came up to me and said, “Simon, we had fun didn’t we.”. Yes we did!