School Days

I had a full day in school yesterday, being the Parent Governor on the interviewing panel of internal candidates, which I always enjoy doing. As the others on the panel were staff, they had a different perspective to me: I was looking at candidates to see if I would want them to be middle management if Joshua had a crisis in school and I was also thinking whether or not I would want to work with them. We interviewed seven in total and it took all day, with no lunch break even, as we used that break time to catch up when we overran in the morning.

Every candidate gave us a presentation and was asked the same questions and we each scored their responses, then we discussed our thoughts after each one left the meeting room. There was consistency in our scores, although the staff members on the panel had additional expectations, from knowing how they perform in school already. Whereas my concern was their attitude towards the children first and foremost, then their approach towards parents secondly. In a special school, with non-verbal pupils, gaining information from parents is paramount to understanding the child and so it is important for me to glean how much value they place on foster good relations with home. Good teachers, in my opinion, work in partnership with families, and that approach benefits everyone involved.

We hardly left the meeting room all day and so we were totally focussed on the interviewing process. However around lunchtime, between candidates, I checked my mobile and I had two missed calls from school. So I walked up to the office to see who wanted me and it had been Joshua’s teacher, who had forgotten where I was. She was concerned that Joshua had been getting flushed on and off all morning. It was a very sticky, airless day and so I had advised them to cool him down by removing his boots and helmet, by soaking his feet in cool water and taking him outside for fresh air. The summer term is always difficult for him as heat is one of his main triggers for seizures. I reminded them where I was and went back to the meeting room, telling his teacher to interrupt if Joshua should continue to overheat or develop seizures, but I heard no more through the afternoon. But he did not peaky when I collected him at 3.30 and he dozed on the journey home and had a lie down when we got back. I think that did the trick in his cool den, as the threatening seizure activity thankfully never materialised.

It was an intense but rewarding day in school and one that helps me to feel involved in the future direction of the school. I do not only  review candidates in terms of their fit with Joshua, but with other pupils that I am aware of who present in very different ways to him. But for today, it is back to my day job.

School Days

I have swapped my day off this week and so I am not in work today, but instead, in my Parent Governor capacity, I will be in school all day. There are teaching posts that we are interviewing for and I am one on the panel of four who will be asking questions and assessing the candidates. I have not done it for some years now but I recall that I have enjoyed it when I have been involved and that I found it to be an emotional experience. I have a different perspective to the other members of the panel, as I am the only one who has a child with Special Needs at the school and I feel that will give me a unique perspective. I will be looking to see if each candidate is someone that I would like to have teaching Joshua, whereas the Head and HR will be presumably looking more at their employment record and their future potential. I will want them to demonstrate how they would engage my cheeky, lively son who has a very short attention span.

Every candidate, and there are 8 of them, will have to give a lesson which will be observed by the assistant head before their interview, and then we will ask the same questions of everyone so that we can compare the responses. I know how anxious the candidates will be as they are looking for permanent contracts in school and so I will try my best to put them at their ease, so that they can perform at their best. As I have worked for the same company for 29 years, I have not had much experience of being interviewed, in fact I have had more experience being the interviewer. We will have an individual rating system for how well each question is answered , so that the panel then compares overall scores. In the main, when I have been involved before, our ratings have been consistent, which gives reassurance, but on occasions we have had to speak up for a particular candidate and give our reasons for our support.

So today I am taking Joshua into school with me, which I always enjoy, and I will bring him home at the end of the day too. I have already arranged that he goes into after school club until we are finished our debate. Lets see what today brings….

The One when I learnt a lot

Yesterday, in my capacity as a Parent Governor, I went on a training course entitled ‘Safer Recruitment’ as I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in interviewing for Teaching Assistants. The purpose was to learn how to try to prevent the recruitment of abusers of children  into schools, where they would be surrounded by potential victims. We were given some gruelling details of cases that had arisen  and the lengths that some perpetrators will go to in order to hide their abuse of vulnerable children  has haunted me. Then of course the main content was showing us how to deter potential paedophiles from applying for posts in schools and  what to look out for in job applications, in references and at interview. It was an informative and sobering training course and has preyed on my mind overnight.

I came away incredulous at the desperate cruelty that has been imposed on innocent children and at the manipulation that these, often clever, abusers carry out in order to conceal their crimes. It is a frightening world that we let our vulnerable youngsters into and the prospect that they might confide in a member of staff at school, expecting them to be wholly trustworthy, only to find out that they may take advantage of that trust for their own gains, is a sickening one.

Clearly all children are potentially vulnerable to these predators, but a Special School may well attract an even more sinister characters. Many of our pupils would not have the capacity to understand that what was happening to them was abuse and many would not have the ability to report it either. And so in this situation, we have to be even more vigilant in our duty of care to these children. Joshua would certainly not  be able to tell me if he was being physically, sexually or emotionally abused and so I have to trust that he is surrounded by honourable people at school and at respite,  staff who only have his best interests at heart.

Having attended yesterday’s course, I could take the view that I should never let Joshua out of my sight ,as there are potential abusers at every turn. But instead I take the view that Thank God Joshua attends a school where they take safe recruitment and safeguarding so seriously. But what about in other settings such as at his respite provision where he goes alone? Fortunately we never leave his side at medical apointments, so he could not fall prey to the evil orthodentist for example. My natural personality is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt on my first meeting and to assume that they have only good motives at heart, but sadly I am learning that this could be a naive approach and as I get older, sadly I am getting to be more cynical and wary.

Being a Parent Governor

It was the Spring term Governor’s meeting last night and so it meant me returning to school after work for a 5.30 start. This is now my second 3- year term as a Governor, a post that I was happy to renew. My view initially was that it was a useful way to find out more about what is going on behind the scenes of Joshua’s school. Then when I was asked if I would become a Parent Governor, I thought that if I wanted Joshua to stay there until he was 19 then I ought to have some input, to try to make it the best school that I could, both for my son and his peers.

I will not lie, I found it confusing at first as there is so much jargon in education and so it was pretty myseterious to me initially. But gradually, with termly meetings and by asking ‘silly questions’, which nobody minds answering, I learnt to speak their language. In the early days, it was simply a listening project. I have gradually found my fellow Governors less intimidating and I now recognise that it is invaluable that they have the input of parents, as we have a unique perspective. They may have studied the theory of special educational needs but we are actually the experts, as we have lived with it 24/7. That personal experience of sleepless nights, tantrums in the shops, feeding complications, medication etc. is invaluable and it needs to be represented in the management of the school.

As a minimum commitment, Parent Governors are required to attend three evening meetings a year, one per term. That is the least you need to do as you first join the Governing Body. That is not too onerous but then you are asked to join various committees which are additional meetings and you are expected to attend training too. I have volunteered to get involved in recruitment, disciplinary issues and also the performance review of the Headteacher.

For me personally, there are several perks of being on the Governing Body :

  • I have really enjoyed sitting on the interviewing panel when new school posts are created. It has been a privilege to see the immense effort that staff go to, even for internal promotions, and to see just how much it means. I have been able to influence the staffing of the school, always holding in my mind, would I want this teacher/Teaching assistant in Joshua’s class? That gives me a powerful perspective that is unique on the panel and with that insight, I am confident we have made some great appointments
  • Joshua’s school staff have always teased me about my status as a Governor as it is often mentioned in a humourous way : a new member of staff bumped into me with Joshua’s wheelchair, she was teased mercilessly that not only had she crashed into a parent but she was a Governor too! I still see her around school now an she always laughs and cringes . During one early Annual Review, Joshua’s teacher called me his ‘boss’ which confused me at first. It does hold some sway within school and it gives me somewhere to voice my concerns and opinions
  • Joshua’s school became an academy and being on the Governing Body, I had a much clearer understanding of what it meant and how it would impact. When the school has had OFSTED inspections, I have had detailed feedback on the outcome. They say that information is power and if that is the case, then I have been made to feel more powerful within the school
  • Finally I feel that I have made some friends within the Governing Body. There are opportunities to chat before the meeting, but I suggested that we go out for a pub tea after the meeting, and we did that for the second time last night. It is an opportunity to relax, chat and eat and to get to know my fellow Governors better and to make it a more sociable occasion. I hope that that practice will continue.

I am proud School Governor and I have begun attending parent events – I have provided the refreshments at both the Junior and Senior Open Mornings, introducing myself as ‘their parent governor’ so that they know who I am.  I hope that in doing this, alongside my Parent Coffee Mornings, that other parents will begin to feel able to approach me with any concerns that they may have, so that I can bring their views to the attention of the Head and the Governing Body, if necessary.