Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Dual Placements

The idea of Dual Placements can sometimes really work for pupils with Special Needs and I think it's important to consider the pros and cons of them. Especially after reading a study by Dr Ben Simmons, admittedly his work mainly discusses PMLD pupils and my focus is learners that are ASD.

I feel, for the most part, that Dual Placements can be extremely effective, particularly with ASD children. My main reason comes from personal experience that in Special Schools, often the other children have just as much difficulties with Social Skills as the ASD children do - so the benefits from interacting with mainstream children can be great in terms of developing social skills and in some settings early play skills. However, without wanting to dismiss the work completed by Dr Ben Simmons, I don't feel they can be effective for pupils with PMLD - this is coming from personal experience with very few pupils though.

My main reasons for this blog is to discuss 2 particular pupils who are currently on Dual Placements.

Child 1 who does Monday - Wednesday is a P4-5 verbal ASD pupil... Whose behaviours in our setting make teaching them a real challenge. Often, they copy other ASD pupils who 'opt out' of tasks and who are aggressive towards other children and staff. They choose to become 'mute' in our setting as they're is the only verbal pupil in on those days (I can understand it might be daunting for them) but with no other means of communication it can be a little difficult and mum doesn't want them using makaton as she's worried they'll choose to stop speaking altogether. They also won't eat with us... Again, they sees other ASD pupils being fussy/choosing what they will/won't eat and copies, but as they are FSM and doesn't bring a back up packed lunch like others do, if they refuses dinner we have nothing else to offer them. So, in a lot of ways it seems they fare better at the other placement, with a 1:1 and better role models. They appear to be making good progress there and is joining after school clubs, eating dinner and generally behaviour seems more manageable.

Child 2 - does Thursday and Friday, unfortunately Thursday morning is my PPA time so I only see them for a day and a half. Fridays are 'choosing time' (where we develop social skills) so I'm expected to level a child I only actually teach... For a day. In general, Child 2 doesn't fare so well in either place. With cerebral palsy, they're my only physically disabled pupil... Which makes safety in the classroom an issue amongst 6 ASD pupils who don't understand they can't join in their chasing, rough and tumble play. They also copy ASD behaviours, lots of opting out/distracting and more recently wailing for attention. Wailing ALOT for attention (which obviously doesn't  go down well with my noise sensitive ASD pupils). Mum has concerns because their behaviour is also deteriorating at their other placement, where they has begun to be rude and insolent towards staff and refusing to do any work. They're a P5-6 and mum is convinced they'd go far in the right setting but at the moment there's no middle ground. They're struggling because they're so low in mainstream - but struggling in ours because they can't cope without the 1:1 attention, they're significantly brighter than the majority of my pupils so has to fight for attention in our setting.

It's hard... I hear a lot about other children in the EYFS and in KS2 that are on dual placements that are deteriorating or not working. Is there a place for SLD and/or PMLD children in mainstream settings? I'm beginning to wonder. Of course there is the argument that they are there to socialise... But I know for a fact that ASD children would need support with that, at the very lowest level. Are mainstream teachers and assistant equipped to know how to facilitate the learning of our P Scale level children? At a recent moderation I gained a child who it was claimed was a P7 by his old mainstream setting. After spending a week with him it was blatant to me that he was no higher than P4... When discussing this with his old teacher she admitted that she didn't want to level him lower than P7 as she didn't know anything about levels lower than P7. Another child I've heard about spends their entire time in a small room completing work 1:1 with an adult, not encountering any other children throughout the day - how is this effective for them in the long run?

Are our children detrimental to the learning of others? We expect them to be accepted in a mainstream classroom - in some cases of children as old as 7, when developmentally our children are sometimes as low as 2-3. They can be quite challenging behaviourally, is it ok that other children are therefore expected to wait/watch/deal with this and become distracted or take staff away from them? Should other parents have a say? I know of one dual placement mainstream school who removes the ASD pupil from the class and teaches him 1:1 in another room - then what is the point of that placement?!

The issue with the Dual Placement pupils I have - is that there's no middle ground for them. We have no MLD provision until secondary. There seems more and more that children need a slot to fit into for their education... And more and more different slots are needed. Slots for ASD children above P5 and for those below. Slots for walking PMLD and physically disabled PMLD children. I'm beginning to wonder how effective dual placements are and whether they are as beneficial as parents would like to think. Sometimes, I really feel that it's the last chance they have to hold onto that their child isn't as special as they need to be to be in a Special School.

I recognise for some pupils - dual placements are exactly what they need to find a unique balance between special and mainstream education. That some teachers and support staff are trained and can effectively make their mainstream class idyllic for providing for the needs of SLD children, with or without ASD. For particular ASD pupils - who have no issues with their social skills a dual placement can be the very thing they need to provide an appropriate level of interaction with their peers.

 My argument is that it needs to be the RIGHT setting, not just the school local to the child. With the RIGHT staff.. Staff aware of autism and SLD who know how to provide and assess their learning effectively. It has to be right for them AND the other children in the class/school.

For Child 2 - mum appeared to think that as our PMLD class was full of children in wheelchairs, that it would be ideal for them - she apparently didn't realise that the majority of them are P1-2. There is a PNI school which would also apparently be ideal for him - however they've been doing the wailing on a 15 minute journey to us so mum doesn't think they'll cope with a 40 minute one. In reality she's stuck between a rock and a hard place... With no slot for them to comfortably sit in educationally. For Child 1 - I'm hoping they'll agree to up his days at his other placement, mum seems to want to and at the moment it seems a better slot for him.