From education to employment

Many of the behaviour problems I witnessed working in prison education may have been undiagnosed autism

Reflections of a ‘newish’ #SEND manager 

Last summer, just eight weeks into a new role as a SEND manager, I wrote an article reflecting on what that felt like to leave 19 ½ years in prison education and move into SEND in adult and community learning. I’m now eight months into that role and I am back to let you know how it is going.

What did I think back then?

I realised how much I didn’t know, and that was okay as long as you take responsibility for not knowing and make it your mission to find out and learn. There are loads of sources to help with that – colleagues, CPD courses and resources such as on the ETF SEND Exhibition Site.

I also realised I had transferable skills, and that all I had gained in prison education I brought with me to my new role. I also now realise that when they said in the interview it is a very busy role, they really weren’t joking!

Over eight months into the role and I do feel more knowledgeable. I have done a Level 2 in Understanding Specific Learning Difficulties and also all the ETF modules on the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform, which we’ve uploaded to our Staff CPD Forum for others to access.

I have done courses on autism and with hindsight can see that when I was working in prison education many of the behaviour problems I witnessed may have been undiagnosed autism, so I wish I had known more then*.

In addition to my management role, I am teaching one course for SEND learners and supporting a colleague on the Level 3 teacher training course. This has been really great and it feels like a two-way street of learning. I can contribute my experience of teaching to the teacher training course and I also try out ideas I glean from my colleague. It keeps me grounded. I am a teacher at heart and really enjoy it. It also means I am doing all the things I expect my teachers to do, and when they say they have no time I feel in a better place to support them. I really value the time I have to explore things and learn and I try to give that back to my team.

As a manager I knew I had skills, I am organised and I can see what needs working on and improving, but this role has taken my management skills to a new level. There is an immediacy to working as a SEND manager. You have to be there and to respond to learners’ needs, to parents and carers and teachers, especially when an incident occurs. Every issue results in actions and everything has to be followed through. Sometimes it is about having challenging conversations.

It has pushed me and taken my skills further. It is also about finding a balance between being responsive and there for people, as well as finding time to focus on my other management tasks. I am learning to carve out time to concentrate and focus on those tasks, otherwise, I would be constantly on response mode for other people. I make appointments with myself and make sure I keep them.

And it is so busy, sometimes it can feel overwhelming, but it is exciting. As a management team, we have time together to plan. We come together in one room, with all the information we need, to ask questions and support each to do the bigger quality and operational tasks. That helps. I feel established and know that our leadership team is giving us time to do our jobs well.

When I was eight weeks into the job, I wanted to feel settled.

Do I feel settled? Yes I do. I love this job.

I am not planning to move on and I don’t know what I would do next but this job feels like it will give me great experience and stand me in good stead for whatever that might be.

Thoria King, SEND Manager at the London Borough of Hillingdon

I would really recommend working within SEND – it’s rewarding, challenging and always interesting. If you are considering it, take a look at some of the resources on ETF SEND Exhibition Site to get a good idea of the breadth of what is involved, or look at the guide Make a big difference: working with learners with special educational needs and disabilities, which provides information about the qualifications you need and the different career pathways. More information on the ETF’s SEND offer and resources can be found on the SEND webpage.

*No One Knows is a UK-wide programme led by the Prison Reform Trust that aims to effect change by exploring and publicising the experiences of people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system found that 20-30% of offenders have learning difficulties or learning disabilities that interfere with their ability to cope within the criminal justice system.

Prisoners’ childhood and family backgrounds research found that fifty-nine per cent of prisoners stated that they had regularly played truant from school, 63% had been suspended or temporarily excluded, and 42% stated that they had been permanently excluded or expelled. Prisoners with these issues were more likely to be reconvicted on release than those without.

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