The Importance of Being Supportive
By Zanib Malik
Annie for English GCSE again! Felt like my first year providing Additional Learning Support (ALS) in college. She was great with learners, took the time to understand what engaged them, and treated them as equals. “Should be good!”, I thought, rolling my way down the corridor.
I didn’t know how small the room was going to be. Didn’t know how full it would be. Hadn’t really registered how many students I had on my list for Additional Learning Support. I’m so used to going into a class and supporting anyone who asks. Students not down for LSA support asking for help is common. Many learners requiring ALS go through school only to reach further education without support necessary for easing them through an already difficult time. Difficult because, although education until 18 is now mandatory, it is not actually funded enough to handle the general capacity of learners, let alone everyone now entering further education, thus leaving a lot of people without opportunities to secure work. Now imagine going into it having not received all the help you’re entitled to as neurodiverse learners, with possible Special Educational Needs that have gone unnoticed – or in many cases, labelled as ‘difficult’ and ‘disruptive’ instead. It’s a lot. For both students and staff going into it without enough resources, not enough staff to deliver quality education or with enough time to provide essential one-to-one tutor time. The SEND Green Paper stated that the rate of 11.6% SEN provision learners was decreasing in 2016. Practically, it’s impossible for rates to drop and then uptake in recent years, particularly in F.E. Unless the needs were ignored.
Richard, Ashley and Katie, from Annie’s class, left education within months. It could have been different for them, if they had been provided with support and consideration for their needs prior to reaching college and as a result, not having to re-sit English and Maths (which are now essential to career progression). I realise the process of the education system again and again is letting down young people with a lot of competing needs.
Something we don’t discuss enough when applying SEN provision is the impact of emotional support. We must be able to identify emotional needs and support them accordingly, especially when no one else picks up on them. I’ve been in classes where the learner can work independently much of the time, but if there is no emotional support to alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with workloads and meeting deadlines, they succumb to the pressure. During times of upset, taking Sarah out of the room and practising deep breathing exercises works wonders. It calms her, giving her something to focus her mind on.
Once settled, she finds it easier to open up about what she’s thinking and feeling, giving me an idea of what to look at when assessing how we can make her journey easier. Emotional support incorporates everything because applying these actions, no matter how big or small, make all the difference to that learner’s day.
It’s sensing when things aren’t right, noticing little things someone does when they’re content and what happens when they aren’t, what is the cause, how’s it impacting their cognition and ability to process information. It’s reassuring, checking in, praising them and providing positivity. If we’re moving around, I’ll help with carrying things, and see them in and out of college.
If the work is practical, get involved so that if someone struggles, you can understand how to help them find the solutions. I’m very Pro “write it down!” or “make notes of what you’re thinking or what has been said.”, carrying a pen and paper/having something to type on is essential in ALS. It allows learners to track what’s happening and refer back when they’re stuck.
I’ll note-take where possible so they can focus on the tutor, though some prefer to take their own notes. Encourage this. It’s a good habit for them to take away (whether it’s on a digital device or on paper). Sometimes writing things down supports memory and processing of information.
ALS and SEN provision has, like everything else, adapted to remote working, so showing learners how to utilise the tools they’re given is vital. If their work isn’t accessible on one platform, we access it elsewhere. Google Applications works across phones, tablets and computers. You can proofread a learner’s work in real time without needing to be next to them or stopping them from typing.
They share their work with me and I can see who’s adding to it, as well as leave feedback. It’s essential when multitasking. I could be working from home using Google Meet, prompting Tyler to stay focused, whilst simultaneously observing what Zara and Luka are doing with their work in Google Docs/Slides.
Callum struggled reading and writing this year. Using a laptop in class, we went through how to use Read and Write together. He needed text-to-speech software available on various platforms to support phonics and spelling, my other students in this class also required constant support with overseeing their work. Utilising Read and Write was my way of managing a demand on my support. In a different group, Jermaine struggled with memory but refused support. The only way to meet this need was by providing a Dictaphone and ensuring camera phone use to take pictures of his work processes.
Even if he did accept support in college, he may not seek it out later. I explained that establishing a habit of documenting like this could be discreet enough, it was normal for professionals and social media to work like this, utilising audio/visual recording apps on whatever device was at hand.
It wasn’t enough from the tutor’s perspective (or mine, for that matter). But Jermaine shied away from in-person support. So I used initiative and adapted something he already used every day, in the hope that it meets his needs and supports his goals. As a SEND Specialist, I monitored progress for EHCP learners, feeding back their input and aspirations to Practitioners and Coordinators so that during reviews, their input was actively supported. It influenced ALS in education and some preparation for life beyond FE, giving learners insight into home, workplace and travel support. Leaving education without knowing how to help yourself get support is daunting.
It’s hard not to root for learners. Especially the ones who don’t get their support. They need you the most. When Katie from Annie’s class said she couldn’t write a short story because she didn’t know what to say, I encouraged her by highlighting her achievements, telling her how well she was doing.
Drawing attention to a box on the table as the plot for her short story, and how she had visualised being in that room, looking at the box. What did she do? Did she speak to anyone? Why was the box on the table, was she going to open it? I asked her to put herself in that scenario without being direct. It was my way of asking her to let her imagination run wild – and she did, her story was gruesome and amazing!
It’s another way to provide emotional support. It boosts confidence, giving learners control over what happens next…Katie didn’t re-sit English, but I gave her a glimpse of her capabilities. Hopefully, she’ll reach for it to give herself a boost during challenging times. Remembering she smashed that task not only because she got the support she needed, but also because it was that support which addressed her need and allowed Katie to take control, raise interest and to enjoy learning. ASL support for students can absolutely change the experiences in college for a Disabled young person.
Please note that all names and pronouns in this article have been changed to protect identities.