Breaking down silos in learning support

Issue: Volume 100, Number 3

Posted: 17 March 2021
Reference #: 1HAHy3

Influenced by the Learning Support Delivery Model, a new approach brings teachers and providers of support for children with diverse needs around the one table and is already making a difference.

Vanesse Geel

Vanesse Geel

A trip to Scotland on a Winston Churchill Fellowship early in 2020 confirmed Ministry of Education psychologist Vanesse Geel’s view that a siloed approach to helping children with diverse needs was ineffective. 

Vanesse’s research led her to the Scottish model called Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC)– a multi-sectoral strategy using a holistic approach, which is integrated into existing policy, practice, strategy and legislation. There’s an emphasis on joint responsibility and working across all government agencies, she explains. 

“They started it in 2006 in Scotland, but the bigger implementation was in 2009 and they are still constantly refining it. It’s a strength-based approach. They also believe that this is everybody’s job. 

“They got rid of all the silos and took a holistic wellbeing approach for children and young people across all Government agencies. They developed a document that stated what every agency would need to add to an integrated approach,” says Vanesse.

The Scottish model resonated with the work Vanesse was doing in New Zealand, where often there would be many agencies involved with the child and their family. 

“It was becoming very clear that unless we work together, we just weren’t going to get the outcomes that we really wanted for a child and whānau.”

Making the best choices for tamariki and rangatahi involves new ways of working in portfolio areas including health, social welfare and education, which each hold pieces of the jigsaw, she explains.

Collaboration, not silos

A few years ago, the Ministry of Education’s learning support team engaged with a wide range of stakeholders, including clients and parents. Their main response was that a siloed system wasn’t not working for them, that they couldn’t cope with having to retell their stories all the time.

The Learning Support Delivery Model (LSDM) aims to break down these silos by taking a more integrated, collaborative approach to learning support.

“The LSDM strengthens the way learning support is provided so all children and young people get the right support, in the right place, at the right time,” says Vanesse.

The LSDM has collaboration and flexibility at its heart. The approach ensures that supports and services work in complementary, joined-up ways. The LSDM needs the learning support workforce to come together, share information and resources, and work together to decide how to respond to need and who is best placed to respond. 

Vanesse’s research has aided the development of an integrated service delivery/One Plan approach, which has been piloted with several families in Auckland schools.

One Plan in action

The One Plan approach can see representatives from eight or more different services or agencies sitting around the table to discuss priorities and strategies to help a child with complex needs. 

A One Plan meeting considers the wellbeing of the child holistically and begins with talking about the strengths the child and family bring to the kete. Vanesse gives the example of a young child transitioning into school with complex neuro-diverse needs, including significant autism.

“During the transition, we could already see a number of issues that could potentially create barriers for inclusion at the school. We sat around the table, asked the parents what they see the difficulties for the child as being, the child’s strengths and ‘what is your dream for your child?’ That often gives us an indication of where we need to start working. 

“The team just all came together and literally put their thinking caps on: what do we need to do to make this a successful placement, what do we need to put in place, who will do what?

“We come together on a regular basis to discuss what is working and what is not,” she says. 

Two years down the track, the student is fully integrated into school and, while it can still be a difficult process, everybody is on the same page and clear about the priorities and their roles.

“It spreads the load and everybody who sits around the table is very clear that we carry accountability and responsibility both individually and as a team,” says Vanesse.

Ormiston Primary School’s experience

 Anupama Diddee

Anupama Diddee

Anupama Diddee is the Inclusive Learning Leader at Ormiston Primary School in Flat Bush, which has been piloting the One Plan for two years. The school has a large number of ORS-funded students and two have been involved in the One Plan pilot. One is a young non-verbal autistic boy, who Anupama says had very high learning, behavioral and sensory needs. 

“When he started with us, the goals mostly revolved around safety and wellbeing. With many behavioural issues, integration into the classroom could only take place by building a strong relationship with him,” she says.

Progress for this child has been phenomenal, says Anupama. 

“While the learning goals for the child have been different, the progress has been remarkable. He now has an understanding of people around him and knows ‘this is my school’. He also recognises his teachers and you can see him smile when he walks in. He is aware of his day and is able to follow through his daily routine. 

“That’s a big leap from where he started – we are now motivated to plan and engage him in more learning activities,” she says.

The One Plan team experimented with strategies on an almost daily basis and the journey was, at times, overwhelming and difficult, but the use of visuals and establishing and maintaining a routine worked the best.

“The One Plan is both one process and one document which lists the goals for the child. This ensures the child’s ongoing learning journey which means that when the child goes onto the next step, there’s always an option to look back to see what worked, what didn’t work, what strategies were used and which ones were effective. It acts as a guideline to plan the next learning steps,” explains Anupama.

Priorities and goals

She says the beauty of the One Plan is that it ensures that everyone is working towards the same priorities and goals. 

“With everybody focusing on similar goals, it was easy to keep the child at the centre and differentiate the teaching instruction, strategies and environment to support the child’s learning. 

“For example, while prioritising toileting and sleep patterns, we could have discussions with the paediatrician around the medication in case that needed to be tweaked. You always need to take care of the physiological needs before you can work on goals for socialisation, communication and learning.” 

Anupama says that a SENCO (special education needs co-ordinator) is the link between the various parties: school, other professionals and outer agencies.

“There’s a lot of co-ordination and collaboration, and making sure that information and effective feedback is provided back to the teams. Bringing people together helps to address issues through focused solutions and celebrate small successes along the way.

“The best thing is that everybody becomes an equal partner in the plan, which lists every member’s role explicitly. So there is no ambiguity about who does what, and there is a lot of support for each other. It takes the pressure away from the parents in terms of planning the teaching strategies or the learning environment. Somebody is taking care of that whole planning part for their child,” explains Anupama.

Teachers appreciate collaboration between different teams and the opportunity to learn from each other. 

“Teachers feel very supported when they know there’s a network of professionals and expertise they can bank on,” she says.

Whānau experience

Hemi* (7) joined Ana* and Maria’s* multi-generational household through whāngai placement when he was two.

He has neuro-developmental difficulties that mean he is impulsive and reactive, but he couldn’t have found a better home. As well as providing heaps of love, his mothers are both experienced early childhood educators.

“At early childhood, he wouldn’t pay attention, scratched and hit the teachers. We had IPs (individual plans) and psychologists involved at that time,” remembers Ana.

“In Year 1, Learning Support ran Understanding Behaviour and Responding Safely (UBRS) around finding and de-escalating behaviours. Then there was another Ministry programme called Managing Anger and Potential Aggression (MAPA), which is more focused around the child, their behaviours and some of the triggers,” she says.

In Year 2, Hemi changed teachers and had an individualised programme run by a teacher aide, but Ana says he could tell he was being individualised and began to act up to try to get back in the group.

“He was quite reactional to anything and everything, so we had to put in an adaptable programme for him alongside the school,” says Maria.

As an outcome of the One Plan approach, a hauora/wellbeing space was created at school. 

Fits like a glove

Culture is important to Hemi. His parents say that his new school ‘fits him like a glove’ and they were part of the One Plan approach from the beginning.

“If you have an ordinary IEP [individual education plan], it’s for a time period and it might not involve the paediatrician, social worker etc. But with a One Plan approach, everybody participates and contributes to the meeting – even if by phone or Skype. Also, there are pieces of work that we all get to do,” says Ana.

“For instance, last term, our job was to get Hemi to and from emotional regulation therapy. The school’s job was to start on the transition. We each report back to one another and it’s kept pretty tight. It’s like a work plan with actions.”

“The One Plan approach allows us to monitor where the progress is. And if something crops up that doesn’t work, it’s a safe forum to say it doesn’t work. We would brainstorm some of those ideas and strategies that are now working,” adds Maria.

A wellbeing approach

Maria explains that if teachers can see the child escalating, they redirect him to his hauora space and give him time to de-escalate and self-regulate. 

“He likes reading and drawing pictures, so he would do a picture, calm himself down and then feel okay about it and take himself back into class. Or they would give him tasks like a typical child with ADHD: they will give him a note to take to the office and then run back. They would time him: he loves challenges like that. It enabled him to sit down in class a lot more settled and focused. 

“We had to consider his wellbeing holistically to activate learning in the classroom and at home,” she says.

Ana says Hemi’s teacher has found the learner – and the leader – within him.

“When it comes to learning, he’s trying really hard to learn and, because he’s in a year 0-3 class with the same teacher, he’s had the opportunity to coach others.

“He’s still tracking behind. At our next meeting we will probably discuss: okay, we’ve got a kid who’s starting to want to learn – he desires to read because he wants knowledge. That’s probably what we will target next.”

Voices heard

Hemi has a strong sense of justice, but with his tendencies to be impulsive and reactive, he became an easy scapegoat at school. Ana explains that the One Plan approach includes ‘testing out the story’ about him. This involves listening to his point of view, as well as giving other children a chance to speak – a kind of restorative justice.

“If you’re not a teacher or a talker or an advocate for your kid, the power imbalance is different. In our meetings, the power balance is not hierarchical at all. We all contribute to this team and we all have a right to question. 

“Everything that we’ve said and acknowledged is inputted into the plan until we come back to it. It’s pretty consistent and there are some things that we target and say we are going to do and we pretty much execute it all,” she says.

Enabling change

Vanesse says an integrative One Plan framework will create a shared vision for services and develop a common language and agenda for collaboration among partners. 

“The New Zealand Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and LSDM provides a unifying framework and way of aligning our efforts. Together, we can ensure that all children and young people receive the support they need to achieve wellbeing in every area of their lives. We hope this approach becomes more widely implemented,” says Vanesse.

The names of the whānau in this story have been changed to protect their identities. 

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust(external link) helps New Zealanders to pursue their passions and connect with like-minded communities overseas.

 Read Vanesse Geel’s Winston Churchill Fellowship report.(external link) 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:32 PM, 17 March 2021

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