Topic Champions

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red haired girls

At New Heights, we take the wellbeing of all of our staff and students seriously. It is at the forefront of our approach and delivery of support to our young people.

This year we have introduced a new programme of training for our LSAs which will support our young people in some very important areas.

Introducing: Topic Champions

Meet them and read about the topics they have chosen.

Rationale

Upskilling staff (learning is a key pillar in our emotional wellbeing) is important to us and providing opportunities to do this within our CPD timetable was key. Throughout the autumn term, our LSAs (Learning Support Assistants) have been provided opportunities to complete this task and develop their interests within their chosen field. This will be an ongoing programme on our CPD calendar.

The young people who join New Heights have had a wide range of experiences before joining us. Most display challenging behaviours which have caused them difficulties within the mainstream setting, with often no ‘route cause’ being identified.

Challenging behaviour is often the expression of an unmet need, and the more we get to know our students, the more we can identify the potential causes of this behaviour, often finding it is potentially linked to undiagnosed neurodevelopmental conditions, mental wellbeing concerns, or traumatic events.

The Programme

All of our LSA’s were given the opportunity to identify an area they would like to find out more about, and given time and access to training opportunities in order to ‘upskill’ in their chosen area. With the support of our SENDCo, they identified the following topics:

  • Supporting Transgender and sexuality issues
  • ADHD
  • Sensory Processing Difficulties
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Dyspraxia (also known as Developmental coordination disorder)
  • Self-harm
  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Dyslexia

Meet our Topic Champions

Our topics champions tell you a little about themselves and why their chosen topics are important to them.

Topic Champion Sensory difficulties

Alongside our SENDCo, I will be available to talk to students who are concerned about sensory processing difficulties.

We use our sensory systems to understand the world around us, we process information through senses and decide how to respond to things we are experiencing.

Sensory systems that absorb information about the world around us are:

  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Sight
  • Hear
  • Touch
  • Proprioception (using muscles to understand body space)
  • Vestibular (how the body moves against gravity)

The last 3 sensory systems – touch, proprioception and vestibular – help us to feel in tune with our world and feel grounded.

Learning how to process sensory-based information as it is received can challenge us all. We have to filter out what is important and what to ignore, e.g. when we hear our name being called, we respond to this, even though there may be other sounds in the room distracting us, but some children have difficulty with filtering this process.

At New Heights KS3, we create Sensory Circuits for our pupils to participate in which are short sensory-motor circuits which prepare children to engage effectively with their school day. Behavioural clues such as fidgeting, poor concentration, excessive physical contact or lethargy can indicate a child may be finding it difficult to connect with the learning process.

Topic-Champion-Gender-Issues

I am available to talk to children about concerns they may have if they feel that they may have gender identity issues. I will work closely with our SENDCo to offer this support.

I have chosen this because I feel it is a topic that needs to be discussed due to the increased presence of gender issues in our communities.

Gender identity issues are when a person does not feel like they fit into their assigned sex at birth. This may mean that they are transgender, non-binary or gender-fluid; this can be seen as a spectrum. At this moment in time, there isn’t an accurate figure of how big the Trans community is, but it is said to be about 1% of the population, roughly 600,000 out of 6 million people in the UK (Stonewall.org.uk).

I think it’s vitally important to have an understanding within our school as previously we have had students who identified themselves as being in the Trans community, and we will no doubt have more who require support.

It is shown widely that inclusion of gender issues in the curriculum is a very positive thing for those who are going through their own problems, and to raise acceptance and awareness within the community. Empowering young people with information that relates to them allows them to explore their identity in a safe space, and as they grow they are more open to understanding and accepting differences both in themselves and in others.

As part of my continuing professional development, I have done some research on what gender issues are to help staff understand this and how we can help students in our cohort that may experience this. I have also developed resources that will help young people going through it. I have begun taking many training courses to gather information on this topic. I will continue this so that I can provide continuous and up-to-date information to our staff and students regarding gender issues and provide information on ways to support students.

Topic Champion Self Harm

A number of our staff are also first aid trained in mental health and are available to listen and provide guidance, support and reassurance to our young people at any stage throughout the school day this includes, Mr Dalton, Mrs Kenny and Miss Gumbley.

All other members of staff including myself are available for students to talk to. We are all emotionally available adults.

Self-harm is such a broad term but it can be defined as hurting yourself on purpose, whether that is through cutting, burning, over or under eating, or hair pulling etc.  It is nearly impossible to say how many young people actually self-harm. This is because very few young people tell anyone what’s going on, so it’s incredibly difficult to keep records or have an accurate idea of the scale. However, it is believed to affect around 1 in 5 young people (Youngminds, 2021). It is also reported that 25% of 14-year-olds (Beheadstrong, 2011) and 10% of 15 to 16-year-olds have self-harmed in the past, yet the actual number could be much higher.

The reason young people self-harm can often be complicated and will be different for every child or young person. Some children may not know the reason why they self-harm. For many young people, self-harm can feel like a way to realise tension and emotional feeling.

Some people with self-harm feel that hurting themselves is the only way to get rid of their fears, concerns and anxieties, and that the physical pain of hurting themselves can feel like a distraction from the emotional pain they are struggling with (NSPCC, 2021).

At New Heights, students can be on placement for as short as 12 weeks so we often help support students with mental health and wellbeing issues including self-harm. As soon as a student starts here at New Heights, they will complete an initial assessment that can identify any possible social, emotional and mental health issues.  We also monitor all students on a day-by-day basis to identify any potential signs of mental health and wellbeing issues, including self-harm. Due to this, we can make several referrals for support for our students each term. We also have relationships with numerous organisations including CAMHS and YPAS and the ADHD Foundation, who frequently visit and can have counselling sessions on-site with students in a place where they feel safe and comfortable.

Topic-Champion-Mental-Health

Along with Lisa Kenny our SENDCo, I am available to talk to students about any questions they have on mental health.

I have chosen this as my topic, because I feel this is a topic that needs particular focus, especially with society changing drastically due to coronavirus leading to lockdowns.

Mental ill-health is when a person struggles with their emotional, psychological, and social well-being. For example, this may mean that they struggle to interact in communities with others, students struggling with exam pressure, athletes with the constant pressure of being happy in the public eye. Furthermore approximately 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues each year.

At New Heights, our ever-changing cohort means sometimes we have children join us who we suspect have mental health issues due to issues raised by their previous school. As a school, we often need to send referrals for these children to try and help them get the support they need.

People with a mental health issue will also have strengths and weaknesses like people without an issue. For example, somebody with anxiety may have problems with communicating in a big group but will thrive in an individual task. We treat every person as an individual and recognize that one day they may be struggling, and the next they may be thriving.  We are all individual.

As part of my continuing professional development, I have researched how to expand my knowledge and understanding of mental health to create ideas for young people with mental health issues to cope and use the issue to their strength. I have developed a resource with some strategies in the classroom to help young people with mental health issues i.e anxiety.

Topic-Champion-Dyslexia

I will work with our SEND-CO to talk to our children about any concerns they may have regarding Dyslexia so they get the best help possible at New Heights.

Dyslexia (dis-LEK-see-uh) is a type of learning disability. A child with a learning disability has trouble processing words or numbers. There are several kinds of learning disabilities, dyslexia is the term used when people have trouble learning to read, even though they’re smart enough and want to learn.

Dyslexia is not a disease. It’s a condition someone is born with, and it often runs in families. People with dyslexia are not stupid or lazy. Most have average or above-average intelligence, and they work very hard to overcome their learning problems.

Research has shown that dyslexia happens because of the way the brain processes information. Pictures of the brain show that when people with dyslexia read, they use different parts of the brain than people without dyslexia.

These pictures also show that the brains of people with dyslexia don’t work efficiently during reading. So that’s why reading seems like such slow, hard work.

At New Heights, our ever-changing cohort means sometimes we have children join us who are either mildly at risk or strongly at risk of dyslexia. This is determined by a test that they complete on assessment before they start the school.

As part of my continued professional development I have been on a Creative education course in Dyslexia to widen my knowledge of the subject and I will give staff research on signs and strategies to help our students.

Topic-Champion-TS

Along with Lisa Kenny (our SENDCo), I am available to talk to any pupils about concerns they may have, particularly if they are presenting with TS traits.

TS currently affects over 300,000 people in the UK (www.tourettes-action.org.uk).

TS is a condition of the nervous system. TS causes people to have “tics”. Tics are sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that people do repeatedly. People who have tics cannot stop their body from doing these things. For example, a person might keep blinking over and over again.

ADHD frequently co-occurs in children with Tourette Syndrome. Less than 10 percent of those with ADHD have Tourette’s, but 60 to 80 percent of children with Tourette Syndrome have ADHD. The ADHD diagnosis usually precedes the onset of the motor or vocal tics of Tourette’s, although sometimes the two occur together. Consequently, children with TS may struggle with behaviour and maintaining attention in the classroom.

As part of my continued professional development, I have conducted research on how to aid young people with TS in school. I have created a resource with strategies for helping these young people in the classroom.

Topic-Champion-Dyspraxia

I will work with our SENDCO to talk to our children about any concerns they may have regarding Dyspraxia, and offer them support should they need it.

I have chosen Dyspraxia as my topic because it means a lot to me personally because I suffer from this condition and I feel it is not talked about enough.

Dyspraxia is a brain-based motor disorder. It affects fine and gross motor skills, motor planning, and coordination. It’s not related to intelligence, but it can sometimes affect cognitive skills. Dyspraxia is sometimes used interchangeably with developmental coordination disorder. (https://www.healthline.com)

It is thought that 10% of the UK population have dyspraxia and out of those 10%, 2% suffer from it severely.

At New Heights, we have an ever-changing cohort of students which means we have some children join us that we suspect to have dyspraxia and often as a school we make referrals for these children.

Kids with dyspraxia often don’t even realise they have dyspraxia and most of the time because it might have been missed at a young age. I was only told in college that they thought I had dyspraxia.

Dyspraxia symptoms can vary depending on age…. difficulties may become obvious such as tying shoelaces, doing up buttons and handwriting. It tends to get picked up and diagnosed between the ages of 7 and 10.