In 2011 – 2013 I ran a series of half and whole day training events for the Museums and Heritage sector on SEN, Emotional Well-being and Cultural Engagement.
This training represented a departure from the usual realms of my consultancy service, but has its foundations in a rather lovely commission of some years prior, to deliver training and raise awareness of the breadth of special educational needs in mainstream schools, for the Natural History Museum, London – http://www.nhm.ac.uk/
At that time, my focus was to raise awareness amongst museum educator staff of the diversity of need within mainstream school settings. As part of the pre-event planning, I had an opportunity to meet museum staff in both the indoor and outdoor learning centres, discuss the challenges they face on a daily basis, and consider also what are the challenges and opportunities a museum visit may pose for children and young people with a range of SEN.
Sometimes, our most rewarding work comes from unexpected sources, from contracts that seem to appear out of the blue, with no precedent or marketing machinery in place.
As an education consultant, my work centres around educational settings yet this glimpse into the world of museums and education holds a great fascination. Actually, an awe would be more appropriate, since I hold in great esteem those whose knowledge is bound up in the heritage sector and whose passions and livelihoods are bound in some happy matrimony. Perhaps I have missed my vocation, and really would be far happier immersed in some great reading room of a vast city centre museum, emerging only occasionally to visit passing exhibitions.
I seem to have a heightened sensitivity to my surroundings, and am always most happy and enraptured in the presence of great natural or man-made beauty. The buildings of The Natural History Museum and its close neighbour, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the architecture of that part of London just south of Kensington Gardens, all please me enormously.
And so, despite that I may not have analysed these predilections much before, that sensitivity to surroundings is all a part of our wellbeing, having the power to either enhance and heighten or diminish and suppress our wellbeing.
But here I am adrift again from my post heading, wandering so far afield, I am in danger of embarking on some sentimental journey that is all about me…
Over the past decade, through my service to schools and organizations, I have completed individual assessment advice on over 1100 pupils, of varying ages and of varying degrees of concern and special need. It is quite some data base showing as it does, the nature not only of individual pupil needs, but also of the concerns of schools and the commissioning of assessment advice.
I have long been concerned that, whilst only a decade before, requests for assessment advice may have focused on relatively low-level concerns, reading or spelling or handwriting difficulties, slight delays in numeracy skills, language needs or concerns about social interaction skills, more frequently this past five years has seen a move to requests for advice from my service for children and young people with complex needs, with multiple areas of SEN, often deeply entrenched over many years.
There is much that raises alarm bells, that disquiets, and begs some urgent questions about what is happening for all those young people whose needs are sidelined as resources are pooled and focused, where needs must, on those young people with highly complex and long term needs, whose presence disturbs the equilibrium of the classroom and taxes the resilience of teachers.
There are many measures and theories of this avenue of positive psychology, but a few appeal to me particularly, as I consider the needs of all those children and young people whom I have been privileged to meet.
In ‘Flourish – A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being’ Martin Seligman identifies 7 elements of well-being that indicate how well citizens are flourishing, in nations across the world. In order to ‘flourish’ people need to score highly with regard the following aspects of their life –
- Positive Emotion
- Engagement, Interest
- Meaning, Purpose
- Positive Relationships
It is possible to see the challenges that young people with SEN face in having any secure sense of wellbeing. I have worked with a significant number of young people who experience on a daily basis very few positive emotions, but fluctuate as time and place dictate, from anxiety to fear, frustration to anger, from sadness to despair. Those same young people frequently feel aimless, lacking any clear sense of direction, unable to meaning to the tasks and activities they are assigned, and beyond that, to see any greater meaning in life, other than to endure.
I comment almost instinctively in assessment advice, but not without good cause, on the low self-esteem of the young people I meet, of esteem that has plummeted so far, that improvement would require some significant change to that child’s life and daily experiences, both at school and at home.
I talk often of the lack of optimism many young people have, about their perceived capacity to achieve well in assesment tests, to cope in the classroom, to be chosen for team sports, to make or retain friends, to have any confidence in a future that is not relentlessly bleak. I see young people who have lost a resilience about life, that we assume must be an automatic right of all children, and then I am saddened by how much hardship, difficulty and frustration has battered down that resilience, so that coping becomes instead, a survival mechanism, rather than a conscious and deliberate choice.
Finally, I see a great many children and young people who feel tremendously alone, so much so that to have friends, or to feel wanted and loved by people who are significant in their life, seems a luxury they can ill afford themselves to indulge. There are a great many lonely children in our schools. We see them hanging around on the fringes of the playground, or rooted to the spot, watching the high antics and excitement of those for whom group games and clusters of friends are the natural order of things.
I am privileged to have time to get to know the young people that, by virtue of a contract with a school, I am asked to meet. I am privileged because I have time to see that child in the classroom, on the playground, in a range of contexts, and to build a picture of that child’s life in school, and then, through the course of one to one meetings, to understand gradually what is going on for that child, at this point in their life.
It is always rewarding to have those discussions, to understand what are a child’s concerns, what features large in their lives. The small part I play in the lives of many children and young people at its best may be a catalyst for change, the intervention that prompts the greater cohesion between school and home, that enlightens with new found knowledge. The joy is in making a different to the trajectory of a child’s life, and so, the child’s relationships with others and the relationship of others to the child.
To request information about training available for your school, educational setting, museum or heritage centre, please contact me on email@example.com