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Someone to talk to when the guinea pig just died

Children's co-ordinator Michaela Fallon is there to keep everyone happy

Who sticks up for the children in your school, keeping an eye on individuals, watching for warning signs, being ready to listen and give advice?

Well, you all try to, of course. That is what primary school values are all about. And yet, with the best will in the world, in a pressured curriculum that may involve setting and some specialist teaching, it really is increasingly difficult to spot, and give attention to, children's individual social needs.

It is a recognised problem and schools tackle it in various ways - with circle time, for example, or learning mentors. At Canon Maggs junior school, in Bedworth, Warwickshire, the extra layer of support is provided by Michaela Fallon, a senior management team member who, as well as her special educational needs co-ordinator role, also carries that of children's co-ordinator.

"If I'm explaining that to the children," she says, "I tell them that my job is to make sure everybody's happy at school. The idea is that if anybody has any worries, then they come and talk to Mrs Fallon."

To adults, she describes herself as an advocate for the children.

"I can do that because I attend the school council," she says. "I like the children to feel that they can have a real influence on what happens."

(Occasionally, too, she's been known to confess to being "in charge of spare pants and knickers.") The role carries a host of responsibilities - as a member of the SMT she handles child protection issues, anti-racism, bullying, playground behaviour, looked-after children, all on top of the standard Senco responsibilities. And she does it in two-and-a-half days a week which she uses flexibly - coming in at 4pm for a meeting, perhaps on a day when she does not usually work, or swapping one day for another according to demand.

She has a group of small rooms and time to see children and listen to them.

"I tell them, 'If you think you're going to cry, come and see me and we'll cry together'. I've books they can borrow about bereavement, or they can just have a chat. It might be a guinea pig that's died - in the whole world of school that's not very significant, but for that child it's a big issue.

"We can spend some time on that, and then they can go back and get on with their literacy or whatever."

Parents know her too. "The word is that if you see Mrs Fallon, something might happen," she says. Behind this is a hint of real diplomacy as she deals with the occasional upset parent.

"The head will come to me and says, 'Can you just build a few bridges here please?' As a parent myself I understand why someone might be a bit cross.

At the same time I know what it's like to be in charge of 30 children."

For that reason, it is important that she spends some of her time teaching.

As head Rod Steward says: "The staff need to see how good a teacher Michaela is."

It is a fair bet that there are not many children's co-ordinators around, and it is equally clear that in this case the post exists because Michaela Fallon is there to fill it.

Mr Steward says: "She can take children aside and give them the time they need. She's a sorter out of things."


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