Here, there and everywhere

19th September 2003 at 01:00
It's a hectic schedule when you are boss of a county's special needs service. Karen Gold spent a day following Tricia Barthorpe around North Lincolnshire

7.30am: Tricia Barthorpe arrives at her office on Scunthorpe's South Park industrial estate, which is deliberately sited alongside her newest pupil referral unit (PRU) and several supportive employers who regularly offer "her" students work experience. Barthorpe, 51, is head of the special educational needs support service in North Lincolnshire, a beacon council for raising attainment in SEN. She oversees 5,000 children including 72 who are excluded or at risk of exclusion, 100 support staff, five pupil referral units, a home-teaching and hospital education service, and a training programme that runs 72 courses a year. She also leads national training courses and is outgoing president of the National Association for Special Educational Needs.

A typical day starts with paperwork: today it takes 40 minutes, which includes checking new staff applications for police clearance, and PRU students' exam entries. "They all do English, Maths and IT and 42.6 per cent get A-Cs. What I don't want is for off-site units to be seen as places where you leave with nothing."

8.45am: Arrives at the privately-run Chesleigh Learning Centre, a former Victorian maternity home in Gainsborough, 20 miles from Scunthorpe, which is contracted to offer 24 Year 1011 boys carpentry, brickwork and computer maintenance, as well as three GCSEs. She turns down an offer of toast with students and minibus drivers; then asks about new arrangements for two boys who have rejected building skills because they want to be hairdressers.

9.15am: She is joined on the Chesleigh library sofa by Adam, who was re-summoned to court the previous week for removing his tag. Barthorpe piles on the moral pressure. "I was staggered that you were in court just for taking your tag off. You're doing brilliantly here. Do you want to get locked up in Wetherby just for not wearing the blooming thing?"

9.20am: Suitably abashed, Adam leaves. Increasing numbers of young offenders are being bailed to Barthorpe's special units, as the courts see their reform potential. "I had dreadful reservations, because then it's us who have to ring the police if they don't turn up. But I'd far rather they were bailed to us than sent to a young offenders' institution, which will be on their records for ever."

10.20am: Having driven back to the office, Barthorpe writes her weekly staff bulletin.

10.40am: Walks 20 yards to sign in at South Park Learning Centre, her new PRU. (This is already the seventh signing in or out of the day. But this one is different. In charge of the pen and book is Dean, once a naughty boy but now flash in shirt, tie and hair gel, working for his ASDAN award. He gets a signature with a flourish.) Pupils, parents and dignitaries, including the local councillor who recently had to field residents'

protests over the siting of the centre, are arriving for the formal handover of two computers, rebuilt by students, to a local hospice.

11.10am: Blushing boys having made their presentation, Barthorpe poses for the Scunthorpe Telegraph photographer, gets her diary out to fix similarly high-profile presentations for two students who have just joined the centre "we try to get them all to do one in their first term" - then mingles with students and their parents around the buffet table, part mistress of ceremonies, part mum: "Didn't he do well... I'm really pleased you could come".

12 noon: More paperwork in the office: signing expenses claims, making arrangements for a national training day in London, reading the papers for the county exclusions panel on which she sits and which meets later in the week. Barthorpe's goal is to persuade heads to place at-risk students with her before they reach exclusion. If they do so then their students' exam results are counted in their "home" school's league table, and the school's exclusion rate also falls. But they have to pay to place students. "At the moment I have four heads who place and ten who exclude."

1.40pm: As Barthorpe arrives in Brigg for the annual school leavers' tea, her mobile phone rings: it is a secondary head, a customer of her entirely self-financing service, who wants his inclusion policy partly rewritten by the end of the week. She promises to do what she can. Meanwhile waiting for her are director of education, Dr Trevor Thomas, heads of the pupil referral units plus five students holding records of achievement. "It's a nice touch," she says. "It's for students who can't face going back to their own school because they've left under a cloud or been excluded".

2.15pm: Another buffet, another speech, another photograph. Then inspection of the records of achievement: Tracey, 16, one-time bad girl herself, is doing on-the-job training to work with disaffected children; Ryan, 16, an ADHD headache for his school who then acquired a clutch of GCSEs under Barthorpe's regime, is earning pound;240 a week in a temporary job at the steelworks but talking about saving it all to go to university.

As the special needs boss circulates, Karen Parsonage, head of High Ridge secondary school, arrives to chat to one of "her" students at the tea.

"This is how it should work," says Barthorpe. "He can go back to Karen for a reference. They can sit together now amicably because he knows she enabled him to get sorted out. Whereas for the other students here it was so fraught by the end of the exclusions process that none of them would be terribly pleased to see each other today."

3.15pm: Back to the office: in the post are last week's court reports for "her" students. Barthorpe looks weary as she reads all five: cases of criminal damage, assault, stealing cars, driving without insurance and while drunk.

Then there are minutes of her inclusion panel: monitoring the temperature of 23 students thought at risk of exclusion. "We have a mixture of health, education and psychology people on it - it's not statutory, it's just something we do. We meet once a month and look at each case: some are on their second school, some are in primary and we are worried about them going up to secondary. If one of them is excluded we only have 15 days to provide for them, so I'm always watching."

4pm Staff trickle into Barthorpe's office, helping themselves to tea and hot chocolate before their weekly meeting. North Lincs is reorganising and rebranding: people look tired when the council logo is discussed but are reanimated when Barthorpe reassures the hospital and home tuition service that an administrative home will be found for them somewhere in the new set-up. Behind the scenes, she says, there was a lot of lobbying to do.

6pm: Last call of the day is Belton primary school, where Barthorpe trains 25 governors and staff on implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, a session she will run in all 85 North Lincs schools over the coming year.

8 pm: Home.

Nasen show linksTricia Barthorpe will be speaking on "Raising attainment for those with Special Educational Needs" on October 30 at 10 am and on "Meeting the mainstream responsibilities of those with medical needs" on November 1 at 10.30 am.

North Lincolnshire SENSS: Stand 8

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