Here's the key

4th January 2008 at 00:00
Challenging pupils often need the attention of key workers in school. Sarah Bowes explains why more people should take on the responsibility.

One of the most important roles at my former school, Ramridge Primary in Luton, was the key worker who was matched with the more vulnerable or challenging pupils. This would usually be a behaviour support assistant or teaching assistant, as their time was more flexible. But they could, in theory, be anyone in the school, even the headteacher.

The key worker sets a target for the child to work to, which must normally be achievable within a half-term. At Ramridge, we decided to make the targets termly because so much happens in one half-term that the children could have felt rushed. Targets can be anything from sitting immediately in a chair at the beginning of the day to seeking adult help to resolve conflict in the playground to learning to accept positive criticism.

As inclusion manager, I drew up a personal support plan for each child, identifying their skills, achievements and difficulties, the key agencies which the child worked with (such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health), the class teacher and the amount of support the child received in things such as social skills sessions.

Targets were then set at the beginning of the September term and reviewed at the end of each term with a new target set for the following term. The key worker wrote a short report on the child's progress, which was added to the personal support plan and this was sent home to parents.

The key worker's role is to build a positive relationship with the child, liaising between child, parent and class teacher. There would be a timetabled 30-minute session each week where he or she discussed progress with each child, offering a reward of an activity if the child had worked hard. The reward was not given if the child had not worked towards their target, the time was spent on reflection and discussion instead.

We had so many children at Ramridge in this category that we timetabled a 30-minute slot at the end of each day for key workers to bring their children to "Sky class", our primary learning support unit.

Key workers were also expected to find ways to develop a positive relationship with parents, the best way being through a postcard home or good news phone call at the end of each week. These have a dramatic effect as the parents of challenging children usually receive only bad news.

As our key workers became more knowledgeable and experienced, they developed circle times or other programmes to help the children talk about their feelings.

Knowing that they have an adult on their side in the school can give challenging children such a boost and often behaviour starts to improve simply from this. All the children highly valued their key worker time and were disappointed if it was missed - this meant a commitment from the key worker to ensure that they met the child on time each week.

Setting targets like this appeared to have a knock-on effect and soon the child was able to achieve in more areas and with a wider circle of adults. We found often that once a key worker had been allocated, the need for extra outside agency support could be reduced as the child often just needed someone to talk to, take an interest and commit time to help.

Sarah Bowes is a former teacher at Ramridge Primary School in Luton, Bedfordshire.

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