How have the children responded? The children have responded very positively to the occupational therapy sessions, and the therapists. They really have welcomed the new venture and been actively involved in its development. It has been lovely to interact with children and hear how much they have enjoyed an occupational therapy session, how excited they are to attend next week’s session and how they are going to discuss the session with their peers/teacher/family. As well as the enjoyment, the children have worked really hard during their occupational therapy sessions and this has led to great and observable improvements across a range of skills. It has been wonderful to see children carry out activities they previously struggled with upon assessment – either through developing the skills, using equipment to help them carry out the activity, or slightly simplifying the activity. Additionally, it has been extremely rewarding to hear how proud the children are of themselves, as they have been able to master skills they previously couldn’t do. This shows how dedicated the children have been, which demonstrates how positively they have responded to the occupational therapy service.

What do the parents think of the programme? Parents were really receptive to occupational therapists working in the school. Upon sending out the initial letter, we had many parents spontaneously respond to ask for support for their child in certain areas. The occupational therapists were able to answer all these queries through phone conversations, well attended parent workshops, and through a drop-in stand at parents’ evening. In addition to this, parents of most of the children that have been referred to the service, have really engaged with the process and are keen to learn more about how they can support their child at home, as well as school. We have had parents discuss referral procedures for siblings at other schools and purchase specialist equipment recommended by the students. Furthermore, we have noticed that parents’ discussions of occupational therapy input have been positive and they have been sharing tips, activities and successful outcomes with one another. Some parents have also expressed the hope that occupational therapists will be able to visit them in their home to further build on their success in school and support elements of their home life that have an impact on their daily lives.

How do the staff feel? Our staff body in school includes teachers,

December 2016

teaching assistants, learning mentors, lunchtime support, administrative support and students, all of who required different levels of engagement and have seen different benefits from the therapists’ input. In addition to this, outside agencies working in the school, therapists and sports coaches have also furthered their knowledge and approaches, reporting impact. Staff feel more knowledgeable about the role

of occupational therapy and how this can support children in school in a wider context. They have all engaged with the process and made referrals for children in their classes. They feel listened to and see that their children’s difficulties are understood and that they also have a better understanding of the children in their care. Increased engagement with the process centred on collaboration and understanding of both the staff and the occupational therapists, working together closely to arrange timetables for support that suited everyone. After only four weeks of individualised programmes, staff were beginning to comment on the impact of the process for pupils in their class. Staff also benefitted from access to bespoke training on issues that are significant to our school i.e. fine motor difficulties, sensory needs and wellbeing. From these outcomes, most staff are beginning to understand how this can be incorporated into everyday lessons to benefit more pupils.

What other benefits has the school seen? The greatest benefit has been to the individual children who are receiving direct input. They are all developing an increased sense of self-esteem from the success in their programmes. We are seeing increased independence across learning in a holistic context. Some children are now able to manage their own personal care needs – for example, sensory regulation, dressing/undressing, going to the toilet, eating and taking responsibility for their learning needs, which includes managing movement breaks and specialist equipment. This increased our understanding of self-empowering pupils. Through environmental adaptations, we have

seen pupils being able to comfortably access learning in areas that previously caused discomfort. We have developed productive learning environments which have enabled pupils to engage in their work and a wider variety of learning opportunities. There has been a noticeable increase in access to the curriculum for some pupils, resulting in significant progress in focused areas. We have witnessed the development of peer relationships and all pupils 21

have displayed an increased acceptance of differences. Finally, staff collaboration internally and

externally has built relationships and shared good practice and increased flexibility of teaching pedagogy as it moulds the perception of the classroom norms. As a school, we can see a future in our relationship with the occupational therapy service, and in particular we are interested in how they might work with the learning mentor team in future to develop their daily practice with pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs.

What would you say to other schools thinking of going down a similar route? We have seen phenomenal results across the group and individual programmes, many of which we didn’t foresee. Giving children easier access to their occupations improves life chances through increased engagement in play and learning activities, and reduces behaviour that is perceived as challenging. The most significant outcome was an increase in independence, which has positively impacted all areas of their life and learning. It was an easy process, the occupational therapy

students worked with the school towards the same goals and outcomes. Of course, you do need to be open and receptive to change and development. Children and staff have had lots of fun learning. In the future we are looking to employ to occupational therapy services to work across all schools in our multi-academy trust. This is a life-affirming opportunity for many children and their families, and will change the lives of children in your school!

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