I am a SET teacher and SENCO in a large urban primary school which has extremely high levels of children with EAL and SEN. I have taught in support for a number years, both before and after the new allocation model for SET was introduced. I have written hundreds of support plans for children with a wide variety of SEN and of various levels of severity. In this post, I will share guidance on how to prepare a classroom/ school/ school support+ plan.
Since the new model of SET allocation was introduced in September 2017 there has been a move towards the use of the NEPS “student support file” document (pictured) for planning for children who receive support, although it is up to the school to decide on the format that works best for them for their planning.
The Individual Education Plan (IEP) format is still acceptable if schools wish to use it and I have a sample and template available on teachingplans.ie here. However, in this post I will focus on completing support plans using the “student support file” file only. The exact same student support file document is used for children on all 3 levels of the continuum: Classroom, school support, and school support+.
A classroom support plan is prepared by the class teacher, with some assistance from the SET teacher (who for instance may carry out observations of the child and record data when the class teacher is teaching). The SET teacher prepares the plans at school support and school support+ level, with input from the class teacher (e.g. the targets will be agreed between the SET and class teacher).
While the same student support file is used for pupils at all 3 levels on the continuum, less detail is usually included in the plan at classroom support level and less in-depth assessments may be undertaken. Children at school support plus level will have more complex needs and therefore more diagnostic assessments and detail is usually required in their plan.
When completing a student support plan, the following should be undertaken:
Step 1: Getting to know the child
- If the child has any of the following you should read them: professional reports (psychology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy), previous support plans (class support, school support or school support +), and their Personal Pupil Plan (if they have SNA access).
- Complete the “My Thoughts About School” pupil interview (template on page 11 of the NEPS Special Educational Needs A Continuum of Support Resource pack for teachers or use the fully editable Microsoft Word version from teachingplans.ie here). This pupil interview provides important information about the pupil’s level of self-esteem (for example, can they name things they are good at, do they have friends, how do they think others see them), as well as rewards that they like (which can be invaluable if a token board or behaviour plan is put in place).
Step 2: Assessments and observations (collecting baseline data)
- Undertake assessments with the child to find out exactly where they are at in their learning and the exact nature of their difficulties. These can be teacher designed tests or diagnostic assessments. Only complete assessments with them that are relevant to their area of difficulty, for instance there is no need to do a diagnostic maths assessment on a child who has difficulty with social skills!
- If the difficulty relates to social/ emotional/ behavioural issues, then spend a few sessions observing the child in class and on yard. Record your observations. For templates/ checklists for recording observations about behaviour/ social skills see the NEPS Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties A Continuum of Support Guidelines for Teachers book (pages 81-108). This will help you to identify the priority concerns (for instance you may observe that the child is frequently shouting out in class), and it will provide you with baseline data so that after you have put interventions in place, you can observe again to see whether or not they have been effective. It is important to observe the child over a number of days at different times of the day and during different activities so that you get a good picture of how they are in general, and to help you identify whether or not there are particular activities or times of day that may trigger the behaviour.
Step 3: Start your paperwork
- Complete the following checklists from the NEPS Special Educational Needs A Continuum of Support Resource pack for teachers:
- Basic Needs Checklist (see pages 2-5 for template, instructions, & example or download the editable Microsoft Word version and a completed sample from teachingplans.ie here). If you don’t know the child well, you will need their previous teacher or a staff member who does know them to help you will these out. You can also use the information you gathered from the My Thoughts About School Checklist to help you answer the questions on self-esteem and belonging needs.
- Learning Environment Checklist (see pages 6-10 for template, instructions, & example or download the editable Microsoft Word version and a completed sample from teachingplans.ie here)
Step 4: Setting Targets
- After completing the above, you will have a good idea of possible targets for the child to work on. There may be a myriad of areas that the child could work on, but you need to choose the most important 3-4 to prioritise for your targets. Some things to consider in helping you identify what targets to choose:
- Safety should always come first – No matter how weak a child is academically, if they are engaging in unsafe behaviour in school e.g. physical violence, lashing out, a flight risk, then this has to be the number one target to work on.
- Basic needs – Having completed the basic needs checklist, it may raise some issues for consideration. Page 2 of Special Educational Needs A continuum of Support Resource Pack for Teachers states that “ This model can provide a useful way thinking about where a child is coming from and can provide a useful insight into how to best help a child. For example, if a child is coming to school without breakfast, feels worthless and has few friends how can we expect them to concentrate on lessons? Addressing these basic needs often comes before as well as while implementing any individual interventions for a pupil.”. Therefore, as a prerequisite to beginning additional work with the SET teacher in an area such as literacy or numeracy, the child may need to work on developing their self-esteem, or to develop their friendship skills. A target can be set in this area and following a programme such as he excellent ones in the TALKABOUT series (pictured) may be appropriate.
- Communication – If the child has severe speech and language difficulties or is unable to communicate effectively then this should be a priority target. A child being able to express themselves and understand what others are saying, takes precedent over literacy or numeracy difficulties. Good expressive and receptive language skills are a prerequisite to accessing the curriculum.
- For a child who has wide ranging issues with literacy, consider what the absolute priority is. Initially you may need to choose a target on improving reading ability over spelling ability. While it can be tempting to included targets for all of the child’s areas of difficulty, you will not have time to address all of their needs in one year.
- If you have a child who is in the senior classes and is extremely weak in maths or has severe dyscalculia, consider working on skills that they will need for life such as using money, using measures (for cooking, telling the time) etc. Is Consider if it is really appropriate spending huge amounts of time and stress teaching them long division or multiplication when they will be able to use a calculator for this in secondary school.
- Meet the class teacher to discuss and agree on the targets for the child.
- Meet the child’s parent(s)/ guardian(s) and make sure they are in agreement about the targets. Take their feedback into consideration and amend the targets if needed.
- If appropriate to the child’s level of development, they may be involved in deciding upon their targets as well. Do not underestimate this step as it can be very empowering for a child to be able to identify and work towards a target that they have helped to set.
- Make sure you write SMART targets:
- Specific – “Joe will improve his reading” is not specific. “Joe will read books at an instructional level of 7 on the Oxford Reading Tree scheme as measured by a running record” is.
- Measurable – “Joe will feel better about himself” cannot be objectively measured. “Joe will name 3 positive qualities about himself” can.
- Achievable – “Joe will read at his expected class level by the end of First Class”. If Joe has severe dyslexia, this may not be possible to achieve. It is better to set a target that Joe will likely be able to achieve given what you know about them and their learning history.
- Realistic – “Joe will write in a range of genres using appropriate structure and language”. Will you really have time to cover all of the writing genres with the child as their SET teacher? It might be best to choose one as a priority to work on and to give it adequate time.
- Timebound – Specify when the target should be achieved e.g. “Joe will solve addition problems within 10 by the end of Senior Infants”.
Step 5: Creating your support plan
- Create the student support plan. The blank template is available from the Department of Education and Skills website, here or there is a sample of one completed on teachingplans.ie. In the sample on teachingplans.ie I have included a large number of targets to illustrate the areas that you could do targets in. This is for illustrative purposes only, and a child with complex needs may be working on 3-4 targets for the entire year. A more able child, might have more, but be realistic about what can be achieved in the time you have with the child.
- Once the plan is finalised, send home a copy to the child’s parent(s)/ guardian(s) and make sure the class teacher also has access to it (if your school uses Aladdin, it can be saved on this).
- The plan is a working document and can be edited as the year progresses. You may notice that the child’s priority needs change and therefore their targets may need to change too.
Best of luck in your journey as a SET!