Allan Cowieson, Quality Improvement Officer – Additional Support Needs, North Ayrshire Council

What does the role of Quality Improvement Officer involve?

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The Quality Improvement role emerged as a result of the 2000 Act requiring schools and local authorities to publish improvement plans to show how they would improve services. Every school in Scotland, mainstream and special, is expected to publish annual improvement plans.

On top of this Quality Improvement role, each Officer is likely to maintain areas of specialist knowledge, such as Eco Schools, or Additional Support for Learning. My role includes ensuring that schools and the local authority get better at identifying and addressing children and young people’s educational needs, and I work very closely with other agencies; social services, NHS teams and the voluntary sector to achieve this. I also support and am supported by the Inclusion Team in North Ayrshire. This small team includes a Head of Service, Principal Psychologist and two Quality Improvement Managers who are responsible for Equalities and also More Choices More Chances.

What’s involved in a typical day in your job (if such a thing exists)?

There is no typical day, but I enjoy the variety my role offers. I am the lead officer within Education and Skills for GIRFEC, for the Disability Equality Duties, the Accessibility Strategy and for all aspects of ASfL.

I can be delivering multi-agency GIRFEC training, attending school review meetings to support parents, chairing the Accessibility Strategy steering group, or working on a development group on a multi-agency ADHD pathway for assessment and intervention.

I work with schools and educational psychologists to assess learner needs and to establish appropriate packages of support. I can also be part of a school-review team, involving Quality Improvement Offiers and a head teacher taking a closer look at the work of a school. My role on the team will be to examine in detail how effectively schools are identifying, addressing and monitoring learners’ needs.

In what ways does your work make a direct difference to the lives of young people, and their families?

My work is as part of a larger team, so I rely on policy-makers and those who set budgets; elected members, Heads of service, Chief Executive, administrative officers and a host of others, who all play an essential part in ensuring that we have the capacity to offer as much support as we can, in the most efficient way possible to every child or young person who needs it.

Where we get it right, the positive difference to children and their families is immense. For the past five years, the authority has supported a policy that no child or young person would miss out on any school-related activity or experience for any reason related to additional support needs or disability. By working step by step within a long-term plan, we have been able to gather resources that have made it possible for this to happen.

Where a school is having difficulty in finding a way to include a child or young person in any experience, either the head teacher or parents will contact me. We get all the parties together and look at what needs to be done to include the child or young person. There have been some challenges, but we have always found a way to support inclusion.

What do you think are the main challenges of the job?

Every parent wants the best support for their child. It is only right that this should be the case. What poses the most significant challenge is reassuring parents that this is also what the local authority wants. In my work with schools and services, I have found that in almost every case people want to do what is best for a child or young person. The main task here is for me to work with parents and schools to establish a culture of trust and confidence.

The barrier we all face is the limitation placed on us by having only finite resources. All parents are aware of this limitation and where we can establish trust and confidence, they accept that we are doing all we can to support their child.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

Without question it is when we get it right. Each year we get letters from children and young people and from parents/carers thanking us for help and support. These letters often tell us what a child has been able to achieve or what they have been able to enjoy due to the support they received.

It is also very rewarding for me when a school gains a very positive inspection report, especially in relation to meeting learner needs.

I also work with some very positive people across other agencies. Where a group has a ‘can do’ approach, the results can be far more than expected and very rewarding.

What led you to your current role?

As a secondary school teacher, I developed an early interest in young people who had dyslexia.

My interest in all aspects of additional support for learning has grown from there.

I have found that, for many people working in this field, it has been a strong personal interest in one or more aspects of barriers to learning that have led to their present post.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your job?

Probably the most important lesson has been the need to listen. Listening to children and young people, parents, carers and all other stakeholders so that each feels they have been genuinely heard is essential.

In my experience, if people are not listened to properly, then only short-term gains emerge. Lasting solutions must involve everyone. Many children, young people and their parents/carers feel that they have little to contribute.

It is important that professionals get across to these important stakeholders that their views are essential and that they do have a contribution to make to solving a problem.

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