I was very impressed with the professionalism of the service and literature and extremely grateful for the advice provided. In our case, the [Enquire] Helpline helped to secure a positive outcome from the local authority for our child, together with a commitment to the revision of the authority’s policy.
Peter McGregor, Operations Manager for the Flexible Learning Initiative with North Lanarkshire Council
Peter explains exactly what the Flexible Learning Initiative is all about “Once a young person has been identified as requiring a high level of support, and where schools have already implemented numerous strategies, they are referred to our Support for Learning Department, where young people are matched with the most appropriate resource. One of those resources is the Flexible Learning Initiative.
The programme offers young people an opportunity for a fresh start. Many have found it difficult just to attend school, while others have found themselves in conflict with adults. The programme gives us the opportunity to offer a wide range of learning opportunities outwith the school environment.”
Peter is more than qualified to deal with challenging situations. With a background as a Psychiatric Staff Nurse; a Nurse Officer in Barlinnie Prison, work in a residential school, as well as with a local training provider, Peter is experienced in working in a fast-paced environment dealing with the social and emotional issues experienced by many young people, particularly during times of transition.
Peter is responsible for the day-to-day management of the programme, the staff team and for ensuring that the young people’s individual needs are met. “At any given time there are approximately 45 young people on the programme. The ideal situation is that there is a partnership between the school and us. Young people can have a timetable that allows them to continue with some subjects at school, while attending others on Flexible Learning. Some young people find it too difficult to return to the school environment, and here we would try to offer as full a curriculum as we possibly can. All of the young people who come onto Flexible Learning have a high level of additional support need, and I see the biggest part of my remit in creating and continuing an ethos of mutual respect and always looking for solutions to each challenge we face.”
The first thing Peter does is to meet every young person, their parents or carers, school staff and any other professional who may be involved. There is detailed discussion on how the programme operates, and it is here that the process of articulating to each young person that this is an opportunity for a real fresh start.
He explains, “Many of the young people about to come onto the programme know someone who has been on Flexible Learning already, and the feedback is that they did sit their exams and then progressed to college, onto Employability Fund training, or alternatively they may have taken up an Activity Agreement. As many professionals are aware, it is often the peer to peer information and recommendation which has more impact than me, or my colleagues, could potentially achieve in a meeting.”
Following these meetings, Peter begins the process of planning individual timetables for each young person. When looking at these, he takes into account that the team should be encouraging access to local provision e.g. further education, Employability Fund providers (previously Get Ready for Work), local sports centres, and community centres etc. Once this is complete the timetables are issued to our our staff team and they meet the young person again, most often at home. This gives the Flexible Learning ‘Coaches’ a further opportunity to meet parents and find out if any other additional support is needed.
Peter’s role also includes dealing with the lead Community Planning Partner which includes ensuring all recording and monitoring requirements relating to funding are met which takes, in his words, ‘an extensive amount of time’.
The job does have other challenges too. As Peter says, “One of the main challenges is to initially engage each young person right from the start. Many of them have extremely sporadic attendance at school and I try to ensure that our team really put in a lot of work around home visits, calls, texts, whatever it takes to hopefully allow parents and young people to realize that the programme is an opportunity for a fresh start and the support on offer is excellent. Our overall attendance rate of approximately 85% is testimony to the fact that most young people do engage extremely well and recognise that the programme will support them through to the next stage in their life.”
One of the other challenges is to ensure that the staff team is supported and that there is adequate staff presence at all of the interventions. “There are approximately five interventions running morning and then afternoon. Each session might have 4 or 5 young people, and I allocate staff who can meet young people when they arrive, make sure they are fit and prepared for the intervention ahead, and act as a support to our partners.”
Like many professional no two days are the same. “I need to be able to responsive to any situation that may happen across the whole of North Lanarkshire, so this aspect can be challenging. The team is excellent and has developed significant skills, which is the real reason for the success of the programme. As part of this process I meet with each of the staff on a weekly basis, meaning I meet staff most days. We go through each caseload, discuss progress, any barriers young person might be experiencing, exploring transport issues and always keeping in the forefront of our minds, potential destinations for each individual.”
Peter highlights the impact the Initiative has on children, young people and families, “The difference it makes to individual young people is evident every day. The fact that a young person is now attending a structured package of learning, the fact they are building positive relationships with not only Flexible Learning staff but also a range of other professionals and partners. The fact that nearly all our young people achieve level 3 qualifications or above when they thought they would never be able to sit an exam due to the amount of school they had missed.
The most rewarding difference is when parents and young people say that relationships within the home have improved dramatically. Parents report: less conflict at home; children engaging more in dialogue, speaking about the interventions they were at as well as expressing a sense of achievement, an increase in confidence and a realisation of their own self worth. I’m not naïve enough to say that this works for every young person, however, nearly all young people do realise that they are bright, intelligent and articulate.
For me the icing on the cake is when the young people make a positive progression to college, training or employment, and they are able to sustain this opportunity. It gives you a sense of pride to witness young people starting another part of their life journey, though hopefully much better prepared than they would have been.”
And what is the most valuable lesson that Peter has learnt in his role as Operations Manager? “To have patience, patience and more patience! This particular role has taught me that a consistent and predictable approach is exactly what is required when working with young people with the levels of additional support need that Flexible Learning is supporting. At the risk of sounding clichéd, being able to make sure you listen to young people and their parents is vital. There is no magic recipe for sincerity … it is either there or it’s not and the young people we work will soon discover if we are being anything but genuine!”