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A hand-drawn picture in crayon, alongside the title of this blog.

Person-Centred Working - Listening to and working with learners and their families

Caroline Sutton-Reid joined Whole School SEND as National Delivery Coordinator in 2023. She has worked in education since 2009 and has a passion for supporting learners with SEND. Prior to her current role, she worked as a Regional SENCO, where she led and coached a team of SENCOs for a large MAT. Here, Caroline explores the theme of person-centred working, and how it can empower young minds.

What is person-centred working? 

A person-centred approach proactively explores a young person’s views and values. By understanding what’s important to them, their aspirations, and any concerns they have, we can tailor support to meet their needs effectively and positively. 

Working in this way allows young people to have a voice in decisions made about them and their education. This collaborative approach ensures they are part of the conversation and have influence – in effect, it’s making decisions together, rather than having decisions made about what will be done ‘to them’. 

Why is it important? 

The aim is always to establish a partnership rather than imposition. By supporting children to communicate their wishes and needs, we can create a supportive and empowering environment. Done well, it fosters independence and confidence in navigating their own futures – vital skills for succeeding and thriving throughout their childhood and into adulthood. 

On a more technical note, the SEND Code of Practice states that settings must “ensure decisions are informed by the insights of parents and those of children and young people themselves”, and The Children and Families Act 2014 gives clear aims for the involvement of children and young people in choices about their care and education. 

How can it be used to get the best outcomes for learners? 

To maximize benefits for learners, it is crucial to truly listen to young people and integrate their perspectives into decisions regarding their care and support. Transparency about how their views shape these decisions is essential and allowing them to actively participate in determining their own path ensures that support is meaningful and engaging. 

Person-centred conversations should take place frequently. They’re particularly useful when preparing for transition points, for working towards ambitions, and for reviewing the effectiveness of provision. It’s important to include parents and/or carers within these conversations, but as children develop, enabling the child to express their views independently of, and in addition to, their parents/carers views is key.  

Where can I find support? 

There are a number of person-centred tools that can be used to gather views of children and young people that find it difficult to express themselves. For pre-verbal learners, observation of what they are drawn to – and away from – as well as assistive technology and visual aids can provide valuable insights into their preferences and needs. Other examples of tools that can be used to include visual approaches such as PATH, MAPS, Good Day/Bad Day, 4+1 Questions, What’s Working/Not Working, One Page Profiles and Relationship Circles.  

Earlier this year, we released an online SEND CPD Unit explores the theme in greater depth and is free to access, thanks to funding from the Department for Education as part of the Universal SEND Services programme.