Transcript: Educating looked after young people: Aspire Scotland

Using computers and the internet with looked after young people. Aspire Scotland provides high quality residential care and education for children and young people aged between eight and seventeen.

Podcast Episode: Educating looked after young people: Aspire Scotland

Category: Young people 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

IW - Ian Watson
FS - Francis Scott
PN - Paul Neilson

IW Aspire provides high quality residential care and education for children and young people aged between 8 and 17. Aspire Education is based in Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, in a converted cinema which is also home to a number of community facilities including a cafe, gym and games hall to which the school has access. In fact these facilities play an important part in the education programme - helping the young people integrate with the local community and learning about trust and respect. Aspire’s approach to education includes extensive and innovative use of computers and the internet, and the school has embraced the iPad and other devices as valuable educational resources. I talked to Francis Scott, Head of Education, and Paul Neilson, the ICT Manager, about internet safety, the use of computers in learning, including YouTube for learning multiplication, growing potatoes and running nail bars. I caught up with Francis in the entrance foyer of the cafe before going on a tour of the building, meeting some of the young people and getting a glimpse of life in Aspire.

FS You come in here and you have got your cinema ticket and you can see the hexagonal aspect of it, then you would go into the cinema areas. In the cinema area is where the gymnasium is, and the projection rooms is where the classrooms are up the stairs. So it was very much a community hub. What we have done is we have run with a community model and we wanted our young people to be very much part and active within the community model. So you are standing now in the cafeteria area, and it is very much used by the local schools, local community, and our kids interact with them as well. So they will come down and eat when they are here, and they will come down and use the facilities, this facility themselves. The NHS are here and they look at smoking cessation and things like that. What we have got is we can make direct referrals to them for our young people if they are coming in here and they are smoking and things like that, so they can work with the programmes that they are running. What you have got in here - you are in the main gymnasium. We get access to this if and when, but it also get hired out to the community - so there is a lot of badminton gets played in here - not so much the football because of the way it is all set up, but very much used at the weekends for parties and children’s parties. Our facilities - we have got bouncy castle, we have weight training, we do step aerobics in here, there are zumba classes, tennis, short tennis, badminton - and it is very well used. It is good for when our young people are experiencing quite a lot of difficulty.

IW And this was originally the actual cinema?

FS This was the cinema, aye.

IW And up there was the …

FS Projection room.

IW Projection room … I see people up there now on the treadmills.

FS It is like any building - if there are people in it and they are seeing people around it, people will go into it. When we first came in here, the cafeteria was closed - and what we do is we generate income to that cafeteria. That cafeteria now takes our food orders for the kids and offers them a full menu - it has worked quite well. And Michelle follows a healthy eating plan with our kids.

IW So does that keep them then out the chip shop basically?

FS Aye, well they don’t serve chips - there is no chips and curry sauce at all, and it’s a healthier eating strategy that we have. Good relationships as well - teaching the kids that this is people’s businesses in here and you need to respect, and there are members of the public in as well. We have an allotment - it’s the Garnock Valley Allotment Agency - we are starting to go up there … it will be starting in the next month or so, the preparation of the ground. We go to the meetings and we are very much involved with the Garnock Valley Allotment Group - and the kids love it, in the summer last year they were up there - they planted their potatoes, and now they know that they have got to move the potatoes to an area of the ground, and we fit that into a programme, an SQA programme as well. There is one there specifically for allotments. A lot of our young people coming here with disjointed education - it is trying to offer them new opportunities - and education just doesn’t need to be in the classroom. And we utilise the community aspect of it for them in terms of their ideas - they will come in with an idea at their meetings and they’ll say “well these are the resources we have got to that”, and they will ask and try and identify to key resources and key themes which we have got running at that particular time. They got their produce - they brought their potatoes in - and what they done with that - they got put into a science project in terms of making a potato clock and things like that - not just eating the potatoes … but they did eat them, but they showed different usage for them. And then we used the potatoes in art - they would make letters and things like this and they would do stamping and things. So we very much … we don’t have to go and buy it - we have grown it and we have all the different usages for this. We do an awful lot of partnership work. Outside agencies will come in. for instance today there is a nail bar coming in, and the kids are tidying up one of the classrooms in readiness for the nail bar coming in. So that is in about 12:30 today.

IW So they have got a job to look after clients basically?

FS Well we are going to try and teach them … a lot of our girls are into beauty therapy and things like that, so we are trying to show them that you can actually have a career out of this. So we have got good links with the colleges, like James Watt College and Kilmarnock College - and we work a lot with the Princes Trust team. And we just employed one of our young people who is 17 - he was due to leave us - so he is now our caretaker. So we worked with the local job centre on that. You’ll meet him. This is our Health & Wellbeing Room.

IW Right, this is quite a small room we have come into here.

FS Yes, it’s about 10 feet by 10 feet

IW Brightly painted.

FS Brightly painted - young people designed what is in here. And what we do is we take the “I can” statements from the Curriculum for Excellence across the levels, and we identify to that and we work with individual young people. Conversation happens in here with regards to what is happening in their family life, what is happening in school, what is impacting on their behaviours - and then they get one to one time in here. It is used quite a bit. The young people … there are some young people who will come in here and prefer to be sitting in a one to one - but some young people prefer … and we call it a ‘walk and talk’ - prefer just to go into the community and they have got key areas that they can go to - we have identified nice safe areas for them next to the rivers and in the parks - a member of staff will go on a walk and talk and back with them. So that gets recorded through their plans as well. We have now come into our gymnasium area.

IW Really professional gymnasium - treadmills, bikes.

FS There is also, associated and linked to this is a sauna and steam-room, and there are showering facilities as well. What you get is you get a lot of community usage, and what we do is we follow down-times in the gymnasium - and coming up to Christmas we normally put a 6 week healthy eating programme and a fitness programme in - and then 6 weeks after Christmas we put a 6 week programme in as well. So we follow a 12 week block of health and fitness focus, body mass index, and they will look at what their calorie intake is, they will look at certain target within their capabilities and their progression within lifting weights and routines. So it puts a lot of structure into self-awareness and try and understand what is happening to them, their bodies, etc. But they do come in here - there is a fitness instructor in here who oversees it, and he sets the programmes for the children. And they have all be inducted, they all know how to use the machines - and it has very much fitted in as just part of their core to their curriculum as well. But it’s a good release as well - if somebody is not having a good day they can come into the gym. It’s ideal.

We have got a central hub - we work with a lot of assessment … assessment is key to what we do here, and you will see on the walls - these are resiliency scales. It’s an assessment tool. We look at resilience, protective environments, vulnerability and adversity. And these are measurement tools in terms of young people’s ability to work within these parameters. What we operate with is a paper and an electronic system. All our work can be … well it is digitised, and it is accessible online through iPads, through Smartphones, whatever - if you can access the internet, you can access your education. Some young people prefer working with books, some don’t - it’s just another medium that we can go between.

IW Do you find that possibly they mix both sometimes online or …

FS Aye, every young person has got a computer in here - they have all got their own log-ins and their computers - so whereas if they go into a book, it’s maybe lost or it’s not there - it means they are logging in - it takes them straight to the work that they have got. When we introduced every young person with their computer and introduced the software that was there and all the iPad technology, there was some people quite sceptical about “well that’s a £500 piece of kit - it’s going to get broken”. But there is none of them been broken - they work towards the iPad. So they have continued a piece of work, or if it’s a particular programme with an app which is on there, then they will get that. Two young people in here just now - working on the same levels. They are working on Maths, and what you have got is you have got one teacher to two ratio just now - they have also got a support worker, so it can become one to one if required.

TEACHER: The writers wall was populated last term, it’s quite difficult for them to want to show off their work - did you see the achievements wall out here? And what we try and do is link the achievements into the 4 capacities for the Curriculum for Excellence. It is taking a long time for them even to be accepting of their names being up. Work again - they lack the confidence in displaying the work and for others to view it.

IW So do they feel embarrassed at the notion of being recognised or having achieved something?

TEACHER I think they are kind of … they don’t know how to accept praise … they’ve not had a lot of it.

FS A lot of our young people have been excluded, and it is normally adults that have excluded them from whatever walk - if it has been from mainstream education, if it has been from home environments, we have had previous residential establishments - and they are not very trusting of adults. Their sense of achievements - there has been very little reinforcers to their achievements, so it is really important for us, if they can even talk for maybe an hour without swearing, that’s an achievement. So it’s these softer skills which are there in terms of their behaviours and their connecting with adults and they are trusting relationships - and they can do it - it’s just that they need to be connected and guided and shown. They know how to get themselves out of school, they know how to disconnect - and what we try to do is work with that, so that behaviours remain focused within progression within our education.

Darren, can we talk to you just now? What is it you do here?

Darren Cleaning.

FS Your title is what?

Darren Caretaker - when people are in trouble I just …

FS You come and you tell staff and you talk to staff and you keep them safe, don’t you? Yes. What about all your cleaning and your rota and your system that you work with? What do you do?

Darren I hoover and mop, but I couldn’t do that because there were no mops, and that stuff up there for the tables.

FS The table skoosh?

Darren Uh huh.

FS So it’s the multi-surface wipe?

Darren Yes.

IW So you make sure it is safe for people to work on the tables?

Darren Uh huh.

FS And you do that in every classroom, don’t you? You disinfect every single classroom. You do the bins?

Darren Uh huh.

FS And you do all the main walkways, you do all the brushing of them.

Darren Yes.

FS You put the signs up, don’t you?

Darren Yes, wet floor.

FS Wet floor signs. And what we are working towards is the transition of Darren becoming into full time employment. He comes here and he does 16 hours a week just now, and he also still gets part of his schooling done. So on a Thursday and a Friday he will do his schooling …

Darren That’s today and tomorrow.

FS And that’s going to stop in May, isn’t it?

Darren Uh huh, you’ll not get me to March, July, August, September.

FS He’ll be here for a while, so he will. Wherever we go, you will go, okay?

Darren Okay.

FS And then you are opening up a bank account - that’s arranged for you?

Darren That’s Wednesday.

FS Right, and we still give him his individual worker - he has still got his youth worker. Thanks Darren.

IW Thank you very much Darren.

FS This is the secondary transitions class - the young people may be 14 or 15, but they are not up at the academic level of the previous class that Lawrence was talking to you about - so we would bring them in here and prepare them and look at the gaps in their knowledge with regards to big gaps - multiplication tables. This morning we did a class on multiplication tables, times tables and giving them that as homework - so they will be tested next week with this, and that is why I am getting asked “are you coming into class”, because I am the one that runs it with them. We have put in a system, an easier system how to operate - and we use a direct into YouTube, because YouTube has got all the multiplication tables on it in song and raps.

IW Oh I see, right.

FS So we have identified what raps and what songs, and they tend to learn them a bit better.

We are moving into an area which is called the ‘Nurture Room’ - the young people in there have got a higher dependency and there is a higher needs aspect in this section. The Nurture Room is set up with three different areas and we run very much routine orientated - it is check in and then you have got designated areas where they have got work stations and we have also got areas that they can have choice in and away time within the one environment. There are two young people in here today - hiya. How are you?

Nicky Hi, what is that?

IW This is a little recorder. I’m Ian, nice to meet you.

Nicky I’m Nicky

IW You are Nicky - what sorts of things do you do?

Nicky Stuff on the computer.

IW What are you working with?

Micky Doing nothing at the moment, but I do Maths, Language, English in the afternoons, so …

IW On your computer mostly?

Nicky Yes, I’m all mostly computer programmed.

FS You’re computer programmed?

Nicky Totally.

FS Totally computer programmed, and you love the Fire Service, don’t you?

Nicky Yes, I do.

IW So what is this room here?

Nicky This is where we do our relaxation and we go in there to do meditation and relaxation and things like that. It’s different to quite a lot of organisations - (1) it is not mainstream school, (2) the teachers are quite grumpy.

IW The teachers are quite grumpy, there we are, yes.

Nicky So make sure you include me please?

FS Okay, we will do, thanks very much.

IW Thank you.

Paul Neilson We actually run a multimedia project within the school where they actually make their own stop motion videos. We are progressing up the levels. We have done the simple ones - now we are going to do the more complicated ones like building up Lego and characters and stuff. We have an art studio where everything is all set up - they can put the iPad in and then it is controlled by an iPod - so they can actually take snapshots, move the things about, take another snapshot and it is all done remotely through the Wi-Fi. The kids absolutely love it. If they need on the internet they go on using their PC’s because we use a firewall. We can see what they are doing also using Team Viewer. So they are protected on the computer, so we don’t mind them searching for images and stuff on the computer, but not via the iPad. They respect it wholly - I mean obviously when we first bought them we thought … we bought protective covering and cases and we have ended up taking them away and using a wee light one, because in all honesty they have never received a scratch, they have never thrown them - they respect them, because they enjoy using them so much.

Well I am actually a trained CL trainer, so we do the CEOP course with them, which we have done in the past, and they get a certificate and stuff.

IW CEOP is the Centre for …

FS The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Protection Centre, yes. It is run by SOCA - it’s the Police, the Police run it - but what they do is they get educationalists, social workers and other policemen to become trainers - so I can train trainers or I can train young people, parents, groups. It is just to warn them about the internet and how dangerous it can be, about putting all your details on Facebook. Once you have put them out there, you can’t take them back. So it’s just education.

IW Facebook is an interesting one - do some of the young people here have their own Facebook and social network …

FS They do, but we don’t let them access it during school time. They can access it, restricted, at their place of residence.

IW Do they raise any concerns with you, or do they bring any problems they might have with Facebook specifically?

FS I can’t go into details, but yes, we have had a couple of instances.

IW Like bullying on …

FS Cyber texting, bullying … You get lots and lots of free apps - we actually have accounts - we put money into it so often, and the young people can purchase games, play games sometimes. But what you can do is you can get loads and loads of educational apps - Maths, English, book reading - there are thousands and thousands of different apps. So each young person has probably got a specific need, so we get apps to suit their specific needs. But we also put a bit of fun in it - we have got drawing packages where we can put photos in - they can draw all over it and trace it and then make it their own. We can do stop animation video, you know, so you can do a multitude of things on it - it’s a cracking piece of kit for them.

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