Ofsted, Woolley Wood and Intensive Interaction

Ofsted visited Woolley Wood before Easter and the report has just been published.  The school was graded overall as good with some outstanding features.  I had the opportunity to meet with the inspector and explain the Intensive Interaction work that I had been developing and co-ordinating and the informal feedback from the inspector on the day was great.  Now the report has been published I am happy that there are some references to the Intensive Interaction work, although the direct naming of specific approaches is apparently not allowed within the Ofsted framework.  Here are the relevant sections of the report:
Currently, the quality of teaching is improving rapidly as a result of the now very closely-tailored training for staff. (Quality of teaching, page 5)
I am currently teaching a 6 week course on Intensive Interaction and this is the only ‘closely tailored training for staff’.  The course aims to develop skills in observation, recording (including taking a baseline and recording progress), reflective practice and practical skills such as positioning and synchronising.  Techniques and methods are first modelled to staff in the classroom and the course then requires the staff to team up and try out the methods together.  Staff have so far reported that the course has made a big difference to how they understand the practice.  My own observation is that a genuine change in staff practice takes time and the 6 week course supporting in-class mentoring has been instrumental in affecting this change.
In the past, pupils with profound learning difficulties have made slightly less progress than their peers, as a result of less effective communication. Now, however, the rapidly developing system of communicating with pupils with profound difficulties, through intensive observation of pupils’ responses, is having a much more positive impact on the learning of these pupils. (Quality of teaching, page 5)
While the inspector is not allowed to mention Intensive Interaction specifically, the reference to the approach is clear.  The reference to pupil progress “in the past” relates to 2013, before I began working at the school.
 
Teaching typically enables most pupils to make good progress and occasionally to make outstanding progress in communication. (Quality of teaching, page 5)
I believe that one reason why the inspector is able to say this with confidence is that staff are trained to use the Intensive Interaction recording system which involves taking a clear baseline and then charting progress against this baseline.  I was able to show examples of excellent progress using video and paperwork recorded by staff who have attended the Intensive Interaction course.
Pupils make good progress in their communication and personal skills as a result of the emphasis placed on these areas and the expertise of staff. Pupils’ progress in communication has accelerated rapidly over the last year and this has had a good impact on achievement overall. (Achievement of pupils, page 6)
Another reference to the development in communication that has taken place since the Intensive Interaction project began.
Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is good because pupils are able to reflect during high quality musical experiences and enjoy warm relationships. 
I have also been helping to develop the provision of music at Woolley Wood.  The inspectors observed a group music session that was co-led by myself and the Music Co-ordinator.  The musical interaction approach that I have been teaching at Woolley Wood is based on the principles of Intensive Interaction and I have delivered two training days that have been attended by teachers from other special schools in Sheffield, Leeds, Chesterfield and Tameside.
Here is the link to the report from the Ofsted website.
 
 

Making progress

A question recently posed by a parent at a recent training session at Woolley Wood was “How do I move on from these fun interactions to make sure I really progress my child’s communication skills?”  We had been talking about how to engage a child with a communication impairment in natural playful interaction and how the repeated encounters help a person to rehearse fundamental communication skills but the parent was interested in what she should do to ‘push’ this forward and ensure progress.
To answer this I used a metaphor.  I asked the group whether they had ever tried to make a new friend as an adult and I went on to explain how the process might take place.  Imagine that you are new to the area and another parent you have met at the school gates has invited you around for a cup of tea.  You go round their house and what do you talk about?  Perhaps you would discuss the weather or how your child is doing at school ie. you would find a common theme for interaction that you both share.  It’s likely that you would start by talking about whatever the other person seems interested and it’s unlikely at this stage you would start a conversation about more personal matters such as your family problems.  You would probably not yet call this person a true friend and if you were invited around again then you would probably still be happy with the small talk.  After a few visits however you may find that there is an opportunity to go a little deeper, to ask a question about your friend’s history, to share a personal story or perhaps ask some advice about something.  A conversation like this would make you feel more connected to the other person and that you have more in common than just the fact that your children are at the same school.  With more encounters one person may invite the other to the pub or the gym etc.  With more time, more shared experiences and more shared themes, you may even call each other friends.
I think that we all probably have some experience of something like this and I believe that Intensive Interaction works in the same way.  We should begin by just joining in with the themes that our partner is interested in without asserting our own agenda.  When we can enjoy being with our partner and they enjoy our company then, very often, opportunities to go deeper spring naturally from this sharing of space.  This opportunity may come in the form of a smile from our partner or some warm eye contact or a shift in their position so they are more open to us.  This may then be our time to act if we feel the need to develop the theme.  Our action may come in the form of moving a little closer to our partner, or reaching out and touching our partner or in some other way commenting on what is happening positively all the while making sure that our actions are still a response to what is happening.
The more time you spend sharing your partner’s space in a mindful and responsive way the more ways you will find to be with them and the more they will find they enjoy being with human beings like you.   As you find more and more themes that you can play with your partner you will more than likely feel that your relationship is developing, just like in the above example when more personal topics of discussion are found rather than just small talk.
I think that one way to define a relationship is by what you have in common.  In the context of intensive interaction we can be more specific and say that the quality of a relationship is defined by the number of themes you can share with your partner.  If you cannot find any way to enjoy being with your partner then you would say your relationship is not very good and if you find there are many ways to engage you would say that you had a good relationship.
So what do we have to do to ensure that this progress takes place?  The short answer is that we should continue to offer positive experiences of being socially included and persevere with our attempts to enjoy sharing our partner’s space.  During these repeated encounters our partner will have the opportuity to explore the social environment on their terms, naturally learning and rehearsing the fundamental communication skills a person needs to enjoy being with another person.
This sense of enjoyment, fun or satisfaction is a strong motivation for both partners.  We need to trust that, by cultivating a responsive and mindful attitude to interaction the repeated opportunities for mutually pleasurable engagements will create the conditions for our partner to make progress.  Without this trust in our approach we may feel compelled to direct the interaction toward our own goals and lead the interaction rather than letting our partner lead.  Once you have seen the results of regular intensive interaction then it is much easier to have this trust but in the beginning you must put your faith in the practice and play!