Pioneering work to train up teachers in their classrooms has seen a huge reduction in children referred for specialist support.
The award-winning project, the first of its kind in Wales, involves an occupational therapy team working with the education authority to make changes to classroom environments and upskill teaching staff.
It has benefited all schools in Neath Port Talbot.
The success of the work by paediatric OTs James Marshman and Carly Williams has now won an Advancing Healthcare Award for Working Across Boundaries.
Occupational therapy helps people of all ages with physical, sensory or cognitive problems. It uses everyday activities, exercises and other therapies to achieve this.
Paediatric occupational therapists, or OTs, can support children in all aspects of their life, including playing, schoolwork, reading, sports and much more.
Carly said: “As OTs working in our traditional community NHS model, it was difficult to promote effective change in schools. Now as OTs employed in education we are respected as team members.
“Teachers engage with us differently and they actively seek out OT advice, support and training. As a result, we have massively changed the culture within our LEA.
“The outcomes are hugely impactful and the feedback from service evaluation has been really positive. Teachers tell us they feel confident they have a plan, and how to use it to help progress with the child.”
Neath Port Talbot education authority has a service level agreement with Swansea Bay University Health Board. Since 2015 it has invested in OT provision, expanding it to meet increasing demand.
The OT service provides advice clinics, training packages, classroom observations and specialist support to all 63 schools.
Its aim is to promote the well-being of all pupils, including those with additional educational needs, and enable them to become more capable learners.
Advice clinics and consultations are provided weekly, and any additional support requested by teachers is usually provided within two to three weeks. This avoids the need for a referred pupil to go onto a waiting list for OT support.
Training sessions, which can be in person or virtual, include topics such as handwriting, development coordination disorder, emotional regulation and sensory processing.
James and Carly also spend two days a week within the specialist provisions in Neath Port Talbot that support pupils with autism spectrum disorders and social emotional behavioural difficulties.
These face-to-face visits allow OTs to provide instant strategies for teaching staff.
James added: “It is important to recognise that without the support of the Swansea Bay OT service and Neath Port Talbot Council being so forward thinking, this service would not exist.
“The education authority has provided OT with the opportunity to showcase what we can offer. It has taken on board new ideas and provided funding for books and resources.
“This has enabled us to respond to the evolving needs of schools. Despite huge financial pressures, the council has also recently employed an OT technician to help support our team.
“We have developed a strong working model where our training packages and our advice clinics are extremely effective and sought after.
“We attend training to ensure our offer is evidence based and current, and we hope this model can be shared with all other education authorities.
“We believe OT has a lot to offer children in education and we would love to see this effective model in all education authorities”.
Advancing Healthcare Awards judges chose the work as winner for the Working Across Boundaries category.
They noted: “The collaboration and co-production with children and young people across health and local authority boundaries has improved wellbeing outcomes, reduced health expenditure and maximised access.”
Awel y Môr Primary School have been working with the team for the past two years.
Lisa Whiteman, Additional Learning Needs Coordinator, said the advice and support the school had received for individual pupils was ‘invaluable’.
She added: “We have worked closely with them over the last couple of years to ask for help, support and advice for individual pupils. They have offered strategies for pupils in addition to attending school to complete observations and liaise with parents.
“They have such a wealth of expertise, and they always have suggestions and advice that support the professional development of each member of staff in addition to the needs of the pupils. We are very fortunate to have them working with us.”
Head of paediatric occupational therapy Amanda Atkinson added: “It’s nice to win the award but the main thing is meeting the needs of the children.”
Main image: Carys Williams and James Marshman receive their award
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