Developing an Occupational Therapy & Physiotherapy Service in a Mainstream School

The Challenges and Joys of a Contemporary Placement 

Janet and Becky carried out a 10-week, part time placement at a mainstream primary school.  This was the first time that the school had opened their doors to healthcare students and they were keen to see what value therapy students could add to their inclusive provision. 

Previously I hadn’t done any Occupational Therapy with children attending a mainstream school, so I was quite unsure of where to start. Before the placement commenced, I received some hints from my practice educator during a preplacement meeting, about what to research.  I was also fortunate to have a very supportive person on-site, who knew a little about occupational therapy through interventions within the school and having had OT input for her own son.

Janet, 2nd year Occupational Therapy Student
Janet, 2nd year Occupational Therapy Student
At first, they felt a bit like they had been thrown into the deep end. After 2 days training in the policies and procedures of the school, they entered the reception classroom to observe staff and pupils and familiarize themselves with the routines. They decided to take a group of children for PE lessons and mindfulness sessions. 
Becky worked with the reception class to improve their gross motor skills, as due to COVID lockdowns many of the children had missed out on large chunks of school and nursery so were behind. 
Some of the resources created by the students as part of their placement

This experience allowed me to explore exercise prescription and develop skills with working with children. I also got a better understanding of the MDT team involved with kids that have conditions like down syndrome and how to adjust treatments to suit their needs. I have also further developed my communication skills interacting with lots of non healthcare professionals as well as some students who were non verbal.

Becky, 2nd year Physiotherapy Student
Becky, 2nd year Physiotherapy Student
Janet & Becky had a bit of time with the year 1’s in the first 2 weeks, but then worked with Reception class, sticking to one bubble due to the pandemic. In this unit they started gently with 17 children; the majority of whom were classed as vulnerable. Then after 7 weeks, the rest of the reception unit returned, and they found themselves working with 60 children. They coped with this by offering themselves as extra pairs of hands for covering lunch time supervision and being there to allow the teaching staff a toilet break whilst building valuable communication and observation skills with the children. 
An example of a handout the students produced for parents

As I hadn’t done any work with groups of children before, I was very grateful that Becky was confident, having worked as a children’s swimming teacher recently. There was much to cope with over the course of my placement, including a disclosure from one of the children on my first day, and at times feeling like I was training to be a teacher rather than an Occupational Therapist. Finding the right people to talk to was key to finding my place. Connecting with a specialist paediatric Occupational Therapist and a band 7 who worked for the local Occupational Therapy helpline, which the school had access to, gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to make decisions on which children to work with and which assessments and interventions to try out.

Janet, 2nd year Occupational Therapy Student
 Overall, Becky & Janet both enjoyed the placement despite struggling at the start to know what to do (we think this is NORMAL for a contemporary / role emerging placement).  As Janet says, "it drew out my creativity and I learned skills such as communication, relating to children, developing my own learning along with the realisation that when you are feeling truly out of your depth, then people are generally very kind if you just say how you are feeling and ask for help"