First Class Education’s Head of Education and Training, Peter Cobrin, gets really excited about their new programme for primary and secondary schools across London and the south-east.
Outstanding SEN education
Nasen is the leading organisation in the UK for the promotion of education, training, advancement and development of all those with special and additional support needs. Nasen provides a strong role of advocacy for the sector and champions the requirements of those working to support and meet the needs of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN).
The nasen Outstanding Schools Project was developed in order to highlight best practices for children and young people with SEN. Case studies were undertaken in 12 exemplar primary, secondary and special schools, in order to help provide a greater understanding of what ‘outstanding’ SEN education is. Here, we take a closer look at three of these schools.
Camberwell Park caters for 85 children with SEN who are aged between two and 11 years. Their ‘outstanding’ status serves as a reflection of the school’s mission statement: “All children are given the right to an outstanding education.” One of the most notable attitudes shared by the staff at the Camberwell Park is their belief that they are all partners in their pupils’ education. Teachers and teaching assistants work collaboratively and flexibly with parents, carers and multi-agency workers to ensure all aspects of pupils’ needs are considered and met.
Camberwell Park’s aim is to work together with all teachers, non-teaching staff, parents and carers to achieve the best for each pupil. This includes the school nurse, as Amy Blinkhorn, class teacher, explains: “The school nurse is in and out all the time, she sorts out things like medications. If there’s a problem we can always get hold of her and get her help with any specific medical issues. The nurses also give us advice on how to feed students who require assistance with eating. One nurse this year taught me how to tube feed.”
The school has very clear procedures for bringing professionals together to establish how best to work for the benefit of the children. “We have regular multi‑agency meetings throughout the year where education, health and social care professionals get together,” says Allison Taylor, assistant headteacher. “The meetings are very important. They help us get a holistic view of each individual child, and we can also share our own insight on them.”
From speaking to the staff at Camberwell Park, it is clear that teamwork is at the core of their outstanding practice. Headteacher Mary Isherwood explains: “As a school we recognise that we are that universal service, and as such we are responsible for making sure that everyone works together in a coordinated way. We work hard to maintain good relationships between all concerned parties, and everyone has clearly defined responsibilities within the school and for each child.”
“There are a lot of people involved”, concludes Amy. “I think the most important thing at Camberwell Park is the teamwork: everyone working collaboratively, everybody communicating, and everybody working together to do our best by the children.”
Swanwick Hall Secondary is a large mainstream comprehensive situated in Alfreton, Derbyshire, with over 1,275 students currently enrolled. Their 2013 Ofsted report found good levels of attainment across the board, with inspectors agreeing that, as a result of effective measures taken by school leaders, exclusions have reduced significantly over time to well below the national average, and difficult behaviour is extremely well managed. The school offers excellent support for all students, with its staff determined that all students should feel safe and secure in school; something confirmed by the positive views of both parents and students.
At Swanwick Hall, the school’s support centre and ‘loft’ facilities are spaces designed specifically for students with statements. However, children who may have had numerous referrals to these inclusion units then become part of the group within the support centre. Swanwick Hall staff work hard to keep children integrated in mainstream classes but with the full understanding that, sometimes, children need to have a more tailored approach to their support.
Jacqui Maxted, inclusion manager, explains: “We have some students for whom we might need to do some short term intervention with, targeting aggression or self-esteem for example, and these students tend to be in the mainstream most of the time. We do also work with students who, despite all the interventions, may have come from very difficult backgrounds and aren’t able to regulate their own behaviour. These students have to be educated within the student support centre with a more personalised package of care.”
The staff at Swanwick Hall recognise that children’s frustration and anxiety can manifest itself in anger, which is often then reflected in disruptive behaviour. Jack, a Year 9 student who was struggling to integrate when he first started at the school, describes his experience: “When I first came to school, I was different; I just didn’t get on with people, and I just got more and more angry. I got stressed, and didn’t want to go to lessons. I’d get in trouble, I kept shouting out, couldn’t follow instructions and kept back‑chatting. I got sent out of lessons a lot.”
However, at Swanwick Hall, the belief was that, with the proper support and interventions put in place, every student, irrespective of their individual challenges, has the capacity to achieve. “Our ethos is to support those children who are disruptive,” continues Jacqui, “We give both staff and students strategies to help keep the children in mainstream lessons. This way they don’t feel the anxiety they used to on a daily basis.
Jack has now made huge leaps forward in his classroom achievements, and with support from all staff, is able to work as part of the class to achieve his targets.
Frederick Bird Primary is a large, mainstream school in the West Midlands with a high proportion of pupils for whom English is an additional language. Rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in 2011, the school is characterised by a fundamental commitment to inclusion and prides itself on promoting the welfare of all its pupils. Support from external agencies plays an important role in this, as assistant headteacher for inclusion Natalie Franklin-Hackett explains.
“As a school, we decided a couple of years ago to commission an outside agency to work alongside us, because the local authority could only offer us a limited amount of hours of support per term,” says Natalie. “We decided to get support from a clinical psychologist and an educational psychologist who could be here one day every week and become really embedded within the culture of the school.”
The educational psychologists were introduced to monitor and analyse student behaviour, and help staff to make sure that procedures were in place to allow teachers to provide the necessary support to pupils with SEN within the classroom setting, so that every child is included. This measure enabled Frederick Bird Primary to place its staff in a position of strength when it came to ensuring that teachers’ time in the classroom was utilised for the benefit of all pupils.
Frederick Bird also offers a ‘SENCO Surgery’ where teachers can drop in and get advice, which helps the SENCO (SEN coordinator) to gauge which measures may need to be put in place to meet the needs of all of their pupils. Natalie explains: “From the sessions at the SENCO Surgery, the teachers can go back and try some of the strategies we’ve discussed, or perhaps they’ll say that they’ve tried all those things and ask for additional intervention. It is at that point that I’ll seek support from an outside agency. This helps us to identify where we can meet the needs of pupils with our existing expertise and where we may need additional help and training.”
The schools highlighted in this project have each used a range of methods and approaches to providing the best possible education for pupils with SEN at their respective schools. However, there are common features in each school’s approach; firstly, a collaborative approach with openness and clarity to achieve success. Whether that is simply internally, communicating closely with support staff and teaching assistants as well as SENCOs, or by creating close ties with parents and external support providers such as paediatric physiotherapists, psychologists or nurses to name but a few.
The second common feature is personalisation; one size does not fit all, and it is essential to recognise that every child has unique needs. For any pupil, a personalised education is likely to have more impact but for a pupil with an additional or special educational need or disability, this is doubly true. But as any teacher involved in this project will attest to, the impact a teacher or school can have carries its own reward.
To hear more from each school involved in the project, visit nasen’s YouTube channel.