In my role as principal of a specialist SEND cademy and through partnership working, I’m regularly asked by other professionals how our provision differs from mainstream settings. Whilst I understand the interest in specialist facilities such as a sensory studio or hydrotherapy pool, I feel that in focussing on resources, equipment and facilities, the key areas of specialist, creative teaching, learning and assessment are overlooked.
Although state of the art facilities are extremely benefitial tools to help SENDstudents progress further, they are just that: tools. The key to success, no different from any other school, is developing teaching and learning strategies that deliver an appropriate curriculum for each student, making the most of the facilities available.
Working within Bright Futures Educational Trust, a collaborative network of schools across the North West, through our work with the Alliance for Learning, the Trust’s dedicated Teaching School, and with the Targetted and Specialist Support Team (TaSS), Melland High School is developing SEND strategies across mainstream settings.
Our principal aims are:
To heighten expectations, remove barriers to learning and raise achievement for all pupils;
To build the capacity of high schools to support the needs of pupils with SEND;
To increase the knowledge, understanding and confidence of staff in raising expectations and meeting the needs of pupils with SEND.
Sharing practice with other schools provides a platform for reciprocal learning in addition to creating pathways which support individual students. In addition joint projects with mainstream schools enable SEN students to participate in aspirational and challenging activities. For example, we’ve formed a school ‘Rawchestra’ with our co-located secondary school, Cedar Mount Academy, using interactive technology to make it fully inclusive. While the technology certainly facilitates the opportunity, itsabout finding creative ways to utilise the technology which actually makes the difference.
The creative use of ICT and media is particularly relevant in this aspect of developing a teaching and learning strategy for SEND. Investing in a media studio is a great way to inspire learning, but you have to have the skills in place to support and maximise it.
To enhance our learning experience and extend our teaching strategies, we’ve worked with a creative consultant who has helped us develop a rigorous staff training programme, and a team of creative and technical staff have been designated to ensure that equipment is always available for use. Working with the consultant, ourmedia team keeps abreast of changes to new technology and seeks advice from our creative consultant, whilst an ICT steering group ensures that the whole school is involved in sharing ideas and knowledge before making decisions.
In practice, the focus is on using learning tools like interactive whiteboards, Apple TV and iPads to access a virtual environment that promotes playful but, most importantly, purposeful learning. For example, teachers have used augmented reality apps on iPads to create interactive learning displays that the whole school can access, and enhance learning opportunities across the entire curriculum.
In other instances, our student-led ‘media team’ has been tasked with using ICT to control sound and lighting at school performances, as well as film and edit content for a media library. Students also work with interactive switches to activate sound, lights and visual displays to access visual, aural and tactile learning.
The approach is wide ranging and demonstrative of the impact a fully developed strategy can have on performance. Some students have achieved specific accreditation awards and there has been a general upward trend in outcomes, particularly in Science and ICT. Evidence gained during lesson observations has also indicated that student voice, engagement and enjoyment have all increased and there have been specific gains in reading, communication, personal development and behaviour.
Accreditation also remains a key focus for SEND students, despite the learning challenges they face. Students of all abilities have access to national accreditation post-16, and many find OCR’s Life and Living Skills an adaptable suite of qualifications to work towards. It’s particularly appropriate in sixth form where students can access functional skills from Entry Level that will help them link their literacy and numeracy progress from KS4 study. The key is developing a personal pathway providing the skills that will support students in lifelong learning.
A similar emphasis on the development of employability skills, knowledge and understanding is actively promoted as part of the KS4 and 6th Form curriculum.
For example, Melland High School students successfully access Manchester Metropolitan University’s Bridging the Gap project, extending their experience of supported internships. Students are also working with The Lowry Youth Employment and Skills Programme which has seen students undertake creative traineeships. As a result, not only have the students been able to develop essential administrative skillsbut have also taken part in exciting projects, including filming a documentary and creating an online and physical prospectus
The Duke of Edinburgh award at both Silver and Bronze level provides a challenging opportunity for our students to excel in outdoor pursuit activities. An incredible achievement, City and Guilds ArtsAward which is equivalent to GCSE levels of attainment, was recently awarded to a group of Year 12 students. Such initiatives, provide our students with a real opportunity to gain nationally recognised qualifications.
The end goal of all this is to create work-related learning that has quality at its heart. If you look for them, there are lots of companies and programmes on your doorstep who are keen to support young people nearing employment age. If you can reproduce that learning in school then you are far more likely to stimulate students and deliver a real sense of achievement, as part of a wider teaching and learning strategy.
Written by Sue Warner, principal of ‘Outstanding’ SEND academy Melland High School