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A Drop in the.....Inclusion - Woodbrook School
Woodbrook was a school for pupils aged 4-19 years with severe and complex learning difficulties in Beckenham,
Eight years ago, in 2000, the school was given Standards Fund Money from the LEA, to set up an Inclusion Project, to enable our pupils to access and attend lessons at local mainstream schools. I was seconded from my class for a year to set this up and become Inclusion Project Co-ordinator along with a Special Support Assistant (SSA).
Initially the Head Teacher and I met with local Primary School Heads to explain the Aims of the Project and the benefits for our pupils and theirs. It became apparent that most of the schools we approached were very keen to participate, especially since we could provide adult support with our pupils. The original target of six pupils was quickly achieved and superseded far beyond our expectations. Later in the year we also approached some Secondary Schools for our older pupils.
By the end of the first year, 20 (almost a third of our school roll!) of our pupils were attending lessons individually or in pairs, in classes ranging from Reception to Year 9, at 10 Primary Schools and 2 Secondary Schools. Some attended for as little as 30 minutes, whilst others attended all afternoon including lunchtime. This varied according to the pupil, the teacher and timetable.
Since our pupils can access practical activities far better than academic ones, lessons attended initially were in Art, Design Technology, Science and Humanities. In the second year due to a reduction in funding, I had to return to my class and a second SSA was seconded. In the third year, the project was reduced to only 1 SSA (again due to funding) and that is how the project has continued now for the last 5 years. Despite this, the school still currently has 13 pupils benefiting from Inclusion, largely as a result of creating more paired links, which we were able to do with certain mainstream teachers, who have supported us for many years and are now confident enough to cope with this. The school currently links with 3 Primary Schools and 2 Secondary Schools, many of whom have had links with us from the beginning. Lessons currently attended are in; Art, PSHE, Play, P.E., Music, and Drama, which over the years, we have found to be the most accessible subjects
Each pupil has an extensive portfolio of evidence including weekly comments, reports for their Annual Review, digital photos and Individual Education Plans in the form of two targets for Inclusion.
Some Reasons for its Success
The enthusiasm, support, commitment and dedication of individual teachers and Heads have been a major contributor. The links that are the most successful are the ones where the class teacher has volunteered /wanted to have one of our pupils in their lessons, not because the Head teacher has forced them!
Also having a very supportive Head teacher at Woodbrook, who recognised the benefits for our pupils and was prepared to continue to fund the Project from the school budget!
Each link is regularly reviewed informally with the teacher and formally through the completion of evaluation forms. The length of some of the lessons attended has been increased, whilst others have changed or discontinued because they were not right for the pupil. Also some links sadly have been lost due to committed teachers leaving our link schools or due to a mismatch between our link teachers, an appropriate lesson and the year group they have moved into.
Before each link, time is spent preparing the mainstream pupils, teaching and support staff, through giving a “talk” using overhead photos, about our school, our pupils, about the particular pupil that will be joining them and how to be with them. This has enabled them to ask questions and understand the nature of our pupils, resulting in a positive, caring yet supportive approach from the beginning.
Before each link a meeting is held with the parents to explain the Inclusion opportunity for their child and to ensure that they agree and are happy for it to occur. Weekly feedback is given to parents via a Home/School Inclusion contact book.
We try hard to match our pupils to the appropriate year group and lesson. For example one boy who displayed a talent for art attended a Secondary Art lesson to develop his skills further.
Each pupil wears the correct colour sweatshirt/jumper so that they blend in with the rest of the class. The introduction of uniform a few years ago at the school has also helped this.
We introduced a “buddy” system where we ask mainstream teachers to identify a pupil/s who will sit beside, encourage and work alongside our pupils. A regular position/seat in the class ensures that our pupils are fully integrated members of the class and not seen as just visitors.
We provide experienced adult support with our pupils, who is skilled at differentiating work or making the activity accessible, if necessary. The confidence and independence skills of some of our pupils has grown so much, that she is sometimes able to support other pupils in the class.
Pairing our pupils up enables them to support each other and therefore be more independent, especially for our older pupils.
Providing the opportunity for our pupil/s and their mainstream peers to mix socially at playtimes has increased acceptance throughout, more than just one class and often impacts on the whole school.
We have held several Open Mornings enabling mainstream staff to visit Woodbrook. To learn more about teaching pupils with learning difficulties and to observe the pupil that joins them in their own class. I have also given advice to some schools regarding appropriate resources for example: useful computer software.
We have provided a number of training events for example: on Autism, P levels and setting pupil targets for Individual Education Plans. However due to teachers finding it harder to be released to attend such courses, I decided to produce an Inclusion Outreach Pack which we circulated to all past and present schools that we have had links with. This has received a lot of positive feedback through an evaluation form.
I have also observed and given advice on quite a few individual pupils in mainstream schools who teachers felt were experiencing learning difficulties, some of whom have subsequently moved onto other schools or received additional help.
Our pupils and mainstream pupils have benefited immensely socially, emotionally and academically, with an increase in self-esteem and self-confidence by both. Some mainstream pupils, who have behaviour or learning difficulties themselves, have thrived on being “buddies”. Friendships have been formed and parents comment that pupils say ‘hello’ to their son/daughter in the high street.
Many schools have brought groups of pupils to attend events eg Christmas and Summer Shows and we have held some joint events like picnics.
Two Primary schools have consistently sung alongside us at our Christmas Christingle Service and another two have worked with us to produce banners for the High Street one Christmas. Some of our pupils have also participated in a Secondary Dance Show.
Mainstream teachers have learnt to differentiate work further, improved their knowledge of disability and several have gone on to write articles about inclusion for their F.E. studies.
Timetabling is a nightmare, especially as many Primary Schools work on Literacy and Numeracy in the morning. Trying to fit the appropriate lesson and year group with a willing teacher can be difficult.
Lack of funding: our pupils needs additional adult support for it to work successfully and an adult to transport them.
Wheelchair access and provision e.g. table heights, although this is improving.
Due to the medical needs of some of our pupils, two staff have to attend with those who may have epilepsy and may therefore require Rectal Valium.
Accessing Secondary school lessons due to league timetables, exams and SAT’s many have very tight timetables. Even in Primary Schools this can be an issue especially around May!
A shortage of girls at Woodbrook to attend lessons at local girls Secondary Schools. This unfortunately resulted in some good links being lost over time.
The wider academic gap as our pupils get older and finding the best fit lessons without humiliating our pupils.
The imbalance of some pupil’s timetables since they miss lessons at Woodbrook or do extra lessons in a particular subject and time spent travelling.
Inclusion enables pupils to work together and alongside each other regardless of ability/disability. Disability awareness and acceptance by the staff and pupils at many local mainstream schools has improved significantly, especially since we have worked with a number of schools and many different classes over the 7 years. Verbal and written feedback from the parents, staff and pupils has been incredibly positive. The benefits are immense and very rewarding for everyone involved. However, it has been hard to provide evidence for or measure success of our Inclusion in an empirical way, so often now seen as the main way that education demonstrates its results and successes!
This quote from one mainstream teacher’s evaluation forms sums it up “I was a little apprehensive at first but after only one session I saw the benefits for both schools” and that teacher is still supporting our Inclusion many years later!
*Footnote: Since originally writing this article, Woodbrook School amalgamated with Rectory Paddock School in September 2007 and is now Riverside School place. Also I left Woodbrook at Easter 2007, to take up the post of Assistant Head teacher at Sherwood Park School place in Sutton. However the Inclusion SSA, Fiona Laurence, with whom I originally developed the Inclusion Project, has continued this valuable work.