Being an inclusive school, as well as a school who celebrates difference, we have found over recent years, a huge increase in children who have high complex special needs. Many of these children struggle to participate in the mainstream curriculum and find it overwhelming to be in the busy, bright and noisy classroom. Many of these children have little or no language.
An additional challenge is the difficulty in getting children Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and the time that this can take. This was all having a big impact on staffing and ultimately costs at SSQ. It wasn’t cost efficient to support these children by providing them with additional 1:1 adult support, as they were still working on activities and programmes that were totally different from their peers. It also wasn’t fair to expect these children to sit, focus and behave in the same way that their peers did.
Earlier this year, we developed the school house into what we now call Darwin provision. We already had a sensory room as one of the rooms and gathered resources, made timetables and planned sessions. Children were grouped into rooms according to ability and need, not necessarily by age. We had meetings with the staffing team, agreeing shared expectations and contracted what we wanted and could offer these children. Primarily a smaller, quieter environment where the children could feel calmer, safer and happier in. We also wanted to make sure that the children had a curriculum planned for them that they could access, participate in and make progress in, catering for their individual needs. Many of these children need opportunities to use the sensory room, have a rich yet simplified language environment and learn to share and take turns. They need support with life skills such as eating snacks, going to the toilet and washing their hands….something that was difficult given limited resources and time in the mainstream classroom.
On the first day, we anticipated some challenges when the children were asked to go to the Darwin provision rather than their familiar classroom. They had all been prepared with social stories and we had had meetings with parents/carers. Although some children seemed a bit confused, they all settled brilliantly and it was quickly evident what a positive experience it was and the right thing to do for the children. On day 2, it was a highlight of my day to see one particular child, who would not go into the classroom and spent most of his time outside the classroom with an adult, skipping down the road and going happily into the school house by himself!
All children in Darwin provision are supported in the main playground at playtime and lunchtime so that they can interact and see the peers in their year group. They then go into class in the afternoons to join back in the mainstream provision where they can access PE, projects and the afternoon curriculum. Class teachers have commented on how much more calm and settled the children are when they return to class in the afternoons. Class teachers come termly to spend time with their children in the Darwin provision to ensure consistency in approaches. One teacher who recently observed a child in Darwin provision said that she had never heard the child say so many words. It was clear that in a smaller, quieter environment, where there were other children with similar needs, the child felt more confident and able to talk and communicate. The next step was to apply this to the classroom!
Darwin provision is work in progress and something that we are continually striving to develop and improve. Subject leads support with the planning now and parents/carers have recently been given access to see observations and photos of the amazing things that their children have been doing.
Parents and carers were initially hesitant however through coming to see it in action, they can see the benefits and how much progress their children are making. One parent has recently commented: 'The School house has been a key factor in my daughters progress, the smaller group setting is just what she needed to be able to push forward and show what she is capable of'.
Do get in touch with [email protected] if you would like to see it in action.