Posted in SEND, Uncategorized

Are we failing pupils with SEND?

We are currently in an era where many schools endorse and embrace the goal of full inclusion for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Undoubtedly, inclusion is the key to obtaining education and social equity.

Unfortunately, inclusion is often falsely translated to mean the “place” where teaching and learning occurs, stemming from the ideological belief all pupils should be educated in the general classroom – that instruction provided outside of this setting is akin to segregation. While general education can, and should, be strengthened to better meet the needs of all pupils, for many these practices alone are just not enough. Continue reading “Are we failing pupils with SEND?”

Posted in Assessment, research, SEND, Uncategorized

Dyslexia: overlooked and left behind?

Every year, SATs results and other national testing shows that too many children and young people are not meeting expected levels in literacy, with 1 in 5 children leaving primary school below the national expected levels in reading, writing and mathematics.[1]

If you cannot learn to read, you cannot read to learn, and too many children are unable to access the curriculum due to poor reading skills. It is these children who then become disengaged and leave school with few, or no qualifications, resulting in significantly reduced opportunities. Continue reading “Dyslexia: overlooked and left behind?”

Posted in curriculum, education, Government stragegy, parents, Uncategorized

Can grammar schools really improve social mobility?

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Image credit: Pixabay

Within hours of its publication on 12 September 2016, the DfE’s consultation document ‘Schools that work for everyone’ was at the centre of a political storm regarding its aims to “relax the restrictions on selective education”.

The opening sentence of the Green Paper sets out “the government’s ambition to create an education system that extends opportunity to everyone, not just the privileged few”. Can the grammar school renaissance really improve social mobility for all? Continue reading “Can grammar schools really improve social mobility?”

Posted in SEND

‘CHIPS’ Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools

Image via Educate and Celebrate

Schools and teachers are wonderful at promoting diversity; we often talk about engaging and working with our communities. We talk about every child being special, and we encourage children to be proud of who they are and where they come from. But if a child is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT), do they receive the same messages? There are children in every classroom who feel they do not fit in with the gender expectations. These children may or may not grow up to be LGBT, but regardless we need to be providing a supportive and nurturing environment for them. Every child benefits from an ethos of mutual respect and a celebration of who they are.

Therefore, ‘Educate and Celebrate’ welcomes volume 4 of Andrew Moffat’s ‘Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools’ or ‘CHIPS’ – a series of 20 books with accompanying lesson plans for reception through to year 6.  The beautifully illustrated books feature stories of feeling different, feeling excluded, being treated badly, learning to respect everyone, not being scared of difference and, welcoming everyone and celebrating diversity in all its forms.

We are very proud to have Andrew as a member of our ‘Educate and Celebrate’ team, and we are currently rolling out the resource to all primary schools across the UK to achieve our ultimate goal of making all our schools LGBT-friendly.

Ofsted criteria January 2012 states ‘To achieve Outstanding, schools must tackle all forms of bullying and harassment including cyber-bullying and prejudice based bullying related to SEN, Sexual Orientation, Sex, Race, Religion, Belief, Gender reassignment and Disability.’

In addition to this, in September 2013, Ofsted released a new briefing for section 5 inspection called ‘Exploring the school’s actions to prevent and tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying’. With primary pupils, inspectors might explore whether:

  • Pupils ever hear anyone use the word ‘gay’ when describing a thing, or whether they have been told by teachers that using the word ‘gay’, to mean something is rubbish, is wrong, and why it is wrong.
  • Pupils ever get picked on by other children for not behaving like a ‘typical girl’ or a ‘typical boy’.
  • Pupils have had any lessons about different types of families (single parent, living with grandparents, having two mummies or two daddies).

The ‘CHIPS’ resource fulfils the new criteria and adheres to the new primary framework within ‘Language and Literacy’ and also has the versatility to be embedded within the PHSE curriculum.

In March 2013, our student and staff surveys, in partnership with the NUT and Schools OUT, revealed that a third of all students hear and use the word ‘gay’ negatively more than once a day. This is not surprising when we note that ‘sometimes’ was the top answer when students were asked if teachers challenge the negative language.

From this data, we can identify that there is a need to give teachers confidence and it is not surprising when we note that specific LGBT training is not part of our QTS. Which is why ‘Educate and Celebrate’ engages primary PGCE students in the ‘CHIPS’ training, to ensure they are equipped before they enter the classroom.

Unsurprisingly, research from The National College of Teaching and Leadership in 2010 shows that the No: 1 influence on student learning is through our classroom teaching, again strongly supporting the need to provide training and resources for our teachers. Especially when we note that 72% of those teachers said they would welcome specific training to help them better address homophobia within their own classrooms.

This new resource fulfils the needs of our teachers, students, parents and governors by giving an accessible way for our staff to teach about equality, and celebrate difference through existing national curriculum criteria.

Teachers at Birmingham primary schools who have received the ‘Educate and Celebrate CHIPS training’ say:

‘The training gave us the confidence to challenge stereotypes and the ability to discuss LGBT issues as they occur in our school.’

‘The books and imagery highlight and celebrate the diversity of family life.’

The ‘Educate and Celebrate’ teacher-training programme is available to all schools, local authorities, educational establishments and workplaces – fulfilling Ofsted criteria, government policy and underpinned by academic research. The programme empowers teachers to generate positive change within their own schools by following the ‘Educate and Celebrate’ standards. The standards not only engage our staff with an inclusive ‘CHIPS’ curriculum but advocate training, updating school policies, eradicating discriminatory language, creating inclusive display and participating in LGBT and anti-bullying events in the community.

For LGBT History Month 2014, we held ‘CHIPS’ workshops in the new Birmingham Children’s library. We focused on one of the 20 books from the resource called ‘Our House’ by Michael Rosen and Bob Graham. In the picture book, George says the cardboard house is his and no one else can play in it. But Lindy, Marly, Freddie, Charlene, Marlene, Luther, Sophie and Rasheda have other ideas!

30 students from local primary schools came to take part, some of whom were captured for ITV central news that evening which you can see in the video.

We had our ‘Sing-A-long with CHIPS’ launch on July 16th at Birmingham Children’s library. Tiverton Academy and Brownmead Primary School were the stars of the show with their compelling, fun and committed performances of songs that accompany our beautiful ‘CHIPS’ books. You can see photographs and videos of the evening here.

You can read more about ‘CHIPS’ and download the resource, lesson plans, activities and songs for free from:

If you would like to order the accompanying books and training then please contact:

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Image via Educate and Celebrate
Posted in communication, education, leadership, learning, policy, schools, SEND, talk, teaching, technology

Speech and Language Therapy, What do I do exactly?

Today we welcome guest blogger, Claire Johnston, a Speech and Language Therapist at Springhill High School in Birmingham, who sheds light on how to support pupils with speech, language and communication difficulties, through the context of her day-to-day work.

“Hi, my name is Claire.”

“Hi, what do you do for a job?”

“Oooo, I know a little boy who has a lisp, I bet you loved the King’s Speech Film.”

And so it goes on!

For Speech and Language Therapists (SLT) I think that this is quite a familiar conversation. Certainly when I first start talking to people, most think that SLT’s just work with children who have difficulty with their speech sounds or we work with people who have a stammer. Many are surprised when I explain it as a birth to grave profession and that we are not a quasi-science. Our work is guided by evidence based practice and scientific research. Speech, language and communication difficulties can occur at any point in our lives and it may hit us like a ton of bricks, a life changing event. We are a birth to grave profession.

From birth we may work with families and new born babies who have been born with a cleft palate or other facial structural abnormality to support safe feeding, and will support the child and their family on a long journey.

We work with children who have an autistic spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pathological demand avoidance syndrome (PDA) and other developmental conditions. We support them by working with the child and the team around them to develop communication skills using various methods from signs to symbols and voice output devices. We also develop behaviour modification strategies and support the school team with differentiation of the curriculum.

Click here to see a video about how speech and language therapy can help pupils with autism to communicate.

We work with teenagers, adults with learning difficulties and young offenders. It is estimated that up to 90% of young offenders have undiagnosed speech, language and communication difficulties. Negative behaviour for some is the only communication tool they have to express their anxiety, embarrassment at not being able to do class work, stresses, peer pressure, bullying, self-harm and trauma, or mental health difficulties. Never dismiss negative behaviour as “Oh, they are up to it again disrupting the whole class”. It is hard to find the time with the pressures of the school day to spend time with students but there is always a function to the behaviour.

Part of our caseloads may be working with adults with learning difficulties to support them in becoming fully active members of their communities. We also work with individuals who have had a stroke and lost their ability to express themselves or understand what loved ones are saying to them and people who have degenerative conditions such as motor neuron disease who lose their ability to speak, individuals who experience a traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease.

We work with every professional under the sun from teachers to social workers to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHs) to the police/young offending teams (YOTs) to carers to neurologists and audiologists. Most importantly, the person who needs us themselves is central to our role, for many we give them a voice to say thank you and I love you to the people who matter most to them.

And yes we work with children who have difficulty with speech sounds and individuals who have a stammer! This isn’t an extensive list by any means of the client groups or the professionals we work with but this video gives you an idea as to what we do!

I currently work in a specialist independent secondary school based in Birmingham, where we have young people from many different local authorities. Many of the young people attending the school will have experienced numerous placement breakdowns due to challenging, negative and often very aggressive behaviours but behaviour is communication, it is how it is interpreted that is often the challenge. The staff team within school and the residential placements (not all of our students live in our residential provision) work within, and have a thorough understanding of, social learning theory and the need for unconditional positive regard. Every day is a new, fresh page.

As a Speech and Language therapist, I support the staff team within the school and the residential placements in many ways. This is managed by working directly with young people and indirectly by supporting the staff team and families.

First is the development of a whole school approach to understanding speech, language and communication. This is achieved with training to understand speech, language and communication difficulties, starting with development, this is very important.  If a 14 year old child is scoring on an assessment of receptive language skills at an age equivalent of 6 years, what is the point of handing this information over to the staff team without the support to understand the developmental level the child is presenting to then differentiate the curriculum to meet their needs?

Many of our young people have not accessed speech and language assessments, for those who comply (not all do and there has been the odd **** it, I’m not doing that ****) assessment has been very useful in identifying areas of difficulty with receptive/expressive language skills that had not previously been identified. An example is a young person who was not able to recall sentences during assessment as they increased in length and complexity, secondary curriculum language is complex! These difficulties had not been identified by previous settings, by picking this up the staff team were able to plan with this in mind and chunk verbal communication and use additional supports, such as pictures and bullet pointed information, to support comprehension and engagement within the lesson.

I support the development of one page profiles, this is a very useful document which contains:

  • The young person’s details.
  • Diagnosis.
  • Statement objectives.
  • Speech, language and communication assessment findings.
  • Recommendations from speech and language therapy.
  • Recommendations from educational psychologists or specialist support teams to then differentiate the curriculum.

Using this information, and understanding the need to chunk information for one child to allow time for processing of information, or presenting information with visual supports for another, can mean the difference between engaging or not and interacting in a positive manner or not!

I work very closely with all departments within the school and work jointly with many teachers. Examples of this are joining a P.E lesson to support the staff team by modelling ways to encourage turn taking, waiting, encouraging eye contact and extending communication from one word, for example “Claire” to “throw ball to Claire”. Along with support to develop a sensory activity programme for students to engage with during the day to help students focus. I work with and join drama sessions supporting students who may have specifically focused on body language and communication in 1:1 sessions to then use those skills in drama.

I work very closely with the English department supporting planning for students who are working at P levels to GCSE, this can be from supporting sequencing activities to the development of narratives, understanding who, what, when, where questions and sentence structures.

I support some students with small social skills group activities to develop turn taking, conversation skills, and environmental awareness, as many of our students often start off with 1:1 or 2:1 staffing due to risk. This has developed for some KS4 students into coffee sessions at a local coffee shop where skills became generalised.

Support was provided to PSHE planning to support students with understanding passive, aggressive and assertive behaviours within social situations and how we communicate using different behaviours. This has proven very effective for some students to reflect on both theirs’ and others’ behaviours and then modify them.

1:1 work is provided for some students who have very specific difficulties due to trauma, cognitive, mental health, developmental or environmental challenges. This can be to support many areas such as to develop emotional vocabulary, develop inferential skills, consequential/problem solving skills, receptive language skills, expressive language skills and yes, speech sound work!

The support and benefit of a Speech and Language therapist in school can be massive and the feedback from the headteacher and staff team is that it has supported the understanding and development of the school’s special educational needs (SEN) and speech and language knowledge, but the key to this is good team working and communication.

If you have read this blog, I hope that you have found useful!

Claire Johnston

Speech and Language Therapist

If you suspect that a child or young person you work with has a speech language and communication difficulty you can find information to support at;

NHS – Referrals can be made to local speech and language services through GP’s, SENCO’s, child development centres and self-referral.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

Posted in education

Mental health in schools

On 17 June, the Department for Education released new guidelines to enable schools to support and help pupils who are experiencing mental health issues.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, 9.8 percent of children and young people aged 5 to 16 have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder. Acute and even mild mental health problems can throw an adult off balance, and so it is unsurprising that the research concluded that “too many young people are unfairly labelled as trouble-makers when in fact they have unmet mental health problems.”

Mental health can be affected by a number of things – abuse, parents splitting up or divorcing, bullying, but even just living as part of society can cause a breakdown in mental health.

There are many points in my own childhood that I can remember having an effect on what should have been a happy time such as losing my best friend in a car accident aged 4 and being severely bullied in year six. By the time I reached high school, I was a shadow of my former self and struggling with a depression that lasted for 20 years.

Mental health problems in children have, for so long, been swept under the carpet for many reasons, but mostly because nobody wants to think about a child being anything but happy and content. Add to that the stigma of standing up and saying that you have a mental health problem, and you have a real quagmire.

So, how can we help our pupils?

  • Teachers often see children for longer periods than their friends, or even their parents. Having good relationships with pupils in your class or form is a great first step. If you know them, you will notice a change.
  • Keeping a record of behaviour infractions will enable you to see patterns, for example, does the young man in 8B behave badly after weekends spent with his father? Has the girl in year 10 suddenly started wearing long sleeves and acting out? Spotting the signs early can lead to an intervention that can make all the difference.
  • Promoting a positive attitude to mental health problems and having a whole-school approach to removing the stigma of mental health will create a safe-space in which pupils who are experiencing difficulties feel they can tell somebody.
  • Robust anti-bullying and behaviour policies show pupils that they will be taken seriously if problems arise, and coupled with a Supporting Pupils with Medical Conditions Policy, parents too will see that they can come to you with concerns.
  • Peer-counselling and buddying can give pupils who are struggling yet another safe environment where they can talk to somebody, they might not want to talk to a teacher and might feel more comfortable discussing the problem with another pupil.

If problems escalate, or if you are struggling to make a connection with the pupil, it may be necessary to involve outside agencies. There may be issues of Special Educational Needs and/or disability which might require a SENCO. Every case is different and should be treated as such.

We have the guidance along with a 3-Minute Read summarising the DfE’s document on TheSchoolBus.

Posted in curriculum, education, leadership, learning, schools, SEND, teaching, Uncategorized

Dealing with Autism in Schools

TheSchoolBus welcomes back FreedomCare, who are contributing their second article to our blog, this time exploring how school leaders and teachers can support pupils with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

There are certain situations that can be particularly problematic for a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), one of which is school. The very nature of ASD means that it’s not only difficult for children to communicate but they also struggle with social skills, making school life quite a challenge. With over half a million people suffering from autism in the UK, it’s important that the right level of help and support is given.

Children with complex health needs, in this case ASD, can struggle with a number of factors in the classroom including:

  • Communicating with teachers.
  • Following instructions.
  • Following class rules.
  • Concentrating on tasks.
  • Knowing how to behave.

There are a number of things teachers, support staff and indeed other pupils can do in order to make school a much more comfortable environment:

  • Get a child’s attention before giving them an instruction or task, calling their name or using some other form of signalling may work.
  • Give them time to process the instructions you have given, and avoid using metaphors, remember children with autism can be very literal.  Individuals with ASD can be much more visual, which means including realistic pictures or demonstrations in their lessons can help considerably.
  • When introducing a new topic, provide a number of ways to solve the problem or teach in different situations.  For example within mathematics, when teaching addition, teach them to count using objects, fingers and numbers.

Sensory issues can be an area sufferers with autism have difficulties with. This means that bright colours, too much noise etc. can affect their concentration. Providing a quiet, distraction-free environment can help with this.

Consistent classroom rules that have been clearly explained will also help with behaviour, along with a clear explanation of what happens if the rules are broken.

Finally, uncertainty can be a trigger of anxiety, providing a child with a time table of what is going to happen and when will help to alleviate this uncertainty.

Freedom Care offers quality healthcare for individuals suffering from mental health disorders like Autism and Aspergers.  For more information on any of the topics discussed please get in touch here.