Five Acre Wood in Maidstone in Kent has recently achieved IQM Flagship School status.
I’m very pleased to have had the opportunity to return to the school and see not only the amazing building developments on site, but also the progress made against all targets as set in 2016.
Refurbishing Existing Buildings
My visit over 12 months ago was during the refurbishments of the existing buildings and the completion of the new builds. The school has been brilliant in maintaining communications with me whilst arranging the rescheduled date and typically in their approach to inclusion, comprehensive documents were submitted to IQM and a range of staff were on hand for this review. I even had a car parking space reserved for me in the new car park area!
Growing Pupil Numbers
The school had set itself targets across all 8 elements of the IQM award and during my visit I was able to meet with key members of staff who had held responsibilities for the targets. Responsibility for IQM has also been handed over to one of the Assistant Headteachers. Other key developments which have taken place over the last 12 months include a continued increase in pupil numbers, currently 362. This is set to continue to grow over the next academic year with expected numbers increasing by 40+. It should also be noted that whilst numbers have increased, so has the complexity of need. The knock-on impact for the school has been in a range of areas including staff CPD, communication across all stakeholders, transport, accommodation and resources. Nevertheless, the attitude and ethos within Five Acre Wood remains absolutely steadfast. There is an amazing drive to provide the best possible teaching and learning environment for all, no matter the problems faced.
SCERTS Pilot Programme
The school had been running a pilot programme of SCERTS (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/social-communication-emotional-regulation-transactional-support-scerts) to enhance and further develop the school’s assessment of individual students. This has now been rolled out across the school (sixth form to be included in the next phase) which has entailed a huge, well planned launch programme including:-
• In-school CPD for individual staff.
• SCERTS Conference run by Five Acre Wood.
• Local schools also invited to the conference.
• SCERTS workshops for parents.
• Development of a SCERTS schools’ network across Kent, namely Ashford School, The Wyvern School, St Nicholas’ School and Ifield School.
It is worth noting at this point the processes which Five Acre Wood undertakes when trialling and rolling out a new initiative across the school.
Staff Expertise and Enthusiasm
The SCERTS programme, already in use across the ASD phase of the school has been developed outwards through staff expertise and enthusiasm together with objective based evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of the approach.
To ensure progress of the new development the school contracted in a specialist consultant from the USA, Emily Rubin, MS, CCC-SLP the director of Communication Crossroads, a private practice in Carmel, California. Ms Rubin is a speech-language pathologist specialising in Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and related social learning disabilities.
The consultant has hosted the conference, provided direct training sessions and is also involved in the evaluation process.
Developing Reflective Practice
The school is a member of the Collaborative Learning Alliance and has, as part of the Teaching and Learning Improvement Programme, been developing the use of “reflective practice.” (This work has been accredited by Canterbury Christ Church University). The submitted documents include a description of how the school has adapted and changed the curriculum recognising the basic need to engage and motivate students in their own learning. Increasingly, following the project results, staff are focusing on how to put this into practice for all students.
Self and Peer Analysis
We did have some discussion on the use of self and peer analysis in improving the quality of teaching and the provision of appropriate learning environments. The school already has a bank of video clips as part of their induction programme for new staff. This could easily be added to and developed as a stand-alone resource for staff and parents.
Establishing Links with College Providers
The links with Holmesdale Technology College are strong and well supported. I was particularly impressed with how the initial links were formed and progress made. The key “named staff member” within the organisation has been vital together with a clear and well planned programme which is regularly evaluated. I am of the opinion that the model established by Five Acre Wood School is an excellent example for other schools who are keen on, or trying to establish links, with college providers.
IQM Cluster Programme
As part of the newly launched IQM Cluster group programme for Centre of Excellence and Flagship schools, this and the work on Staff Well Being, would be excellent themes for Five Acre to lead on.
Objective and Detailed Evidence
The other target areas agreed in 2016 included:-
• Working with other schools.
• Working with parents.
• Improving teaching and learning through reflective practice with a focus on coaching.
• Staff Mental Health.
• Identification of individual pupils not making expected progress.
I can confirm from my discussions with key members of staff that the submitted reviews of the targets are entirely accurate, and the evidence is both objective and detailed.
Tracking Pupils After They Leave
There was a strong feeling across the whole group that whilst the school was working hard to successfully provide excellent opportunities for students and their families, there were some gaps in provision for youngsters once they leave Five Acre Wood. Staff also indicated that they would like to develop some systems which would enable accurate tracking of youngsters both as an indication of their own progress, but also to inform the school in their forward planning. Holmesdale links, work placements, summer holiday programmes, Duke of Edinburgh schemes etc all contribute to this and as part of the school’s transition into Flagship status, they can take a closer look at tracking possibilities.
Collaboration with Other Schools
The evidence provided for me in relation to the collaboration with other schools and working with parents is all very strong. Particular points to be noted include:-
• The school plays a leading role in KASS/KENT School to School support and education development trust peer review programme.
• Induction activities for all new parents.
• Parent council, Wellbeing day, support groups, parent surveys.
Improving Teaching and Learning Programme
I was very impressed by the school’s clear understanding of the role of the “coach” in the Improving Teaching and Learning Programme. All too often schools make the assumption that outstanding teachers automatically make outstanding trainers or coaches! In recognition of this Five Acre Wood has provided the following:-
• Use of informal coaching.
• Formal coaching sessions.
• Restructuring of the Senior Leadership Team.
• Human Resources has detailed the links between staff promotion and coaching.
• Review of the recruitment processes.
Video Analysis in the Classroom
I again suggested further use of video analysis in the classroom and during training sessions such as IRIS Connect etc.
Sharing Best Practice
Finally, I would strongly recommend the school contributes their work in relation to the assessment of individual students identified as “not making expected progress,” to the list of possible themes to be discussed at their IQM Cluster group meetings.
High Level of Staff Expertise
The school has a high level of expertise across their staff and are focusing on the following areas:-
• To develop an assessment for Attention Autism.
• To adapt the See and Learn assessment.
• Develop a bank of personalised interventions.
• To train in and embed Pupil Asset.
• To use Mapping and Assessing Personal Progress (MAPP).
Striving for Continuous Improvement
It was a pleasure to meet the key members of staff at Five Acre Wood and listen first hand to their enthusiasm and expertise in working with highly complex youngsters. They have faced some great challenges over the last 12 months including the building work, but more importantly, the growing number of students. The school delivers on all levels and in all areas of the inclusion agenda. They are constantly searching for improvements in their practice and in the provision of appropriate environments and resources.
Moving to IQM Flagship Status
The school has successfully demonstrated its continuing Centre of Excellence status and now wishes to move forward as an IQM Flagship School.
They have already submitted a clear and comprehensive Action Plan to meet the requirements of the Flagship status, however following our discussions on the day of my visit, they have now revised the plan to include a very specific target which I believe will not only help them in their self-evaluation programme, but will also act as a model in moving forward, and, in the true sense of the Flagship School, will be an outstanding example to other schools striving to attain this level.
The additional Action Plan target is:-
“How has the ethos of ‘putting pupils first’ been embedded within both strategy and systems to ensure that outstanding practice is consistently maintained, developed and reviewed in a fast-growing school for pupils with wide ranging individual complex needs.”
Our lines of enquiry will include:-
• People: distributed leadership, talent ID and various career development routes and support, CPD, working collaboratively or in partnership with other organisations/specialists/schools.
• Systems: curriculum, assessment frameworks, including SCERTS, teaching and learning.
We will look at how the two (people & systems) impact on each other to produce the best fit for each pupil.
Developing Inclusion Activities
I was very impressed by all aspects of the review and I am completely confident that the school has the drive, management and expertise to maintain and develop inclusion activities whilst undertaking the challenges of the research within the Flagship programme.
Recommendation of Flagship School Status
As this is the school’s third successful review at Centre of Excellence and they are keen to progress to Flagship status, I would strongly recommend that this is recognised and that Five Acre Wood School becomes an IQM Flagship School and that the research targets be reviewed in twelve months’ time.
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