Abbey Hill School and College, Meir in Stoke-On-Trent, has achieved the Inclusive School award with Flagship School status for the second time.
Abbey Hill School and College is a foundation special school for children and young adults aged 3–19 years. There are currently 308 pupils on roll but due to its ever-growing success, the number will increase to 345 in September. The school is organised into ‘Departments’, which are essentially mini schools within a school, as the provision ranges from Early Years to vocational qualifications at KS5. Due to the increasing demand for places, Abbey Hill has created a ‘Connect’ satellite provision in mainstream settings. To have a wider influence and impact on the support for SEN pupils across the country, the school has established a bespoke Outreach and Training Programme.
Positive Forward-Facing Culture
The school’s ethos is articulated as:
“We are a place of learning, achievement, friendship and fun, preparing for life’s opportunities and challenges where we celebrate success, aim high and be the best we can.”
The Headteacher’s vision for the school is:
“A Centre of Excellence for SEN training, advice and partnership; preparing pupils for the wider world and inspiring them to be the best they can.”
Recruitment in Support of Excellence
The Headteacher has made significant improvements since taking up post four years ago. His clear vision has driven impact across many areas of school life. Capacity within the Inclusion Team has increased, and is continuing to grow, with a recruitment drive to add more support staff to the Team. He has recently appointed a non-teaching Inclusion Manager and made changes to the leadership structures.
Bespoke Outreach and Training
The school has established strong links within the Local Authority and provides external support to many schools. In addition to the many networks the Headteacher is involved with, the school has developed a bespoke Outreach and Training Programme. Through the programme, they offer consultancy support e.g., school improvement, SEND practice, curriculum design and self-evaluation. They also offer specialist pupil advice, which includes observations and written reports detailing strategies and resources. They deliver specialist training in autism, communication and interaction, Makaton awareness, managing challenging behaviour and Early Years and SEND. Through the Outreach Programme this academic year alone, they have supported 18 schools with access to training involving 48 staff across those schools. They have also provided 27 sessions of training across schools, academies, and charities alongside providing specialist training and support for schools with the focus on individual pupils. A further 20 schools have received advice via phone calls. The evaluations of the training provided has received an overall average of 4.8 out 5 stars rating. They have generated £16,000 income through this outreach work, which enables the enhancement of provision for the whole school cohort.
Communication and Interaction
The primary area of Special Educational Need (SEN) of the pupils at Abbey Hill is communication and interaction. All pupils have Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). The school offers specialist support for pupils with autism and in each ‘Department’ there are AS classrooms for those pupils with higher level ASD needs. As well as teachers being trained as specialist autism practitioners, there is a focus on training all staff to use Makaton and PECS (the Picture Exchange Communication System) to aid communication.
Effective Support for Pupils and Parents
During lockdown, the school provided a tailored remote learning package and the staff made weekly phone calls and wellbeing checks. The Leaders felt it was essential to support parents and a recent survey about the home learning offer showed 100% parents felt supported in lockdown and 100% felt the school communicated effectively. 70% of parents said their child engaged in the remote learning; it was easy to access and appropriate for the children’s needs. The school provided sensory boxes with recipe cards for learning activities and general Occupational Therapy approaches. They used lots of visual support and social stories to support pupils in the return to school. Since being back in school, the focus has been on teamwork and wellbeing. The school employs sports coaches from Bee Active to deliver PE sessions throughout the year. This term, they have been providing enrichment activities with a focus on improving pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.
To support pupils over the summer holidays, the Pupil Support Team has created ‘wellbeing packs’ for every child. The packs include an array of sensory resources, mindfulness activities, lunch boxes, water bottles and leaflets signposting parents and children to support if they require it during the break. The bag is branded with the Abbey Hill logo to promote a sense of belonging. There will be a summer school taking place during the holidays for the Year 6 pupils transitioning from external providers.
Creating Positive Citizens
Leaders highlight the areas of strength in the curriculum as the provision in English, maths and reading. They use the Read Write Inc. phonics programme from Early Years and move to the Fresh Start programme at Key Stage 3. An advantage of offering provision from Early Years to Post-16 is that the curriculum is carefully planned for progression across the years. The central objective which underpins the curriculum is:
“the promotion of independence, creativity, community skills, and challenge”.
PSHE was identified as an area of excellence in a Local Authority subject review which took place in March 2021. The CEIAG provision is also strong. Preparing the children for a successful future is fundamental to all they do. They want their pupils to be equipped with the necessary skills to be able to live happy, independent lives and contribute fully to society through gaining and maintaining jobs.
Going the Extra Mile
The recruitment process is key for the Headteacher to ensure the school attracts staff who are not only passionate about SEND but have the drive and ambition to go the extra mile to support the young people at the school. The staffing has changed significantly over the past few years to ensure all staff are aligned to the ethos and values of the school. The retention and ongoing training of staff is another priority for the Headteacher. Every Monday, the pupils finish at 2 pm to allow for two hours of staff support and development. The Leadership Team is highly supportive and lead through a coaching model. All staff receive weekly 15-minute coaching sessions to allow them to realise their potential. There is also a Wellbeing Committee who look at ideas to support staff and pupils. The staff feel that their opinions are valued. Teachers are given more than the statutory Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time allocation to support their wellbeing. The Senior Leaders do not have a teaching commitment which frees them up to fulfil their leadership roles effectively. There are high levels of support staff in every classroom with at least two Teaching Assistants. In the specialist autism classes, there are typically three adults and six children. The pupil to adult ratio across the school is small, demonstrating the school’s commitment to supporting all learners.
Bright Welcoming Environment
The school building is very safe, and all doors are kept locked at all times. Each classroom area is securely contained, with large workspaces, small quiet rooms and an outdoor space and toilet facility. Displays across the school are neat and have various learning foci. All settings are autism-friendly and personalised to the cohorts. The core values are visible across the building. The different ‘departments’ are placed strategically to create a sense of progression as you walk around the building. Each ‘department’ shares the same ethos and design however more opportunities to develop independence are incorporated into the learning spaces in the older Key Stages. The College area is very mature and has the same design and feel as mainstream colleges.
Exciting Educational Opportunities
During the learning walk, Key Stage 1 pupils were enjoying a break outside. I observed a Key Stage 2 class who were completing phonics work at various learning stations. The activities had been planned with pupils’ areas for development in mind. For example, making letters out of rice to develop their fine motor skills, and providing a sensory experience, whilst practising their letters and sounds. In a Key Stage 3 classroom, pupils were participating in social and communication skills games with a focus on turn taking. Engagement levels were extremely high. At Key Stage 4, a specialist drama teacher was teaching. The students were extremely excited and engaged as they repeated a chant using different voices, speeds, and volume. I also observed a Key Stage 4 maths lesson where pupils were working in teams to identify the highest number from a group of numbers on the interactive whiteboard. There was a cooking lesson taking place with the teacher carrying out the demonstration and the pupils were gathered around, observing, and listening attentively. In the cookery session they were going to be making a pasta sauce, a further example of preparing pupils’ independence and healthy living choices. They were able to draw on prior learning to remember how to crush the garlic. Their attitudes to learning were excellent.
Cohesive Approach to Recording Achievements
Pupils’ books are well-organised and marked regularly with feedback and praise. Each week there are EHCP milestones’ focus sessions planned into the curriculum. This is a structured approach to ensure all children are meeting all milestones and that they are evidenced regularly. Every child has an EHCP milestones’ book which is colour-coded by area of need to clearly identify achievements towards milestones. An Early Career Teacher (ECT) has developed a tracker for the front of EHCP books which provides an overview of the targets with boxes to evidence when pupils have worked on or achieved the milestones. Parents are also invited to contribute through the ‘wow’ moments which record any achievements at home. This approach gives a clear overview of progress and the Headteacher should consider implementing it as a whole-school strategy.
Preparation for Life After School
The qualifications studied at Key Stages 4 and 5 are bespoke to the cohorts. At college, the lower ability group’s curriculum is very much based on life skills for example, grocery shopping, meal preparation and personal hygiene. For other groups, there are internships available to prepare pupils for the world of work in areas such as agriculture and hospitality. The Transition Manager starts working with pupils from Year 9 upwards to start getting them thinking about careers and showing the options available. The Careers Advisor from the Local Authority works two days a week in school to provide independent 1:1 Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) and works with pupils and families to support transition. The school is currently working with 10 employers. The local labour market information is used to inform which qualifications and courses are offered to pupils in the College.
Pupils at Abbey Hill College make excellent progress (academic and holistic). The whole school data this year shows that:
-In maths 81% non-pupil premium pupils and 92% pupil premium pupils have made expected progress.
-In reading, 89% of pupil premium and 90% of non-pupil premium pupils have made expected progress.
-In writing, 84% pupil premium and 76% non-pupil premium pupils have made expected progress.
-For the intervention groups, 79% made expected progress in maths, 100% in reading and 93% in writing.
IQM thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Abbey Hill School and College. All staff and pupils were friendly and happy. The school has continued to move from strength to strength in terms of its inclusive practice.
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