Harris Primary Academy Merton, Mitcham in Surrey, achieves the Inclusive School Award with Flagship School Status.
Harris Primary Academy, Merton (HPAM) is a diverse two form entry school, with its own pre-school and nursery. Currently there are approximately 504 pupils on roll from pre-school to year 6. It is situated in an area of high deprivation, high unemployment/ low income, and high mental health needs in the London Borough of Merton. The percentages of pupils with SEND and/or EAL are higher than the national average. The school has an Additional Resource Base (ARP) for 22 primary aged pupils from Reception to Year 6, who are diagnosed with ASD or complex communication needs. Each of these pupils has an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP). An additional 15 pupils also have EHCPs, with further pupils awaiting the outcome of applications, including 5 pupils from the EYFS.
Striving to Be the Best
HPAM was rated by Ofsted as inadequate in February 2014 and converted to Academy status in September 2014. It is now part of the Harris Federation of Schools, comprising of 48 primary and secondary Academies, in and around London, educating some 36,000 pupils. Schools within the Federation retain their uniqueness and relevance to their own communities yet benefit from being part of a larger organisation in terms of support, training, professional development opportunities and economy of scale. In July 2017, the school was graded as being outstanding in all areas by Ofsted and is now a popular and oversubscribed school. Pupils progress and achieve well at HPAM. The school has been in the top 5% in the country for pupil progress from EYFS to KS2.
Committed to Inclusion
HPAM was awarded the IQM Centre of Excellence Award in 2018 and this visit was the Year 3 Centre of Excellence Review. Following, the last IQM Centre of Excellence Review in June 2020, the school has further developed its inclusive practice, working with other schools and the wider community. HPAM is committed to inclusion. The Academy’s ‘strategic planning involves, developing cultures, policies and practices that include all learners.’
The Principal stated:
‘Inclusion is the very essence of what we do in our school’
and this was highly evident throughout the IQM assessment day. Inclusive practice is led by the SLT, with an experienced and dynamic SENCo and Assistant SENCo, who respectively believe that ‘inclusion is at the heart of what every school should do’ and that ‘every child should succeed.’ Their passion for providing the best possible learning and experiences for the children of HPAM shone through and a shared, whole school approach to inclusive learning and teaching, was evident throughout the assessment day.
No Barriers to Learning
Focussing on each individual child’s learning, social, emotional, and mental health and holistic development, the school places great emphasis on early identification of individual needs, working hard to meet the needs of all the children. They continually adapt their interventions and support, to ensure that pupils and families receive the best possible experiences. The school endeavours to actively remove any barriers to learning that a pupil may have.
Sharing Good Practice
The Assistant SENCo is the lead in the EYFS, working with children and families from the earliest opportunity in pre-school and liaising with the nearby children’s centre. A wide range of interventions are used, including attention bucket (attention autism – Gina Davis); social interaction groups; targeted SALT interventions; ECAT groups and ‘I can’ intervention groups. Systems of identification, support and review are well embedded throughout the school, and pupil progress meetings are held on a termly basis. Weekly learning meetings are held in year groups to share practice. Interventions such as 1-1 reading and phonics continued online throughout the recent lockdowns. All pupils are closely monitored and, where appropriate, provided with additional support outside of the classroom in small groups, such as the Friday Year 1 Nurture Group or Acorn or Forest classes, which accommodate small groups of children from varying year groups, according to need. Pupils in the ARP are given opportunities to join mainstream classrooms, with additional support. A teacher in the ARP said,
‘Everybody knows our children. Everybody helps with our children.’
A range of external agencies and professionals, including the Educational Psychology and Occupational Therapy services work very effectively with the school. A specialist Speech and Language Therapist (SALT) who works at the school for 2 days per week, commented on how they ‘work really collaboratively’ and the work carried out in the area of speech and language is a strength of the school. The SEND team manager for the London Borough of Merton, commented on the ‘can do attitude’ of the SENCo and the school; the
‘very nurturing approach of the school, holding quite complex children at a mainstream level’
‘really positive working relationship’
in terms of the ARP. She referred to HPAM as a
‘truly inclusive school.’
Whole School Ethos Thoroughly Embedded
The whole school ethos where ‘All children are treated fairly, but we also acknowledge individual needs,’ is underpinned by the school’s golden rules of: ‘show respect, take responsibility and always make the right choice.’
Bright and Stimulating Environment
Classrooms and learning environments observed through the virtual tour of the school were bright and stimulating, supporting, and scaffolding pupils’ learning. All classrooms have visual timetables and inviting reading areas. The school uses the ‘widgit’ system of communication and all adults in the school carry ‘visuals’ on their lanyards to support the children. Pupils have targets, in terms of checklists in their books, and in-depth marking, and 1-1 conferencing with their teachers, all of which helps move their learning forward.
Broad, and Balanced Curriculum
HPAM offers a broad and balanced curriculum, reflective of its pupils. It follows a maths mastery curriculum and a deeper core text approach to English. Relevant issues are addressed through the curriculum and the Federation provides a curriculum framework for the foundation subjects. Pupils’ knowledge is further supported through the use of ‘knowledge organisers’, providing support when commencing new topics. I heard comments from the pupils like,
‘I like the teachers because they help me’
‘I like to know that other children find learning tricky and I’m not alone’
from a pupil who joined the ARP in the last year.
Pupil engagement in lessons and behaviour for learning is reported as being very good and the school offers a range of clubs, educational visits, and trips, such as colouring, gardening, multi-skills and IT coding, to further enhance the curriculum, together with an annual residential trip to Kingswood.
Quality First Teaching
Weekly CPD is provided for staff and opportunities to train outside of the school or work within other Federation Schools is also offered. CPD has included training around diversity, individuality and inclusion and is focussed on Quality First Teaching. An annual Federation INSET day is held to share best practice. The Federation affords many opportunities for progression and professional development and staff who were interviewed appreciated the support and training opportunities that they had been given by the SLT at the school. The Federation has established its own Schools Direct ITT programme and several staff have entered teaching through this route.
Continued Support for Well-Being
The wellbeing of pupils, their families and staff is a priority and a focus of SLT meetings. The school carried out a staff well-being survey and teachers said that they feel very well supported by the SLT, who are very accessible. They reported that the school is ‘really focussed on well-being.’ Families received regular well-being check in phone calls throughout the pandemic and MOAT helped the school provide well-being Christmas hampers to families. The school provided food hampers; hampers of arts and crafts; laptops and help with access to Wi-Fi. Each family in Reception, the ARP, and all children with EHCPs were provided with zip wallets of practical resources. For pupils, weekly assemblies centre around well-being and teaching in the afternoons is focussed on well-being and mindfulness. The ‘Strengthening Minds’ programme focusses on raising self-esteem; positive me and positive behaviour.
Parents in Partnership
Communication with parents is excellent and extremely comprehensive. One parent that was interviewed praised the communication ‘between everybody.’ There is a parent area on the school website and the school uses a range of mediums to communicate with parents, such as through emails, regular newsletters (including termly inclusion and safeguarding newsletters), telephone calls and the use of mediums such as Twitter. Staff are highly accessible to parents. A teacher in the ARP also believed that the
‘online learning helped cement the relationship with the parents.’
In the Early Years, children are regularly observed and assessed, using the online profile ‘Evidence Me’ and the school introduced the ‘Parent Share’ feature of this profile, so that parents can see what their child has been learning, the skills they are developing and engage in a shared dialogue about their child’s ongoing learning and development. Parents speak very highly of their experiences at HPAM. They find the staff to be extremely supportive, nurturing and caring of both them and their children. They say,
‘they are amazing’
and appreciate that they
Throughout the pandemic they felt that the school ‘went above and beyond’ to support them and their children, appreciating the regular phone calls and 1-1 interactions online. One parent, whose child joined the school last year said,
‘It’s been absolutely brilliant. I can’t fault them.’
The school also provides a range of parent workshops and coffee mornings, including virtual autism coffee mornings and drop-in sessions held during the pandemic. It has a PTA, with one of its parent members stating,
‘How could you not want to be part of that school?’
Support but Challenge
Governors are well informed and committed to the life of the school. They regularly visit the school, engage in governor training to help them fulfil their roles more effectively and provide support and challenge during governing body meetings. An extensive package of training is offered through the Federation and is also available through ‘Governors for Schools.’ The SEND and Safeguarding Governor, whilst new to the role, has met with the SENCo to review the policies and provision within the school and has tracked the journey of a learner. She was ‘impressed with their inclusive approach… taking a holistic approach.’
Strong Community Links
The Harris Federation offers many opportunities to network, including through the monthly Harris SENCo forum and other groups for individual subject areas. The school also works very well with the local authority and there is a half-termly borough SENCo network group. The SENCo and Assistant SENCo share their expertise beyond the school and federation, supporting other schools and SENCos. HPAM also has a strong commitment to its local community and is keen to continually develop community links for the benefit of its pupils, families, and the local community in general. The community investment officer from MOAT found HPAM to be ‘one of the first and most optimistic’ schools that he worked with, and a number of exciting projects are planned for the future.
IQM Assessor’s Comments
The enthusiasm, positivity, and commitment to inclusion of everyone that was interviewed during the assessment day was uplifting. Harris Primary Academy, Merton, continues to move from strength to strength in terms of its inclusive practice. As such I recommend that the school be awarded Flagship status and the targets for 2021/2022 will form its Flagship Project Action Plan.
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