Ivel Valley School, Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, achieves the Inclusive School Award with Flagship School status.
In the current pandemic, the school follows all necessary restrictions and safeguarding rules to keep pupils, staff, and other stakeholders safe whilst enabling, as much as possible, a smooth daily operation. There was a mutual understanding that it was appropriate to conduct a review in such a way.
Their Vision is Big
The Leaders of the Ivel Valley School are enthusiastically embracing the expansion of the school (new premises are due in 2023) and put every drop of energy into the project to make the very best of this opportunity to substantially improve provision for pupils and working conditions for staff. Their vision is big; gaining physical space and updating equipment in the first instance, to bringing forward the many plans regarding the curriculum, improving quality of teaching and learning, and especially to extend offers to some KS5 pupils so that they could remain in school until they are 25 years old. The inclusion agenda features highly as part of this expansion. This was evident from the discussions with the IQM Coordinator and his future successor (due to transition to the post in September 2021) and confirmed by subsequent conversations with members of staff.
Afrer discussions, it becomes apparent that the leaders are realistic about challenges that lie ahead, but at the same time, they are bold in making choices, that is to help the school to transform into a much better-equipped provision for pupils with complex needs. Their confidence comes from years of experience in SEND education (some staff have been with the same school for 20 years) and from listening to pupils, staff, professionals, and parents; combined with consideration of on-going developments in SEND, the leaders have built a collective SEN expertise that effectively serves the school’s population.
The Leaders are Determined
The leaders are determined to achieve their vision; their in-depth knowledge of the range of needs the pupils present with, and how to provide for them are crucial for the success of the project. As the school is all age through having 5 stages of entry from 3 – 19 years, the leader’s propose to extend their provision beyond what is generally practised by adding a 19-25 section for pupils who due to their complex difficulties, have nowhere to go. This is a courageous step, requiring not only a challenge in terms of financial investment, but also a great amount of energy and time to plan, persuade and overcome obstacles that usually emerge in such ambitious projects. When discussing the future of the school, there was a clear sense of eagerness to deliver the project, and leaders were open in their euphoria when contemplating what it would be like for all in the school once they will move to new premises and achieve their goal of being able to offer extended places for some of KS5 pupils.
The School Ethos
The caring and nurturing ethos of the school underpins policies and procedures, but it also echoed in conversations with all stakeholders that participated in this review. Leaders know their school community very well and, in their roles, they are quick to address any deviation from the expected high standards from staff, parents and visitors alike. This attitude has been helpful in implementing imposed Covid’s restrictions and secure the safe running of the school on a daily basis, as well as maintaining its partial operation during lockdowns until it was safe to open the school to all pupils. During those times, the school reached out to the most needy or vulnerable pupils to ensure continuity of their learning and to fulfil their duty of care. They made sure that all pupils and staff were supported and included in teaching and learning and never lost sight of the school, regardless of restrictions, and difficulties. They all acted in a truly inclusive spirit.
Regular Attendance Checks
The school keeps regular checks of attendance and has not experienced any major discrepancy percentage wise when comparing with pre-pandemic figures; they were always around/above 92 %. An extremely rare occurrence of a permanent exclusion took place in this academic year because the pupil presented with difficulties that exceeded the school’s provision and expertise. This was made clear to the Local Authority during the admission consultation, but the school had no choice but to accept the child. Whilst at school, staff tried everything to accommodate the pupil but having experienced serious difficulties with safeguarding, they had no choice but to make an unpopular decision of exclusion. During the transition period to an appropriate placement, the school has maintained an interest in its former pupil’s next destination.
The School has a Deep Caring Practice
Staff at the Ivel Valley School understand that teaching is a relationship-based profession and as a result, they build up a very good picture of their pupils’ and families’ needs that are often beyond educational. When they recognised that it was difficult for a parent to bring a pupil into school, they fetched the child themselves to break a non-attendance cycle and support the family. The school signposts some parents to parenting courses, to increase their awareness of what can be done at home to better manage their children’s needs and how to set up boundaries. These interventions positively impact pupils, their families, and ultimately the school too. Similarly, knowing some families’ home dynamics, the school invited some pupils on-site during the lockdown, as this was deemed to be the safest place for them. By having such deeply personal caring practice, the school demonstrates that they deliver the values that they subscribe to in their vision, ethos and aims.
Staff are an Asset
The staff at the Ivel Valley School have come across as very attached to their place of work, which they say practises “total inclusion”. In the conversation with the assessor, they were full of superlatives when describing leadership, colleagues, and a wider school community whilst acknowledging at the same time that they work in a demanding and challenging environment. This is because they have seen how the school has developed over the last few years, always with the focus on making it a better educational place for all pupils. The leaders see their staff as an asset, that needs to be invested in and supported and this attitude is appreciated by teachers and learning support staff; it encourages them to do their best. One member of staff said that: “even after 18 years, there hasn’t been a day I did not feel like coming in.” They “recited” their CPD opportunities and talked about how the school steers them into acquiring qualifications, that benefit that individual but also the whole school. This is because staff are encouraged to develop expertise in line with their personal interests and abilities whilst taking into account the gaps in training and skills that exist in the school.
The “Open-Door Policy”
All staff participating in the meeting said: “We really like working here.” They commented on how an “open-door policy” practised by leadership, including the principal, unites people and makes it easy to approach leadership in times of greater needs, or for an occasional confirmation that they do a good job. The “open-door policy” applies to pupils as well and it proves to be, at the same time, an effective behaviour management strategy. When having a conversation with pupils as part of this review, it was evident that they were familiar with the leader’s office, in a positive way, and they felt completely at ease with each other and the environment.
Proud Pupils and Staff
During the review, it became obvious that there are very positive, dynamic, and respectful professional relationships between adults, who are very aware that they model behaviour to their pupils. They take this responsibility very seriously. One of the members of staff, who has been working in the school for about 20 years, reflected on how much satisfaction she gets when meeting ex-pupils who still speak enthusiastically about their time at the Ivel Valley School. Another teacher said that he is:
“Proud of being here amongst them, wearing a lanyard with the school’s name. Being able to provide for some challenging pupils who nobody can provide for. Proud of our pupils, how they mature and how they become responsible young people.”
It was noticeable how staff lit up when talking about the pupils; they have many success stories to share. There is no doubt that the education and wellbeing of the pupils are at the heart of everything the school does. This was echoed by the pupils themselves who said: “The school is fair; you have fun, and you learn, and you are safe.”
Achieving Their IQM Targets
Since the last IQM review, the school has worked hard to influence and produce plans for expansion; also steering the project to pioneer innovation in special education at the same time, as per the school’s values and aims. The work that has been undertaken with developing KS5 assessment, implementing changes to Preparation for Adulthood EHCP, building, and setting up provision for some pupils to stay on site until 25 years of age, provides clear evidence that the inclusion agenda underpins the school’s main and future projects. Once completed, the projects will significantly contribute to the school’s development in terms of the offer and will make it unique.
It was a pleasure to meet with the IQM Co-ordinator, his future successor and members of staff who showed determination to achieve their goals set as IQM targets. Though there are some delays due to Covid restriction, they do not pose a serious risk to completion. All the participants in this review were very excited, gradually seeing fruition of their bold plans and about the prospect of being able to offer a practical way of learning to those pupils who may not otherwise access education.
Find out more about the IQM Inclusive School Award
If your school is interested in obtaining the IQM Inclusive School Award or you wish to talk to a member of the IQM team please telephone:
028 7127 7857 (9.00 am to 5.00 pm)
or email: [email protected] for further details.
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