Lismore Comprehensive School in Craigavon, N. Ireland has achieved Flagship School status.
I started the day by meeting with the Principal, she has only been in post from September 2020 when the previous Principal left the school. She was a Vice Principal at the time and she and her fellow Vice Principal led the school as Co-Acting Principals for some months and then she was appointed as the new Principal. The two have worked together for many years and are very supportive of each other, so although she has been a Principal from September, she has been in the school for over twenty-four years.
The school is a mixed fully comprehensive school in County Armagh. There are over 1200 students aged 11-18 on roll and there is also a special provision for autistic children on site and a specially designated Learning Support Unit for children with a variety of needs. The school is in a deprived area and many students are in receipt of free school meals. The school is in a Dickson plan system that includes Grammar Schools, single sex schools, religious schools of different denominations and integrated schools. Lismore Comprehensive School caters for all ranges and abilities and they are very proud of that. There are 200 students in the Sixth Form and they work in collaboration with other schools to deliver a broad curriculum.
Pastoral Care is a Priority
The Principal said that the school is a community in every sense of the word and pastoral care of pupils and staff is very much a priority. The majority of parents are very supportive of the school and its work. The school is in a deprived area and there are many vulnerable families who need support from the school and from other agencies. The school willingly, provide as much support as they possibly can. They work with lots of external agencies and organisation to ensure the needs of pupils and families are met.
She told me that pupils were absolutely delighted to come back to school in September as well as the staff who were equally delighted. The school ethos is built on strong relationships, it is these relationships that have supported the school population through the very difficult events that took place over the last year.
Inclusion is at the Heart
The school supports ninety-five statemented children and many others who need learning or emotional support. The Principal points out that these children in particular, need structure and consistency and there is a clear provision and clear policy and practice to provide this support. There is a SENCO, Assistant SENCO, a large number of Learning Assistants (see later on in this report) and the SENCO sits on the Senior Leadership Team and is at the centre of school developments. This way inclusion is at the heart of the school.
Past Pupils Support the School
The Vice Principal told me that the school is truly comprehensive and includes the full range of ability. In an area where there are many grammar schools and many single sex religious schools, parents like the fact that all their siblings can go to the same school and there is no labelling. There is a very loyal and active group of past pupils who support the school. There has been a lot of new housing developments in the local area and there has been a big investment in the area. The community is a big feature of school developments and volunteering opportunities for Sixth Formers is part of their curriculum. This is appreciated by the students themselves as well as by the community. In normal times the community would make good use of the school building, especially local netball teams but the current crises has stopped this for the time being. The school has more than twenty primary feeder schools.
Meeting and Respecting Different Needs
The school is very proud of their diversity and they have a number of Muslim pupils on roll along with many pupils who have no faith at all. They have included a number of Syrian pupils successfully in the school who recently achieved well in public exams having been in the country and the school for a few years. There is an International Coordinator in post who oversees the support for children who are new to the country or who have English as a Second Language. There is a multi-faith prayer room in recognition of the fact that children of other faiths need somewhere they can pray during the day. The pupils welcome this diversity and welcomes pupils who were in the new Learning Support Centre. All have been welcomed and supported with open arms. It is clear that the school has a clear understanding that equal opportunities does not mean treating everyone the same but is about meeting and respecting different needs.
I met with the Head of the Learning Support Centre (LSC) which supports three classes (34 pupils) which includes eight pupils with autism. She tells me that there are more than twenty pupils with a diagnosis of autism across the school. It’s a growing condition, which manifests itself in very different ways. The school has been working very closely with Middletown which is the Centre of Excellence in Ireland and they support autism in the north and south of Ireland. They are working with, and advising, the school as they have the new Learning Support Centre. In addition, they have worked with a team from the mainstream and the Learning Support Centre, which involves a team of people working together to plan what they need to do to support the pupils. The Occupational Therapist has also given much advice and came into school for six weeks and helped them develop a plan for each child. The school is very willing to go out and seek advice and support in this work, in turn to support other schools who wish to develop the same sort of provision.
Sharing Good Practice
The Middletown Project has given the eighty teachers across the school an opportunity to share good practice. There has been extensive training for Learning Assistants who work in the centre, but this is also shared with mainstream Learning Assistants. The school use a system of Class Focus meetings (every term) teachers are brought together to share ideas and plan for that child or class. Currently they are working on emotional regulations and how this can support children.
Every Child is Different
The LSC curriculum at KS3 follows the National Curriculum plus Health and Wellbeing and Golden Time. The mornings involve most of the academic work and pupils work outside as much as possible in afternoon. There are individual timetables, and some pupils have jobs (helping out in the canteen or elsewhere). Some of their time is taken up doing OT prescribed exercises and calming down time. She points out that every child is different. In normal times life skills would have been to bring children out into the community and go shopping and learning how to independently (where possible) travel. They use external agencies and charities such as Leonard Cheshire, to deliver the health and wellbeing curriculum. There is an eight-week programme of boxing and physical training. There are photography projects and lots of others. These are funded from various pots and give the pupils a breadth of experience they would not have access to otherwise.
Training and Development
The SENCO and Head of LSC told me that there are coaching sessions for new staff and a full programme of training and development. They do some training (with Middletown) on strategies for pupils with autism but most of the training so far has been with Learning Assistants. This might be an area for development as all teachers and all pupils would benefit as a result.
Supporting During Lockdown
They talked me through all that was done during lockdown and since they came back to school. The Learning Assistant phoned the children every week and, on some occasions, more and helped them with pieces of work. They were also in touch with their families. The vulnerable children were phoned twice or three times a week. Food parcels were also delivered to families in need. Staff were not forgotten, and the Senior Team and others were in touch with staff all over the lockdown period to ensure they were well and managing their anxieties. There were lots of fun activities organised through Google Meet and ‘walk around Ireland’ where individuals tallied up their walking miles and published them. This became quite competitive and became a real community activity and, along with a dog walking activity, it is still going on.
I met with the IT Coordinator who was kept very busy during lockdown and she set up a Google Classroom for staff. The IT department had been using this for a long time but now it was necessary to take other departments on board. There had been some training last year on this. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has ensured that progress in this area has been accelerated. Every department now has one member of staff as the IT link and they have had training and development in this area, which they have then cascaded to the rest of their department.
She told me that the school knew that they were going to be lockdown and had a week to get the school ready. They put on special training for staff on the use of Google Classroom and trained staff on how to share class codes. The IT department produced a template for parents on how to login and they sent this out via the school app. She said the system worked as well as could be expected. She points out that Google Classroom is designed to be used ‘as a tool to assist learning not to replace teachers.’ A survey went out to see how many pupils had access to devices at home. Practically every pupil could get on to it on their phones and teachers could tell if access was by phone rather than computer, all work returned was handwritten. Some devices were loaned out to staff who did not have computers at home, but she says the community is getting together to get devices to families in case of further lockdowns or the need for pupils to self-isolate. Currently staff are setting homework and assignments via Google Classroom as they are not allowed to collect books. Staff encourage them to take photographs of their work to send in if they can’t upload it using the platform.
My next meeting was with the Head of Year 8 and acting Head of Maths, he developed the Mastery when he was acting Head of Maths. Initially, he pushed to introduce Further Maths and this did increase the higher-level grades and had an impact on the A Level classes, which used to recruit around 10 students but now attracts 22 in an A Level classes. Everybody is now working together and in a well-established team.
I then met with two members of staff who are joint Heads of Careers. Both share the role as it is such a big school. I asked what had happened with last year’s Year 11 pupils and they told me that thankfully they had already had their Careers interviews and those who had not been seen had phone calls from the Careers Advisors. All were now placed with 120 students coming back to the Sixth Form. The Year 13 group was more complicated to deal with and both had been in school on the day the A Level results were published. Despite the difficulties, they almost all got the places they applied for or an alternative university, which they were happy with. However, a few missed out on some nursing courses.
Resilient and Forward Thinking
Lismore School has had a very difficult year in so many ways, but they have come together to support each other in order to support their pupils and their community. They have been resilient and forward thinking and have a can-do approach to barriers and difficulties. Despite their sadness of losing a valued member of staff, Governor and pupil and dealing with the pandemic they have picked themselves up and are doing what they need to do to bring about school improvement. They have much to be proud of.
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