There is No Limit to What We Can Achieve
Starting their visit our Assessor explained, “I was a little anxious visiting Red Gates School again having observed such wonderful inclusive practice on my last visit wondering how much more there would be to comment on. I need not have worried! It is like inclusive layers are constantly being wrapped around this school whilst striving for excellence in terms of academic achievement. The statement in the School Development Plan demonstrates this wonderfully when it says; “if we create a culture where we all believe that we need to improve, not because we are not good enough but because we can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”
The Headteacher is now in a substantive role and the stability has afforded even more opportunities and she is creating a strong leadership team. There have been no exclusions in the past year and there is a strong view of the negative impact reduced timetables can have on both children and their families.
This ‘whole community’ responsibility is not a tokenistic one at Red Gates School and many developments have taken place that have a direct impact on student wellbeing and therefore their readiness to learn. One such example is the taking on of school catering internally. Recognising the complex dietary considerations of many pupils linked to their conditions it was observed that the existing catering offer was not meeting their needs. Pupils were therefore not eating as well as they were able to, impacting their mood and ability to learn. The new offer has been well planned with catering staff who are now trained to understand the implications of what is delivered and how it is presented and served to children. They are very much part of the school team now and huge improvements have been noted. The curriculum input also has a significant focus on food in recognition of this need.
The dining hall is a shared area with the adjacent school and it can be noisy and busy which has worried some parents. However, this is meticulously monitored and supported so that children feel safe with the aspiration of the school’s investment in time and resources being that these children are better prepared for situations outside of school. One parent commented on how powerful this process was in that her son could “take it at his own pace” and “was able to see like-minded children who are not scared of that setting which gave him the confidence to persevere”.
Every part of the school day is a focus of attention and opportunities to improve are taken. The complex organisation of school transport arrivals is slick and purposeful with the same care and consideration as our Assessor observed before, however noticeable this time was the way in which sensory needs are being addressed in a very bespoke way during the transition from the car park to classroom recognising the impact of what can be very long journeys for children.
Total communication continues to develop and it was wonderful to see how a pupil who had shown our Assessor around last year using Widgit Go, this year did so far more independently and with wonderful confidence and enthusiasm. The children excitedly showed their new outdoor area complete with a filmed badger set. Staff report how this well-thoughtout area along with the commitment to using it whatever the weather through training and resourcing of appropriate clothing, “there is no wrong weather just wrong clothing”, has resulted in more purposeful play as well as free play resulting in fewer behaviour incidents.
The financial and strategic commitment to extra-curricular activities is powerful. An impressive range of lunchtime sessions are on offer which pupils sign up to. Our Assessor observed two of these and heard about others including Lego Club led by the Lego Therapist. Many of these experiences are ones not had outside of school, and where successes in these sessions have been shared with parents it has had a much wider impact with these interests being supported at home too, sometimes with resources being shared. This has often positively impacted home relationships supporting the whole family. There is a lovely display showing families experiencing various types of play together in school where engagement has been modelled in a helpful and fun way.
Family support continues to develop from the range of accessible training sessions and informal help to providing access to medical appointments such as opticians, dentists, and blood tests on-site in recognition of how attendance at these is a real challenge for families due to perceived behaviour, practical difficulties for children and the impact on siblings. Positive outcomes from this are a significant increase in pupils wearing glasses and an improvement in behaviours that had been linked to pain such as dental pain for children who could not articulate this.
The commitment to a full-time post means that parental workshops have developed further with input from external speakers complimenting the offer already in place. Parents also requested subjects such as toileting which are now added.
Relationships with parents is a real strength. The new communication books are well received and communication both ways has improved with their use although other ways are still available such as phone calls, messages via transport providers, and direct contact with teachers or the Family Liaison Officer.
The impact of Red Gates School on whole families was discussed powerfully when our Assessor met with parents past and present including one who felt so strongly about the school support, she became a part of the Friends of Red Gate School and has also joined the staff team in the school so that she can be part of that same level of care. Other parents who attended the session could not speak highly enough of the support for their children. One praised the school for “bringing communication into my home” and “looking after us as a family.”
Many examples of progress were attributed to the persistence and understanding of staff in the school such as a child who would not eat at school becoming one who does so daily now as well as being chosen to support a peer in this area once a week. Another example was where a child who always refused to wear a coat was encouraged in school so much that when he had forgotten it one day, he requested one. These examples are significant for families who are managing complex and often stressful situations. One parent described her child “going from strength to strength” saying that when he joined “the school did not just settle my child, they settled me and provided a support system I have never had before.” She also commented how amazing it was coming into the school after only two days even before her child had started, to hear staff saying hello to him. These powerful messages are the kind that demonstrate the heart of Red Gates School.
Aspiration of the School
The aspiration of the school to support children to accept difference and forge relationships was reinforced by a parent who thought their child would not experience a play date like other children saying; “I was so emotional when I saw the children, both non-verbal with very different needs playing alone but clearly enjoying being together.”
It was heartening on visiting the different pathways and how there is still a drive to further improve internal inclusion, balancing bespoke learning opportunities with those supporting friendships and social experiences including modelling where appropriate.
There is a recent focus on meaningful pupil voice using Talking Mats for Educational and Health Care Plan (EHCP) reviews which has been commended by other professionals and is so powerful for young people who previously had recorded that they were unable to provide this.
Children as individuals continue to be the essence of the school and the new initiative to ensure pupil voice is represented in a meaningful way is another example of not settling for what is required but looking for what is desired, the true ethos of Red Gates School.
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