Inclusivity at Its Core
The Link School continues to be a school with inclusivity at its core. The Headteacher is inspiring and determined. She is unrelenting in her drive to secure the very best life chances for all young people at the school. This vision flows through the school. Leaders have worked hard to create this ambitious culture within the school. All staff have high expectations of pupils and their academic outcomes. Senior leaders are focused on raising pupils’ aspirations and ensuring they are happy and successful.
The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) is clear about its moral purpose, vision, and the strategic direction for the school. They are reflective practitioners who listen to their team, and current research, to ensure they continue to drive forward to get the best outcomes for all.
There is a broad, balanced, and ambitious curriculum offer that is driven by the desire to meet pupil’s needs and support them in their pathways. At the start of this academic year, leaders have begun to further develop the curriculum and build it on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: ‘self-actualisation/esteem/belonging/safety needs/physiological needs,’ which is the foundation of the school’s relationships-based approach to address individual gaps in learning and skills.
As well as experiential learning and the development of cultural capital being key, leaders have ensured that all recent developments have been rooted in Maslow’s. The KS3 Assistant Headteacher explained, ‘Our school values of REACH are embedded in the curriculum and the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ties in with this and what we already do. We work hard to address children’s needs, from the bottom up, so they are ready to engage with academic learning and make progress.’ Leaders have worked hard to ensure that the build-up of knowledge and skills is rigorously sequenced through a spiral curriculum and that children have the time they need to internalise and become secure at each step. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) has taken place, and this is a key focus area of the academic year. The KS2 Assistant Headteacher demonstrated how as well as further embedding Maslow and Mindfulness in the curriculum, they have also been looking at ‘Early Excellence’ and offering continuous provision in KS2 to allow the children to develop 3 key elements: engagement, motivation, and thinking skills.
Driving the Curriculum Forward
Key to driving the curriculum forward is the school’s work on subject leadership. Leaders have focused on developing subject leaders’ knowledge, skills, and expertise of understanding and analysing data and progress. By organising into key stage teams, leaders are ensuring that all the skills subject leaders need are being given to them through high-quality support and CPD. It also means that those working in the teams broaden their knowledge across a range of subjects and that the leadership and monitoring of each subject is not dependent on one person, thus ensuring consistency and succession planning.
English and maths are taught daily. Subjects are taught discretely; however, teachers are very experienced at developing skills, and cross-curricular links, through a range of other subjects. Staff are constantly refining and improving their cross-curricular approach which is driven by reading: creating as many links between subjects as possible.
The school is committed to creating students who are life-long learners who read for pleasure. Throughout the school, the importance of reading was seen, as all spaces have books in them and displays to encourage reading and showcase reading work.
Leaders are relentless in their determination to ensure that the curriculum meets the needs of all and allows children to have a strong post-16 pathway mapped out. Due to the diverse range of needs across the school and sites, the curriculum has been designed to cater to a range of pupils, providing equal opportunities for all. Students benefit from elements of vocational education and some students attend external providers to access a vocational offer, which is regularly quality assured. Practical lessons are underpinned by theory lessons which are engaging and linked to the wider world of work.
Children can participate in vocational lessons on site, such as gardening, painting, and decorating, nail art, music, sports, and fitness. The school building has been developed to allow children to engage in meaningful learning, with dedicated classrooms for these spaces such as the gym and the music room. If needed, children can also access vocational placements off-site, through well-established relationships with alternative education providers. These placements are quality assured regularly with two strands: a termly check on the academic progress, which is conducted by a senior leader, and also a weekly check by the Family Support worker to ensure children are safe and engaged. The KS4 Head of school talked with passion about how they, ‘Work hard to get the right balance between safety, attendance and safeguarding and engagement, the right curriculum and academic achievements.’ Students have a wide range of enrichment opportunities on site. Every second of the school day is used to maximise student experiences.
Assessment is Rigorous
The focus on achievement, expectations, and aspirations has given rise to many success stories at The Link School, across all sites, which are living proof of the positive impact of their inclusive ethos. Assessment across school is rigorous. There is a clear assessment schedule in place. Pupil Progress meetings take place regularly. These support in ensuring rapid progress is made and gaps are closed. On the day of the review, KS4 pupils were engaging in their mock exams. Children were focused and completing their work.
There is a strong culture of safeguarding which is highly effective, with staff receiving regular training on key areas of need. Attendance is a key focus and is monitored closely as the leaders recognise the relationship between attendance and progress as well as the emotional and social development of the pupils. If there is an attendance issue with any pupil, the issue is raised sensitively and with the support of the pastoral staff.
Staff wellbeing remains a high priority. Wellbeing needs are taken seriously by the school. One teacher articulated how ‘Moving from mainstream to this school is the best thing I ever did. The leaders really care about us and check in with us. The Headteacher writes every member of staff a personalised performance management letter at the end of every academic year!’
Transitions are well managed. The nature of the cohort means that students join them at different times of the year and often late in their school careers. Staff at The Link School have worked hard to develop a robust admissions process and structured transition program to help students move from their past traumas and educational experiences to a fresh start and a future filled with hope.
Enjoy Being Part of the School
Pupils at The Link School were keen to tell our Assessor that they enjoy being part of their school. They talk openly about their experiences at The Link as being positive. One young person said, “Staff are great and make the school good. They are approachable and care about us.” Another pupil explained, “I can talk to the staff here, but I could not in my last school. They try to help me achieve and look at my curriculum to make it work for me.” Throughout the assessment day, a number of children discussed how they knew the staff really care about them.
The parents and carers of the school are seen as partners. They are welcomed and valued. One parent explained, ‘This school is like fairy dust. Staff really listen to us and children become more settled here.”
The Link School is an example of a school committed to meeting the needs of its pupils and is inspiring in its commitment to, and implementation of, inclusive practice. The whole school community has an enthusiasm and passion for their part in enriching the lives of the pupils at the school. Staff provide a caring environment for pupils where high expectations have a huge impact on their progress and wellbeing. They have created a school that is friendly, welcoming, and aspirational. The relentless drive to ensure every child who arrives at the school makes progress – academically, socially, and emotionally – underpins every decision made. Staff strive to close gaps and prepare pupils to transition successfully, and happily, to the next stage of their 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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