11. Leadership, Vision and Ethos

It is important to point out that this school’s journey to this stage in the development of their Curriculum for Excellence started 8 years ago. In 2003, a new headteacher was appointed to take forward this special school for secondary aged pupils which had received a highly critical HMle report. The new leader provided staff and parents with a much needed vision and picture of the future of the school or which people were willing to work. She was able to share her vision and inspire her staff and the school’s partners to work in a way which ensured this failing school became a centre of excellence over a period of years. The new Headteacher quickly enthused and supported her staff to develop suitable programmes of study, more effective approaches to learning and teaching and strongly promoted an ‘I can’ attitude. Staff responded to this positive leadership and started to believe that their school could become a place to be proud of.  Hitherto untapped talents of staff were utilised   and leaders in learning at all levels emerged across the school. A positive synergy became palpable and the confidence of all staff grew because of the strong, supportive and informed leadership of the Headteacher, her Depute and the Head of the Residence. This was supported by a wide range of relevant professional development.

By 2005 after a follow through visit, HMle were able to write: “Staff had developed a very wide range of suitable courses at all stages at different levels to suit the diverse needs of pupils. From S3 onwards pupils now had very good opportunities for certification. The school’s curriculum appropriately focused on key aspects of personal and social development including enterprising activities, health education and practical activities related to the environment. Teachers linked knowledge and skills from different curriculum areas well and this led to increased understanding by pupils.  The school had developed very effective links with a secondary school so that some pupils could be appropriately involved in science and technical activities. Pupils were producing good work at all stages. While some aspects of the curriculum still required further development, the school had demonstrated its capacity to improve the curriculum very effectively”. 

Clearly the school was on its way to developing an excellent curriculum.  Curriculum for Excellence provided further direction and momentum. During this time the Headteacher also worked with Authority Education and Architecture personnel to build a wonderful new purpose built school.  The new school was opened on the campus of a Primary and Secondary school.  In 2008 the pupils and staff from a Nursery/Primary special school and the special school moved to the new building. The further development of all aspects of the curriculum from this point onwards is described in this Manual.

A key influence in sharing the vision and improving the school was the promotion of a positive ethos. Senior managers modelled appropriate behaviour when interacting with children, staff, parents and other professionals.  They supported staff to ‘watch their language’ to ensure they talked about children in a way that consistently protected their dignity. For example, they wanted to ensure that the language to describe basic care intimate routines and eating and drinking practices were not referred to as toileting and feeding. Instead they were referred to as personal care and eating. Relatively quickly the school became a calm, dignified and purposeful place where logistics such as timetables for classroom support, therapy sessions, whole school programmes and out of school activities were tightly managed to ensure smooth running.  Another important contributory factor in developing the purposeful and calm ethos was the strong focus on the need to build each class’s support team. Class team protocols were agreed and ensure a shared understanding about aims, clarity about roles and responsibilities, an understanding about when to provide intensive support as well as when to promote independence in individual children.  All staff feel valued for their unique contribution and each member rises to the challenge. Class team meetings which take place weekly form a crucial part of the planning process, promote joint understanding and cement professional relationships. The teams grow in confidence and jointly improve how well they meet the needs of vulnerable children and young people.

Suitable staffing levels have been negotiated over the years so that they remain unchanged during each session unless there are exceptional circumstances. School senior managers and Authority managers believe these are realistic and appropriate to meet the nature of needs in the school.

Around Easter the headteacher and Authority manager meet to agree the staffing level for the coming session. This discussion is aided by the clear curricular aims and team structures within the school.

Maintaining the vision means the job is never done.  The school now has many inspirational leaders at all levels.  Improvements are ongoing and the curriculum and pedagogy continue to be developed.

R Barth (1990)  Improving  Schools from Within’  wrote: ‘ Everyone  who works in a  school is entitled  to unique personal vision of the way he or she would like the school to become, but has an obligation to uncover, discover, and rediscover what the vision is and contribute it to the betterment of the school community. Proof  of  the continuing promotion of  vision as the means to constant improvement is  one current initiative entitled ‘Let me tell you a story’, which is a study of how storytelling and use of stories can be used to enhance children and young peoples’ awareness and understanding of their environment.

A range of policies and guidance which are reviewed and updated on a regular basis ensure that staff and parents understand all aspects of the school/specialist provision. Policies and guidance describe the following:

  • The Rationale of the school which ensures it is committed to ensuring it meets the needs of all pupils, with references to legislative and local contexts.  Statements which emphasise entitlement to a broad and meaningful curriculum for all children and young people.
  • Reference to national policies and guidance to which this policy relates such as Curriculum for Excellence, Journey to Excellence, Assessment is for learning, National Assessment Resource, Supporting Children’s learning: Code of Practice.
  • The aim is to maximise the most inclusive and appropriate learning situation for each child across the range of learning opportunities in and beyond the school and to promote in each child and young person the four capacities.
  • The core curriculum which takes account of all aspects of Curriculum for Excellence including specialist programmes such as Equals and use of active enterprising methodology and practical activities such as outdoor This description of the curriculum will explain that personal, emotional and social development and communication form the core of the curriculum for many children with significant and complex needs.  It also describes how the school plans to promote the literacy and numeracy skills for each child and young person.
  • The accommodation which is fit for purpose and allows a range of activities.
  • The management structure, including explaining how all staff are supported.
  • The designated key worker/named person role so that parents and carers and the child as well as partners have a clear point of
  • Roles and responsibilities and partnerships: Clarity about individual roles and responsibilities, including Authority personnel; statements which promote team working and show the ways in which staff  should  work together; including  working  with parents and key  partners.
  • Approaches to planning for groups and individuals, including the school’s approach to Co-ordinated Support Plans and Individualised Educational Programmes.
  • Identification and assessment: Clarification about how the school intends to identify and assess the additional support needs of its pupils.
  • Approaches which promote effective learning for all pupils; a brief description of specific strategies and programmes such as Information Technology support, specialist resources or equipment, enterprising and thematic approaches and pathways to ensure positive achievement.
  • Procedures for referral, recording and review, referring to national and local procedures.
  • Approaches to ensure robust care and welfare which includes child protection, risk assessment, moving and handling, safe holding and intimate care.
  • Transition arrangements: Arrangements for planning for and supporting pupils to ‘move on’ to the next stage of education.
  • Arrangements for evaluating effectiveness of this policy: statement which outlines how the effectiveness of the school is evaluated, including the relevance and impact of the school policy.

Further Information

Class Protocol: Creating Leadership for Learning: Classroom Leadership

The basis of successful team working is agreement about the goals and aims of the team, clarity among the individual members of the team about their respective roles and responsibilities, and an awareness of the different learning and working styles of each member of the team.

The Role of the Class Teachers

The class or subject specialist:

  • plans learning and gives direction to the class team about learning;
  • enables support staff to further develop activities and choose resources, having been initially directed;
  • ensures a collegiate approach  with the class team and other agencies;
  • ensures support staff have all the information they need to support the child or young person IEP targets are available and accessible;
  • ensures resources are available, known and managed;
  • ensures there is a system and procedures for recording achievement in place which enables any member of the team to contribute to this;
  • ensures a standard of professional/ paraprofessional behaviour. For example, using positive approaches and language with the children and young people. Some simple protocols include a ban on adults eating, drinking or chewing gum in class or using mobile phones during class time. The main message is that the class team’s attention is on the tasks and activities and promoting learners’ experiences;
  • ensures they do not leave the class without clear instructions for the class team;
  • chairs the class team meetings and ensures a minute is taken of each meeting which is available  to the class team and sent to the link member of the Senior Management Team (SMT);
  • liaises regularly with the link member of the SMT.

The Role of Support Staff

Support staff:

  • work under the direction of the class or specialist teacher;
  • should take opportunities during class team meetings and other times to ask questions and clarify any information they need;
  • in discussion and collaboration with the class teacher take forward learning using agreed activities and tasks, choosing resources and approaches;
  • should be aware of the learning styles of pupils, take account of ‘thinking time’  (the 8 seconds  rule), foster independence and know pupils’ targets;
  • should contribute to the class team and school ethos;
  • are encouragedto take initiative and actively contribute to the work of the class team;
  • should be aware of the main initiatives in the school and the developments being undertaken.

Meeting with Parents

Parents are the primary educators of their children. When the staff meet with them they recognise this fact and take account of their views and ensure they work with them in a truly collaborative manner.  Class and specialist teachers meet with parents at:

  • IEP target discussion meetings;
  • Parent contact meetings;
  • Additional Support Needs meetings.

 They work to ensure that parents feel confident about the experiences their children are having by demonstrating during discussions and meetings that they:

  • know their child their learning needs, social and emotional needs, their personality, interests and strengths, the support they need  in order to achieve, their health needs, how to manage behaviours in a positive manner;
  • know about the main traits of the condition that causes a barrier to their learning and progress;
  • know the progress their child has made at all times, including from home to school, primary to secondary, stage to stage and getting ready for post-school transition.

Further Information: Let me tell you a story

Almost two thirds of the school are non-verbal and due to cognitive and physical factors are also non­-writers and non-readers. Some pupils communicate by body gesture, vocalisation, Makaton signing or symbol books whilst others use augmentative forms of communication such as switches, ICT strategies and approaches. Some learners are verbal and have limited ability to read and write. This would not, however, be their preferred means of communication.

Storytelling is a powerful learning tool for children with significant support needs often working within a multi-sensory level. Storytelling and story sharing is a means of helping them to grasp the meaning of events. Being able to be involved in stories and tell stories about ourselves is a central part of the human experience. Our social interaction depends on stories. Most people do this naturally, for example while chatting with family members over the dinner table but being involved in stories and telling stories about oneself can be a real struggle for some individuals.

We wanted to demonstrate that everyone can participate in storytelling, regardless of their level of disability and that it can lead to improved communication, ability to relate to others, ability to recall events and a stronger sense of community.

This project sits alongside a research project entitled ‘How was School today…? – in the Wild’, which the school is working on with Dundee and Aberdeen Universities. This project aims to support children with communication impairments when talking about what they did at school.   It is hoped to do this by designing a new electronic communication device which helps the user to create their own story of their day.

Aims and Purpose of the Project

The aim of the project was to investigate and further develop storytelling and the use of stories to enhance children and young peoples’ awareness and understanding of their environment. This would be done through enhancing teacher and support staff’s skills in facilitating storytelling through story-sharing, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), social stories and multi-sensory creative stories.

The success criteria were:

  • enhanced children and young peoples’ engagement and involvement in stories;
  • enhanced children and young peoples’ awareness/learning/knowledge of  their environment;
  • staff confident in the use of a range of storytelling techniques and approaches;
  • coherent strategy and approaches and rationale for the use of stories across the school at all stages;
  • raised awareness of parents and carers about the use of stories and storytelling processes in the school;
  • wide range of  story resources collated and available to staff.

 The evidence of this learning would be gathered through:

  • observation;
  • photographs;
  • DVDs;
  • discussion with staff;
  • discussion with parents/ carers;
  • achievement in targets set in Individual Education Programmes (IEPs);
  • discussion with Speech and Language Therapists.

Methodology

The key aims of this project were to:

  • actively involve learners in their own learning and development;
  • include regular and effective use of Information and Communication Technology to support and extend literacy
  • provide access to learning resources that were well matched to a learner’s stage of language development and identified additional support needs;
  • include activities which were relevant, well-paced, challenging and 

stimulating

The CfE outcomes and experiences that we chose to explore these through were:

Listening, Communication and Talking (CfE Listening and Talking)

Organiser Enjoyment and choice within a motivating and challenging environment, developing an awareness of the relevance of texts in my life.

CFE Outcome
I enjoy exploring and choosing stories and other texts to watch, read or listen to, and can share my likes and dislikes. LIT 0-01b / LIT 0-11b
I enjoy exploring events and characters in stories and other texts, sharing my thoughts in different ways.  LIT 0-01c.


Organiser
Finding and using information when reading and using fiction and non- fiction texts with increasingly complex ideas, structures and specialist vocabulary.

I use signs, books or other texts to find useful or interesting information and I use this to plan, make choices or learn new things. LIT 0-14a

The school undertook the following activities to achieve the above aims:

  • Completed a baseline questionnaire with 12 teachers and 28 support staff to determine their needs in taking forward and developing storytelling skills.
  • Had a number of discussions with teaching staff to decide on the way forward with this project. Staff identified three types of story techniques to explore and develop Multi-sensory and/or creative, ICT, social. Three members of the teaching team were identified to take forward sessions with colleagues under these headings. They have led on sessions for staff across the school These sessions were undertaken in collaboration with staff from the autism specific provision.
  • Had discussions with colleagues from the Local Management Group and staff from the autism specific provision to identify areas for collaborative working.
  • Placed this development within the ongoing work of the school, Curriculum for Excellence, How was school today? – In the Wild (a research project being undertaken with Dundee University on developing technology to enable non-verbal children and young people tell their stories), INSET input from university personnel.
  • Matched outcomes to Literacy targets for children and young
  • Identified times across the school session for collegiate activities and during INSET days to take this project forward.
  • Had two CPD sessions on Story Sharing based on the work of Nicola Grove (The Big Book of Story sharing-SENJIT 2010). Class teachers then widened this discussion within their class team and discussed individual children/young people to develop the techniques with. They also looked at recording tools which would enable evidence to be collected, shared and reviewed.
  • Class teams identified a story they would like to develop and This was undertaken across part of the three INSET days in November.  We now have 12 multi-sensory story boxes for staff to share and use.
  • Bought range of “Big Books” to complement our storytelling resources.
  • Worked on a story within the nursery class and for the whole school through the Learning Resource centre. This was ‘Stickman” by the author Julia Donaldson. Resources were created for Julia Donaldson visited the school in January 2011 to take 2 storytelling sessions. One of these was in collaboration with P6 children from a mainstream primary school. This class has close links with us through the Dundee University project.
  • CPD session for teachers on recording mechanisms for story sharing.
  • Baseline questionnaires were revisited to ascertain if original success criteria had been
  • Next steps identified.

Evidence

The project started with a baseline questionnaire ascertaining the skills that the teachers wished to develop in their classrooms alongside their support teams. This identified three main approaches in storytelling for development namely Social stories, Storytelling through ICT and Creative/Multi-sensory stories. Within these three approaches we decided as a group on the areas for development that we wanted to concentrate upon. These were as follows:

Social Stories Rationale

Common understanding of what a social story actually is Template for a social  story

Range of formats

Telling Stories

Through ICT

Expertise in switching

 

Using appropriate software, tools, use of plasma screens

Guidelines  for  use of  the above

Creative, Multi-Sensory Stories, Sensology Range of sensory story boxes (Script, props, prop list etc)

 

Story aprons

Velcro books

Laminated small books

A range of questions was used to give us knowledge about how well skills improved in the above areas.  It also asked for professional comment on early impact for the children.  It is hoped to further evaluate this next session.

There were 10 teachers who completed the final questionnaire. As part of this they were asked on a score of 1-5 where they felt their knowledge and skills had started at the beginning of the project. They were then asked to score where they felt they were at now. In all cases teachers believed their skills to have improved – some significantly.

The results informed us about many aspects of teaching and learning in relation to story-telling.

They included:

  • Significant enhancement to teacher
  • Social stories are now being used in several appropriate classes to enhance our behaviour education
  • All teachers who completed the questionnaire were now better equipped to support and extend storytelling through ICT.
  • There had been an increase in planned storytelling and sharing – more learners were actively involved in their own learning and development.
  • Storytelling resources had been developed at a multi-sensory level.
  • Storytelling activities using the learners preferred method of delivery were now embedded within the literacy and wider curriculum. Activities were relevant, well-paced, challenging and stimulating.

As well as the completed questionnaires at the end of the project the school had other forms of evidence in the form of:

  • story-sharing record sheets;
  • video – multi-sensory  storytelling;
  • evaluating  Learning and Teaching by SM T  paperwork
  • photographs  – Log Books;
  • evaluated  IEP targets;
  • behaviour charts-Social  stories;
  • hardware communication  device “How was school today? – In the Wild”.

Analysis and Discussion

The evidence from this project supports the school’s hypotheses that all children are able to be involved in Storytelling/Story-sharing regardless of disability. Being able to communicate by whatever method appropriate to the needs of the child is the key. The above evidence shows that teachers’ skills in delivering stories/eliciting stories from children and young people using a range of methods have been building blocks to improvement in communication and ability to relate to others.

Summary, Conclusions

This project is still at an early stage to measure the impact for the children and young people. Initial evidence shows:

  • the increase in teacher skills;
  • active learning  of  the children and  young  people in the process;
  • an increase in story resources.

Observation, discussion and completed questionnaire indicate a very positive effect.

Next Steps

The school will:

  • evaluate the impact for the children/young people over session 2011 / 2012;
  • write up guidelines for staff as part of CfE literacy developments;
  • produce parent booklet on storytelling.

List of References

The Big Book of Story sharing
Nicola Groves, SENJIT, Institute of  Education, University of London, 2010

Literacy for Very Special People
Flo Longhorn, Catalyst Education Resources Limited, Bedford, UK, 200

Prompt for Reflection

How well is your school led?

 
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