7. Building the Curriculum for Excellence for Children With Significant and Complex Needs

The school’s starting point was consideration of how best to develop the four capacities of CfE, since a key purpose of the school’s curriculum is to enable each child and young person to become as appropriately independent as possible through continuous promotion of becoming a successful learner, a confident individual, an effective contributor and responsible citizen. The school does this through ensuring the ethos and life of the school community is structured to enable children and young people to practise life skills as part of their daily routines. This includes eating and drinking, moving independently around the school, developing skills of personal care, personal safety and social etiquette. This overall personal development of children and young people is at the heart of the school’s provision and provides the foundation upon which to promote all learning across all areas of the curriculum. The school wished to move on from the broad starting point of developing the four capacities to clarify the specifics of the curriculum and asked their first critical question:

‘What might CfE (or an excellent curriculum in line with CfE) look like in our school?’

The school already had in place some very good learning opportunities. This was confirmed by HMle in 2009 when they evaluated learners’ experiences as ‘excellent’. At the time of the inspection the school used a range of curriculum resources which included:

In addition, the school had just begun to use Equals P Scales programmes – The school therefore already had in place some very good learning opportunities. The challenge for the school was to harmonise this existing good practice with the principles and practice and experiences and outcomes of CfE.

The report described the curriculum as “being developed imaginatively in response to Curriculum for Excellence”. During the time of the inspection however, the experiences and outcomes of CfE were in draft form only and were not yet in general use.

In effect the school undertook a process of ‘weaving’ their own pattern from the national and local threads. Different programmes, philosophies, structures, and environments contributed to the distinctive patterns of their particular whãriki.

Guided by the Building the Curriculum (BtC) series the school found it easy to embrace several key tenets to effectively meet significant and complex needs since these were accepted approaches already in use in the school. These included:

  • personalisation;
  • joint planning across stages;
  • planning for interdisciplinary learning;
  • planning literacy, numeracy and health & wellbeing learning for each child;
  • planning skills for learning, life and work, developed and applied across learning in different contexts;
  • active learning in practice;
  • use of AifL practice to support pupils’ learning through promoting classroom activities that generate sound assessment evidence and encourage teachers to ‘share the standard’ through local discussion and assure the quality of assessment judgements.

That is, the existing pedagogy in this school – as in many good special schools – matches the aspirations of CfE.

As David Cameron, former Director of Education, stated at an AHDS meeting, ”All of this endorsement makes one wonder if anything is new in Building the Curriculum 5 . …because some of the elements generally deemed to be new will be characteristic of the best current practice.”

In any event this school did what many other schools have done:

  • they took full account of the schematic guide for curriculum planners;
  • they examined the experiences and outcomes across all curricular areas with the significant and complex needs of their children and young people in mind.

As a result, staff firstly customised the schematic guide to ensure it met the needs of their children and young people.

Secondly, whilst agreeing that almost all children and young people in the school are working towards Early Level, staff still examined all experiences and all outcomes at all levels. They then selected outcomes from across the organisers which most suited their learning needs in the knowledge that the children in their school required to develop prerequisite skills. That is, skills prerequisite to CfE 3-l8 skills which are based on their sensory and developmental stage of learning. Use of either Routes to Learning, P Scales or the Northern Ireland curriculum materials were therefore of key importance as the guiding tool to confirm teachers’ professional judgement about the level of children’s learning.

However, teachers are clear that they use discretion to select relevant outcomes from other, more advanced levels to meet individual needs when appropriate and to ensure challenge.

Staff also examined each of the experiences across all curriculum areas and selected those which they believed were relevant for their children and young people.

In many ways the school felt more able to use the flexibility permitted by CfE because of lack of obvious constraints such as strict timetabling and the structure of the day. And, whilst a key aim is to promote achievement to the highest level for each child, the school is not driven by examination outcome and an attainment agenda in the same way as mainstream schools.

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