Living and Breathing Inclusion -Congratulations on the Achievement of the IQM Inclusive School Award December 2022
Topcliffe Primary School is a popular mainstream school with five resource base classes for pupils with a diagnosis of an Autistic Spectrum Condition and two classes for children with a diagnosis of Developmental Language Disorder (or DLD).
The ethos of inclusivity permeates Topcliffe and staff are working extremely hard to ensure that children in resource bases are integrated as fully as possible into the life of the school, both academically and socially. There is a healthy acceptance of the challenges presented and a clearly evident passion to support children and families to manage these, both in school and at home.
The school lives and breathes inclusion, tailoring the school environment and culture so that all pupils are able to rise to the high expectations. There is a strong focus on ‘adapting’ the curriculum to enable both mainstream and ‘resource based’ pupils to have opportunities to, for example, study the same texts in their English lessons. This close integration and consistent approach has had a huge impact. Pupils can move between the resource base and the mainstream classes for specific learning, when appropriate. This enables the resource base to offer specific interventions during the times when their pupils are learning in the mainstream classrooms. This outward looking approach is orchestrated by skilled staff who know the children well and enables pupils to make the best possible progress.
A Shared Determination and Passion
The school is part of a Multi Academy Trust and works with other local schools, both primary, secondary and all-through. The Headteacher, school leaders and the Trust have a shared clarity and passion for the whole school’s development, including plans for developing aspiring leaders.
The energy, determination and drive are evident, both individually and in teams. Topcliffe is passionately focused upon continuous improvement in order that systems, structures, excellent teaching and learning and a wealth of resources can provide a flexibility which will accommodate a wide range of children’s needs and help them to manage/overcome any barriers which they might have and explore their abilities and talents to their full potential, whether sporting, musical, artistic, academic or in any other area. This desire is shared by all stakeholders, including Governors, who have confidence that Leadership take action to address any challenges they have, whether with levels of progress in Early Years in the past or issues of the financial cost of school uniforms. Knowledge and understanding are enhanced by regular learning walks by Governors. There is a strong sense that all involved in the education of children at Topcliffe know the school’s values and promote and live them in ways which impact positively on children’s experience, personal development and academic achievement.
The Inclusive Nature of the School
The values-based curriculum is visible throughout the school. The five Values: Healthy, Aspirational, Respectful, Resilient and Independent are together known as HARRI. The pupils are proud to be recognised for the values they have demonstrated. The Values are printed on the cover of every pupil’s work book, again emphasising their importance. The new Topcliffe curriculum has resulted in equality of opportunity across the school, with adaptions made for individual needs.
Supporting Individual Needs
The importance of training for staff is undoubtedly recognised in creating highly skilled teachers and Teaching Assistants (TAs) with well equipped ‘tool boxes’ of strategies and resources. The school works very closely with an Occupational Therapist (OT) and Leadership have appointed an OT Champion, both of whom work closely with pupils (including screening all in Reception class) and staff, as do Speech and Language Therapists and ASD specialists. All staff have received training in sensory needs, zones of regulation, Makaton and Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS). The use of various monitoring strands ensures that strategies are being used appropriately and consistently across the school and any developmental needs of staff can be addressed. There is a plan for Topcliffe staff to share SEND strategies and moderate provision across the MAT which is a major part of further development.
Inclusivity is evident in the design and use of the environment since classrooms are carefully designed to give pupils maximum opportunity to explore, interact and create in rooms and/or areas designed for appropriate play, whilst other rooms/areas facilitate a more formal approach to academic learning. Similar furnishings provide familiarity for students who have a need for this because of their neurodiversity and their security is also supported through consistency of staffing as much as possible. Furthermore, TAs also work as lunchtime supervisors as they know children extremely well and have strong positive relationships with them. Topcliffe is fortunate to have ample outdoor space which is used to enhance excitement and facilitate a range of learning opportunities for all children. Children have access to an attractive outdoor learning hub which is used by all classes and is a particularly valuable resource for SEND children. The school’s commitment to supporting all children to manage their neurodiversity and/or their mental health has been demonstrated through the purchase of a therapy swing which is administered by the Occupational Therapy Champion and has proved very valuable in promoting calmness, alertness and supporting sensory needs.
Support and Nurture
Staff are acutely aware of the social and economic pressures which exist in the school’s local community and every effort is made to communicate with families and sensitively support with regard to domestic issues and child behaviour. Everyone is very aware that there is a culture and mantra of ‘No blame, no shame’. Consequently, there is an increased trust of the school by parents, several of whom have had negative school experiences themselves. A Lead Mentor heads a team of three mentors which provides structure and opportunities for children to talk and share their feelings and concerns in an environment where they can feel safe and unthreatened and also be made aware of strategies which they can use to improve their wellbeing. Groups are dependent upon apparent needs at any time. In addition, a safeguarding group enables pupils to be supported and explore issues of domestic tensions, safety at home, depression and safety round strangers in an age-appropriate manner. A Friday social group enables children to join with others in the safety and comfort of the mentor area, should they wish to do so. Sessions can lead to the involvement of a range of other agencies such as Spurgeons (a support agency for young carers), Early Help, the local nursery, the local Housing Association and Compass which offers family support resources on the local Castle Vale Estate.
Communication and Support for Families
Parents spoke of the difficult time which their children had experienced in the early years of their education but of the massive progress they had made upon transfer to Topcliffe. Parents report that they have good communication with the school and ‘can’t praise the teachers enough.’ They recognise that the school is working hard to improve attendance and appreciate opportunities such as the breakfast club to support this.
One parent stated that, when her son arrived in Year 3, he could not read or write but after a term he could do both. She ascribed this to a number of factors: careful placement of children in resource bases and the taking account of ‘stage not age’, if necessary, when addressing learning needs; a determination by the school to ensure that children with SEND follow the same school curriculum as others but with appropriate adaptations; excellent communication between school and parents regarding progress and strategies; parental workshops on subjects such as sensory needs; ongoing support and guidance of parents by key staff of the school in signposting support agencies and always being available for advice and help when parents are experiencing strain and difficulties in ‘managing’ behaviours of some children at home. Staff are considered to be very approachable and follow up any concerns very quickly.