Two Special Schools Link for the First Time: Pendle View and Holly Grove Primary Schools
It was agreed between the lead staff members that due to the backgrounds, needs and developmental levels of our pupils (all from special schools) that the linking work between us would focus on social skills including meeting and interacting with new people appropriately, developing friendships and on beginning to recognise similarities and differences between ourselves and others and celebrate/ begin to show respect for these.
Background of the schools
Both schools are Special Schools, located in neighbouring districts of East Lancashire, catering for children aged 3-11 with a range of special educational needs including; severe learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning difficulties, physical difficulties, autism, sensory impairments and other complex needs. It was decided that Year 4 children would be selected to take part in first round of school linking as they would be able to continue this link into Years 5 and 6. Due to the needs of the children, it was recognised that running the project on a long term basis would be most beneficial, as social skills for many of our children are less developed and developing confidence in interacting with others and being comfortable around others can take a longer period of time as a result.
Activities prior to meeting each other.
In the Autumn Term, the children from both schools were introduced to the idea of ‘Making New Friends’. Discussions took place in class about how we felt about making new friends and whether we thought children in the other class would be the same or different to us. We read the story ‘The Hueys in The New Jumper’ (the story follows the character, Rupert, who decides he doesn’t want to be the same as the other Hueys anymore and so he makes a new jumper. Initially the other Hueys are horrified, gradually the idea of being different catches on and everyone wants to be different!). This led to some talk in class about similarities and differences and how children from the link school might be similar or different.The children enjoyed the story, however it was tricky to make the book ‘multisensory’, which meant it was hard for some of our lower ability learners to access it. We would possibly choose a different story next time. Each child then created a Jigsaw piece with some information about themselves on, including their picture, a drawing/ symbols to show their family and some writing/ symbols about things they like to do. At the beginning of the Spring Term each lead teacher then visited the linking school to share the children’s jigsaw pieces. They each also took a power point to share with the link class showing pictures of the children and staff in their own class.
Neutral visit at Burnley Youth Theatre
This formed the first part of children getting to know each other.Prior to the visit, each school sent out a letter about photo permissions. About half our parents gave permission for photo access for both schools, Burnley Faith Centre and TLN. The children from both classes had a fantastic day at Burnley Youth Theatre. Beforehand they all created their own T-shirts (just as the Hueys made jumpers in the book) so that they would look like one team rather than two different schools. They played ice-breaker games including singing and drama activities and question games to find out more about each other. Although we were from two different schools, the children learnt that they still had things in common. The activities really helped both groups build confidence in interacting with each other and by lunch time a few children were starting to play together independently. In the afternoon we split into two mixed groups* to create a drama about our schools coming together. The drama incorporated talk about how we felt at the beginning of the day compared to the end of the day and some dance activities. *We split the groups based on who could and couldn’t have their picture taken by the opposite school which worked really well as we didn’t have to worry about who was in different shots.
Activities after the neutral visit
After the visit both classes took part in follow up activities; the children from Holly Grove each selected a favourite picture from the trip and then wrote a sentence about it underneath, they also put a display up outside their classroom showing their school linking journey so far. The children from Pendle View shared their linking news in the form of a class assembly, including acting out the Hueys story and sharing a song they had learnt at the theatre. Information about the trip and work so far was also shared with Pendle View school governors by the Head teacher. CPD2 brought us an opportunity to get together and evaluate our work so far.
Visiting each other’s schools: Holly Grove visiting Pendle View Primary School
The day was planned to take place from 10am until 2pm. Before their guests arrived, the children from Pendle View made welcome banners to display at the entrance. Whilst making the banners we discussed the neutral venue visit and re-capped some of the other children’s names. Our visitors enjoyed looking at the banners as they arrived!
Everyone met in the school hall, it had been agreed with Pendle View School staff that other than at lunch time this space would only be used for the Linking visit. We all took part in a couple of ‘Ice-breaker’ games (see plan) to help become re-acquainted, these activities included a ‘choices’ game that the two groups had previously played together on their neutral visit to Burnley Youth Theatre.
Snack time followed (in an allocated space for the Link), with time to play together outside (also in an allocated space). We are fortunate to have a lot of space on our school grounds which meant this was easy to do. Throughout snack and playtime children were encouraged to sit together and socialise however it was mainly the higher ability and more confident children who attempted to do this more independently. Children did still try to gravitate back to known peers. Due to the special educational needs of the children however this wasn’t surprising.
Children then took part in PE activities linked to the seaside working in mixed teams, with support from teaching assistants and teachers involved in the visit. For a group of four children (1 absent) for whom it was felt PE wouldn’t be appropriate, due to their needs, a session in the sensory room linked to the seaside was planned. Both sessions worked really well.
During lunch and playtime everyone was again encouraged to interact where possible, which some did. Knowing the needs of the group, staff recognised that this might be harder for some than others; but this is why taking part in the project is important… to at least get used to and gain confidence in being around new people
In the afternoon children all took part in a seaside art activity painting tin foil fish, this didn’t take quite as long as expected so we had time to play a few ‘Ice-breaker’ games from the morning again.Before Holly Grove left, Pendle View students sang a ‘Good-bye’ song and asked children what they enjoyed about the day.
Due to the nature of the pupils who attend both schools, facilities at each site are similar, including widened doors, hoists and changing beds etc. This meant that meeting pupil’s needs in terms of accessibility and personal care was not an issue. The teachers involved were also used to planning for the different needs within the group.
Prior to the visit, the children talked about Owls class and re-capped on the names of their visitors. They did remarkably well in this, especially as it had been over a month since the visit to Pendle View. The children made a welcome banner together and individually, made owls with the children’s names on, which would become part of an activity later in the day.
The weather was great for us. Our first icebreaker activity went well, parachute games in the hall where the breeze helped to cool us down! We then moved to class where we shared a snack and drink before playing out. The children were encouraged to mix and some of them did play together. For others, this is part of a journey that will take longer. After play we split into two groups, the larger group moved to the hall to work on drama activities linked to the seaside and a smaller group of sensory learners went to the sensory room for a sensory story. Lunchtime consisted of a picnic, which enabled the children to mix again and worked a little better, maybe the children were getting a little more confident with each other? After lunch we joined together for a music session, where we did some drumming and shaking and sang some seaside songs. Again, the higher ability children willingly mixed together. The children prepared to leave at 2.30pm and as they were leaving, they had to find their own name and owl to take home with them.
Head teacher’s view
‘The work that has been completed between Holly Grove and Pendle View as part of the School Linking Project has had so many benefits to the staff and pupils from both schools. The pupils have thoroughly enjoyed visiting each other’s schools and developing new friendships. For our pupils with a range of Special Educational Needs the ability to make and maintain friendships of a period of time can be a challenging part of their social and emotional development but the structured yet informal approach that the 2 schools have developed has had a positive impact on these areas of development. The children from both schools are looking forward to continuing with the link next year as they move into a new class and the planned developments to include a Key Stage One is an exciting new aspect of the project’ Fran Clayton- Head teacher- Pendle view Primary School
‘Kian has thoroughly enjoyed being part of the School Linking Project. He gets excited the night before as he knows he’s going to Holly Grove. He’s enjoyed meeting and getting to know different children.’
‘I think it’s lovely to have another social event like this to make more friends. Jacob has absolutely loved this experience; it helps them to meet other children in special schools, so they realise there are others like them.’
After the first year, we feel children have begun to make progress in interacting with each other and being comfortable around others, but recognise that this is going to be a long term project. Over the next 2 years, staff plan on developing the link further, providing continued opportunities for children to meet up, share experiences, share work and have fun. Moving into year 2 a second group from each school is also going to become involved in the linking project. The next classes chosen to take part are both KS1 based and hopefully they will then also continue this link as they move through school. We have both thoroughly enjoyed leading the experience and would strongly encourage other special school to take part.
Many thanks to Holly Grove and Pendle View Schools for sharing their link with us.
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ACIS (Achievement, Cohesion and Integration Service), Bolton Council