Opinion

The year in special schools: We have redefined what ‘good’ looks like

16 Dec 2020, 5:00



During the darkest days of the pandemic, teaching staff dug deep and came up with innovative and creative solutions, writes Madelaine Caplin

It is said that something good comes out of every crisis. In the midst of it, that can be hard to see and even harder to say; but as we take our annual opportunity to reflect on another year gone by, I must agree ̶not least because of the challenges we have overcome with no experience to draw on.

Before the pandemic, our school was good. We did things well, pupils achieved and were safe and happy. We had confidence in our processes and procedures. Yet the pandemic compelled us to analyse everything we do, inevitably leading to improvements and long-term changes which will remain in place permanently. In essence, we have redefined what good looks like – and that alone is incredible.

One such improvement relates to the way children arrive at and leave school. Having to separate children into bubbles has led to staggered start times and different entry points. To assist with this, we have completely pedestrianised the area in front of the school, making the road much safer and ensuring children have a calmer start to the day. This has had a significant impact on many of our special school pupils as well the improving the confidence of parents.

In March, our trust was selected to provide a range of learning materials for the SEND strand of National Oak Academy. This had a transformational impact on many of our staff, supporting them to deliver high-quality online learning and giving us all an insight into the very best practice from some inspiring teaching professionals.

This crisis has highlighted more than a digital divide

As a result, our school has implemented excellent blended learning programmes that mean we can teach children wherever they are. The positive impact of this work became clear last week when we had to switch to remote learning for a short period. Feedback from parents, students and teachers reflects just how far our remote provision has come. From streaming live assemblies and events to shared virtual storytelling sessions, staff have become much more confident about using technology in creative and impactful ways.

Yet we remain very aware of the barriers many families face trying to access remote learning. We have worked hard to mitigate this with a successful bid to the DfE for extra laptops, but we have also had to continue to deliver physical packs of work where needed. This crisis has sadly highlighted not just a digital divide but considerable social and economic divides within our school communities.

For me, the most significant positive to come out of the past year is the professionalism, commitment and growth of our staff, who were left with no choice but to dig deep during the darkest days of the pandemic. Our schools remained opened for our most vulnerable children, with staff attending despite potential risks to themselves and their own families. Not only did they step up to this challenge, they far exceeded it by developing their skills in terms of creative and digital delivery, improved pedagogy and of course, resilience.

When the school re-opened for full face-to-face delivery in September, many staff members and families were anxious. It made me aware of the true importance of wellbeing and the need to genuinely ensure people are coping personally. The compassion shown by staff for each other, for their pupils and their families has been immense and such unity is certainly a true positive take-away from this challenging year.

Another is how the pandemic has strengthened relationships, with our partners in health and social care of course, but also with the other schools in our trust with whom we now regularly share best practice, experience and solutions. And beyond that I feel there is increased mutual respect with the rest of the school system, a better understanding of the pressures upon us all, and that we are now being recognised as equal partners to our mainstream colleagues.

So as well as looking back at what we have collectively achieved as a school and as a community in the past year with pride, I can also look forward with real hope for the future.



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