SEN: Engaging, Learning, Achieving and Preparing for Adult Life
At Whitefield Schools and Centre we use ASDAN programmes and qualifications to build a culture of engagement where learners across the SEN spectrum (P levels – GCSE) can learn, achieve and prepare for adult life.
An early lesson
My first introduction to Special Educational Needs occurred over twenty years ago. Picture the scene: a group of six KS3 pupils with a variety of difficulties – visual impairment, learning disabilities, communication and interaction impairment and autism all seated around a table at the start of their domestic science lesson. The teacher produces a box of cornflakes, tears open the package with a flourish, fills the one cereal bowl in front of her to the brim, adds the milk and then proceeds to munch her way through the lesson whilst staff and pupils look passively on.
Finding other aspirational practitioners
That lesson was a defining moment for me in my career. I knew then that it was essential for me to offer any pupil that I taught, regardless of their disability, an aspirational curriculum which would provide challenge, motivation and achievement as well as providing opportunities to accredit and celebrate each small step of progress. At that point though, I felt rather alone and that I was swimming against the tide of low expectations. So, I was utterly delighted when I discovered ASDAN and found out that there were other aspirational practitioners like me in its network, determined to challenge pupils with SEN to achieve great things.
A diverse cohort of learners
So now, twenty years on, does ASDAN still meet the needs of a diverse cohort of learners? To answer that question I want to take you on a tour of the school where I work in North East London – Whitefield Schools and Centre. We are the largest special school in Europe, a Teaching School, with 330 pupils aged from three to 19. Our pupils have a variety of disabilities, such as autism, visual impairment, hearing impairment, deaf, blindness, global delay, cerebral palsy, communication delay, complex medical needs and their attainment spans the full range covered by the P levels and the National Curriculum levels. That means we have pupils working at the earliest developmental level P1 right up to a small cohort taking GCSEs and A Levels.
In order to meet the needs of our pupils effectively we have developed a bespoke curriculum and ASDAN programmes are a very significant component in our assessment for learning and assessment of learning. Whilst we are completely confident that our curriculum and accreditation pathways are appropriate, we were pleased – not to say a little relieved – to have them endorsed by Ofsted during our last three inspections, all of which were graded as outstanding.
The beauty of New Horizons
As you can imagine, the diversity of our pupil population requires us to take personalised learning very seriously and to find flexible and creative ways of presenting learning opportunities to help all of our pupils progress. For the majority of pupils at KS3 we deliver the New Horizons programme. This is one of ASDAN’s Preparatory Programmes in which the amount of support a student needs to complete any of the tasks is acknowledged. The beauty of this programme, and indeed, all of the ASDAN programmes is that they can be differentiated to meet individual learner’s needs.
Example of accrediting a New Horizons activity
In order to accredit the activity ‘ Show special things for different cultural and religious groups’ (Social Module, Different Communities) you will find Billy in our cultural corner exploring Judaism through a multisensory approach, eating challah, feeling the shape of the menorah and listening to Shabbat songs and chabat melodies. We record his achievement for the portfolio in photographs and DVD clips, showing his reactions to the stimuli presented through vocalisations, body movements, facial grimaces and tiny hand movements. Siobhan, on the other hand, learns about Judaism by visiting the local synagogue and meeting the Rabbi. We use photographs and DVDs to record her achievement too, but also include a series of worksheets which, with support, she is able to complete using symbols.
Transition Challenge targets NC areas
With our KS4 cohort working at this developmental level, we extend these skills by delivering the Transition Challenge programme. This programme targets key National Curriculum Areas in a way which is meaningful and accessible to our pupils.
Example of accrediting a Transition Challenge activity
To complete the activity ‘ Take part in an activity that you do as a member of a group’ (Feeling Good Module, Recreation) differentiation is not a problem. Shabaz spends a whole term learning to locate a ball with a bell inside, learning to roll it towards a peer and to take turns, so that, he is gradually able to participate more independently in the team game of boccia. Caroline, on the other hand, completes the same objective over a term by learning to shoot baskets. Believe me, her victory dance when she exceeds her personal target is every bit as spectacular as Mo Farah’s Mobot!
Progression into Towards Independence
A natural progression for our KS5 pupils who have worked on New Horizons and Transition Challenge is to embrace the Towards Independence programme. As the name suggests the thrust of the 50 modules on offer is to encourage life and independence skills with literacy and numeracy underpinning all tasks. These modules are meatier than those for KS3 and KS4 and we use them specifically to record formative assessment over an academic year. As the modules are divided into themes such as creative, independent living, cultural and work related learning, my colleagues are able to choose the range of modules that meets their learners’ needs most appropriately.
Example of how Towards Independence works in a group
So at any one time, you would find one group at a stable learning to groom a horse, another group working alongside a local artist to produce a sculpture for our reception area, another group developing their meal preparation skills by using touch and smell to explore foodstuffs, and another group shadowing our site services manager, painting a fence, shovelling snow from the car park and operating the electric gates. This flexibility empowers my staff to take full ownership of the activities and learning objectives they set for their pupils and allows us to promote personalised pathways for all of our P level learners.
Progress and achievement
What typifies all of the ASDAN programmes that I have mentioned so far is that the pupils build up a formative portfolio containing a variety of evidence – worksheets, annotated photographs, teacher reports, DVD clips, whatever you deem appropriate, which shows what the pupil CAN do, over time, rather than highlighting what they can NOT. This portfolio is also used in our summative assessment processes when mapping achievement against P level assessments. Most importantly, though, for the students, and their parents, it provides them with tangible proof of progress and celebrates achievement.
Mapping into qualifications
But that is not the end of the story for this cohort of pupils. These programmes I have been mentioning also map onto the Entry 1 Personal Progress qualification within Foundation Learning. Therefore, ASDAN’s person-centred activity-based programmes provide our learners with a very real opportunity for inclusion within the qualifications and credit framework
Pupils working within National Curriculum levels
But what about those pupils at Whitefield Schools who are working within National Curriculum levels. Does ASDAN offer anything to them? Well it won’t surprise you to know that the answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’.
We have begun to deliver the Entry 1 – 3 qualification programmes of Personal and Social Development (PSD) and Employability. Whilst keeping the ASDAN trademark of a portfolio of evidence, opportunities for personalisation and differentiation and a series of student-centred, activity-based objectives , these qualifications challenge our students to set their own goals, carry out research, complete complex projects and self-evaluate: a skillset aimed to equip our learners to participate in active citizenship when they leave us at 19. And for the one group at Whitefield who are accessing a GCSE level curriculum, they follow the ASDAN Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (CoPE) which has been a proven success and has ensured that three of our students have gained a qualification comparable to a Grade B GCSE.
In a nutshell
I hope that from this whistle-stop tour of how we deliver ASDAN at my establishment, you will have gained a flavour of how it contributes towards the assessment and accreditation of our learners. The diversity of programmes on offer, pupils’ successes represented in a portfolio of evidence, teachers empowered to offer personalised learning and the opportunity to gain external accreditation and qualifications makes ASDAN a very valuable component of our teaching and learning.
The heart of the matter
At a recent ASDAN Awards ceremony, one mother came to find me, "I just can’t believe my son’s got this certificate” she said, adding "I never thought I would have a reason to be proud of him". By putting learners at the heart of their programmes, ASDAN has ensured that enjoy and achieve have become a reality for pupils at Whitefield Schools and Centre.
I, for one, am delighted that ASDAN has pushed the boundaries so that my pupils’ educational diet is so much tastier than a mere bowl of cornflakes.
Deputy Head, Whitefield Schools and Centre
ASDAN's SEN provision, much more than a bowl of cornflakes!
SEN: Engaging, Learning, Achieving and Preparing for Adult Life