Enjoyable curriculum meets new SEND requirements

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ASDAN courses teach vital life skills to pupils who have difficulty accessing the curriculum. Dorothy Lepkowska visited Penistone Grammar School, south Yorkshire, to find out how staff are using these programmes to meet the requirements of the new SEND Code of Practice.

What is second nature for most children can be a mountain to climb for others. Everyday activities – like getting on the right bus, paying the fare and checking change – can be a challenge to a young person with autism spectrum disorder or who has a statement of special needs.

But this is exactly the type of exercise that staff at Penistone Grammar undertake with the small group of pupils who require additional help and support to access the national curriculum, and to learn the skills needed to lead a full and independent life.

“The group varies from year to year but normally has between five and seven students, depending on how many statemented pupils there are,” said Yvonne Hoyle, the school’s learning support team co-ordinator. “We have done a variety of ASDAN courses in the past and we tailor our provision according to the needs of these students. With the present students we do Towards Independence in Year 10 and the FoodWise Short Course in Year 11.

“They still do GCSEs, but this offers an alternative curriculum in keeping with the SEND Code of Practice and it is one they can more readily access and enjoy.”

The code of practice requires schools to ensure all pupils achieve their best, become confident individuals living fulfilling lives, and make a successful transition into employment, further education or training. This includes providing access to a broad and balanced curriculum, and the removal of barriers to academic success. Wherever possible, there is an expectation that pupils will have access to the national curriculum.

Penistone Grammar is a high-achieving but non-selective school of 1,600 students. The proportion of pupils with statements is low, and those who follow ASDAN courses are either statemented or have particular social or learning difficulties. Some are referred to Ms Hoyle’s team because they are making insufficient progress.

“Most of these students are quite needy, but it is wonderful to see them grow in confidence,” said Sue Halliday, a learning support assistant. “They develop so many skills during the two years we have them and this sets them up for accessing other areas of the curriculum, where they may not be as confident.

“We believe that confidence and growth comes about as a direct result of these courses. They allow us to be flexible and we can adjust the work to suit their level. We do what works best for them, while meeting the course requirements.”

As part of the Towards Independence course, pupils were taken on a bus ride to Barnsley. One boy, who rarely spoke, was eventually persuaded to ask the driver for a single ticket back to Penistone. “It might seem like a small thing, but for this boy it was a major event to get him to speak, hand over his money and count out his change,” Ms Halliday said.

Usually, the pupils in this group would be expected to get GCSEs at grades G or F at best. But Ms Hoyle and her team often manage to get them up to a D in some subjects, and once a pupil even achieved a B grade.

“The government requirement for them to get A* to C grades is just not achievable for many children,” Ms Hoyle said. “But they need to be able to get jobs and make their way in life. Our current cohort of Year 11 is on track to each get a D grade in catering or food technology. That might fall below government expectations but for them, and us, it would be wonderful if they achieved this.”