Students prepare for life beyond school

Published

Preparation for life is at the heart of learning at Redwood School. The pupils, who all have statements of special needs, are at different levels in their academic, personal and social development but share a common goal.

“These children need to be able to take an active part in society after school,” said Kelso Peel, the assistant head for Key Stage 4 at the Rochdale special school. “There is not much point in teaching them algebra, for example, but they do need the skills to be able to measure, tell the time and count money.”

Redwood was opened six years ago, following a merger between schools, and the pupils decided they didn’t want the stigma of the word ‘special’ in the title. The school effectively comprises two special units – one each for Key Stages 3 and 4. The sixth form, which is part of Key Stage 4, is a three-year programme of study, with a focus on independent living and thinking skills, and employability.

The curriculum for Key Stage 4 pupils is divided into five “pathways” based on ability. However, students can move between pathways, particularly to reflect the progress they make in key skills. There is a bridging year for the most able students – to prepare them for college or training. Students on this one-year scheme do ASDAN’s Certificate of Personal Effectiveness and Functional Skills in maths and English.

ASDAN courses feature prominently in Redwood’s Key Stage 4 curriculum. In terms of qualifications, both Personal and Social Development and Personal Progress are offered. The school also runs ASDAN Short Courses in Careers, Experiencing Work and Enterprise, Sports and Fitness, Animal Care and FoodWise. In pathway 5, where the curriculum is mainly experiential and sensory, learners do ASDAN’s Transition Challenge. The FoodWise Short Course is popular with pupils who participate in a “cook and eat” group, where they cook a lunch and then sell it to the staff. The success of this arrangement means that the course is self-funding, and teaches students vital enterprise and business, as well as life, skills.

“ASDAN programmes make up a huge chunk of our curriculum,” said Ms Peel. “We have found them to be highly suitable for our students and the fact that there are some tasks that can be completed within 10 hours, means they get short-term rewards and see that they’ve achieved something and been successful. We have children who have time off through illness, but who can still gain an award even for a smaller number of credits.”

There are some modules all Redwood students have to do because they are deemed to be essential by staff but there are also opportunities for students to drive the curriculum in the way they want to do, to suit their own needs and interests. “Sometimes there may be a class decision to do a module, and we have built in the flexibility to allow them to do that,” Ms Peel added.

Staff at Redwood appreciate the adaptability of ASDAN’s programmes and qualifications and the common-sense approach to accreditation. “The most important thing about ASDAN accreditation is that it has been thought out by people who realise the importance of looking at life skills and core skills. Our pupils need to be active in society when they leave us; you have to apply common sense and practicality to what you teach them.”

Students leaving Redwood often struggle to find jobs in an already tough economic climate. “But we get fantastic feedback from work experience providers on how well prepared they are, their expectations of work and their politeness,” Ms Peel said. “I believe this is largely due to the structure of the courses we are able to offer them.”

Among the student success stories is Mark Welsby, now aged 23. Mark completed the ASDAN Bronze and Silver awards and went on to study ICT at Manchester College, before returning to Redwood as an Apprentice. He is now employed by the school full-time as an assistant technician in the IT department. This approach is really taking off, according to Ms Peel, “We have other students coming through the system to whom we hope to be able to offer apprenticeships in the future, and some of them have done immensely well in the face of great difficulty.”