St Luke’s is a Foundation School in Hertfordshire. It has around 100 pupils aged 9-16 with learning difficulties, including pupils with complex moderate learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorders and speech, language and communication needs. The school is separated into KS2, KS3 and KS4 classes of between 10 and 13. There are also smaller nurture groups with 4 to 6 children. It is the school that Hayley is doing her NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year as a teacher for a mixed ability KS3 class. The specialist provision, enabling environment and general ethos of the school inspired Victoria to visit and begin reflecting from the perspective of an NQT.
Victoria visited on a day when there was a collapsed timetable. The KS3 classes invited a drama group in to introduce the new topic: Scavengers and Settlers. St Luke’s have a creative curriculum that teaches the foundation subjects through a topic-based approach. With the IPC (International Primary Curriculum) as a basis for planning, teachers are then able to tailor lessons to suit the needs and interests of the children in order to create a personalised and inclusive approach to education. The freedom also allows for collapsed timetable days which explore topics.
When you enter the school building you are immediately faced with a glimpse of the courtyard that holds an array of different animals, that are also housed in a bungalow onsite. These animals include chickens, guinea fowl, sheep, two impressive bird aviaries, tortoises, fish, lizards, degus, rabbits, a snake and insects to assist learning and improve the school environment. Students are given responsibilities to feed and look after the animals at St Luke’s which creates a sense of ownership. KS4 students are even offered animal care as an option. The animals are also invited into classrooms whether it is a sheep to introduce the ‘sh’ sound, or as a provocation for story writing. What impressed us both was that the courtyard is the central zone which acts as the heart of the school, funnelling students from building to building and creating opportunities for endless social interactions. Keeping animals at St Luke’s is manageable as they have a specialist animal coordinator who manages the animal welfare daily and general upkeep of enclosures.
St Luke’s school mission statement is ‘Learning and Growing Towards Independence’. One of the ways that this is achieved is through their daily ‘Skills for Learning’ session whereby each morning the students have registration and brunch together. Monday to Thursday, Lizards class take it in turns to record food and drink orders, prepare the food and serve their fellow peers. This is followed by a daily discussion around current affairs, time to partner read or a chosen activity such as word searches, sudoku and puzzles. This enables students to have a nurturing start to the day and helps to settle pupils for learning. They have a space to relax and develop social skills as well as satisfying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, whereby they are able to achieve ‘self-actualization’.
The students choose a country that they would like to visit and on Fridays the classroom is transformed into a cafe from around the world – an idea inspired by the previous classroom teacher. During Victoria’s visit, the students were experiencing cafe Mumbai with gentle Indian music playing in the background. Tablecloths are laid and menus are carefully planned in advance, so that students are able to try new cuisines. Hayley takes the orders and provides a receipt so that each individual is aware of how much their order costs. Jacqui (the Learning Support Assistant) works as the chef with one student on the autistic spectrum that has particularly challenging needs. This gives him a sense of responsibility and enables him to take part and have social interaction with the class. Once everyone has finished eating and drinking, Hayley comes back around to discuss if they enjoyed their meal and collect payment. The students have a pot of money in the centre of the table to select the correct coins and pay for their food. This is a wonderful demonstration of real life learning, whilst developing functional numeracy skills.
Where We Are Now
It has been a really useful experience to visit a special school and to gain a deeper understanding of how to effectively work alongside children with additional needs. This has been particularly important for Victoria as she has a number of young children diagnosed with autism (ASD) in her nursery class. At the beginning of her NQT placement she felt she lacked the knowledge, experience and understanding of how to teach children with SEND. This left her feeling lost and under-qualified. However after visiting St Luke’s and having the opportunity to reflect with other practitioners, Victoria has been able to develop confidence in her practice and feel encouraged about the strategies that her team provide. The visit has challenged our preconceptions of children with SEND and the expectations over what we believe they can achieve. The students at St Luke’s are valued as unique individuals and by developing strong relationships based on mutual respect, staff are able to effectively pinpoint exact needs and support the holistic development of each student.
Even though St Luke’s is different to our PGCE placement at St Werburgh’s Park Nursery School, the Early Years strategies and approaches that we learnt throughout the year have been relevant and effective in our communications with students. Due to the support and nurturing environment St Luke’s provide for both staff and students it has led Hayley to feel confident to take risks and grow into an effective teacher.
Being able to work and reflect together again as a team has reminded us of how powerful and essential reflection is. Since this visit we have been inspired to create an online forum where practitioners are able to reflect with others and share their curiosities, worries and ideas for the future of education.
We would like to thank all at St Luke’s for welcoming us into your school. If you would like more information on the setting please click here.