Case study sixteen: Willowbank

Brief Description of The Provision

Willowbank is part of the additional support needs provision in North Lanarkshire.   It is located in Coatbridge and is within easy travelling distance of most young people in the LA.. It is a non-denominational, co-educational resource providing full-time and part-time day placements for up to 50 young people of secondary age.

Content and Delivery

The school day runs from 8:30 until 3:15 (or 4:30 for pupils on programmes at mainstream school/college). Students are supported by staff throughout the day, including breaks. There is a breakfast club in the morning and the students have a fifteen minute morning break and forty-five minute lunch.   Transport arrangements are monitored carefully. Some young people have lifts, some have taxis and some use public transport, which is paid for by the school (Handbook).

Curriculum:

Pupils are offered a curriculum framework similar to that in mainstream schools. The range of courses reflects national guidance and LA priorities, including Curriculum for Excellence.

All pupils have an individualised programme. Teaching and learning approaches are varied to enhance pupil experiences. Students are encouraged to collaborate and exchange ideas, and Literacy, Numeracy, Health and Wellbeing, and IT are promoted across the curriculum. These curriculum units and teaching and learning approaches used have been selected to meet the specific needs of the young people at Willowbank.

In the first, second and third year the school follows the national scheme which is the broad general education phase. The curriculum units have been written to provide opportunities for progression, personalisation, choice and depth within this.

Curriculum for Excellence goes all the way from primary through to the end of secondary school and in 2014 was being fully embedded in the school. National four is the equivalent of the English GCSE. For some subjects the school offers all of the units needed for students to achieve a full accreditation, and in other cases they only offer some of the units needed : “we don’t have the expertise or the staff capacity to offer thirteen or fifteen curricular areas and give them all five periods. If we did do that we’d just be like any other mainstream school” (senior member of staff). The exams work according to a tariff and unit system, so students who do one unit at Willowbank could complete the other units at college. The units are internally marked and results go onto Scottish Qualifications Authority certificates which young people can then build on in the future.

This core curriculum is enhanced by social and academic opportunities in local secondary schools, FE colleges and training providers. From the fourth year[1] onwards students tend to have a lot more interventions out in the community, which are part of Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO)[2], in partnership with Skills Development Scotland.[3] Willowbank have a seconded worker from SDS who is based in the provision and coordinates a lot of the programmes with colleges and providers.

Certification:

Course are offered through the National Qualifications framework allowing “all pupils to fit comfortably into the curriculum structure as soon as they start school” (provision handbook). and that pupils can work at their own level, but towards recognised certification.

Willowbank offered certificated courses in the following subjects:

  • English
  • Maths
  • ICT
  • Home Economics
  • History
  • Geography
  • Modern Studies
  • Religious Moral and Philosophical Studies
  • E
  • Art
  • Science
  • Music
  • Automotive, IT/Admin, Child Care, Cosmetology, Hairdressing, Science, Fabrication and Welding (NQ Units/courses offered by FE colleges)
  • Sport & Recreation, Construction (skills for Work units/courses) offered by FE colleges and partner agencies
  • Hospitality and Car Mechanics (City and Guilds) offered by Training Providers.

SQA courses and units start at National 2 level and progress to National 5 level. Assessment is ongoing and focuses on academic performance, social and emotional development and pupil effort to meet school expectations. Homework is given on a weekly basis.

The Willowbank School buys in music instructors and has a horticultural programme with an outside provider.

Personal Achievement: Various experiential activities are open to students including photography, residential trips and young people can be entered for achievement awards such as ASDAN[4], Youth Achievement[5] and Dynamic Youth[6]. Through this the young people are challenged to develop new skills and to focus on their personal and social development.

Each term there are opportunities for students to participate in trips to the cinema and theatre etc in the evenings and at weekends. Young people are encouraged to participate in sporting activities and school residential trips. They use the curriculum to enhance the cultural experience and awareness of their pupils, taking them to exhibitions etc. This is also a way of supporting peer relationships, which is important because the young people come from a diverse geographical area and can feel quite isolated.

Staff are developing ICT within the school and looking at the educational uses of tablets and iPads.

The school attendance policy emphasises the duty for every parent to ensure that their child attends school regularly. Attendance is recorded twice a day and all absences must be defined as authorised or unauthorised according to definitions outlined by The Scottish Government. Parents provide contact details when their child first enrols at the school There is a dress code which parents, pupils and staff have been consulted on, which states that clothes that could potentially encourage factions (e.g. football colours), offence (e.g. anti-religious symbolism or political slogans) or be unsafe (certain kinds of jewellery) should not be worn to school.

Identifying Features of Quality

Mission/aims/purpose

Willowbank’s “motto and pledge” is to aim higher by:

  • improving learning and teaching
  • raising achievement and realising potential
  • encouraging lifelong learning
  • working with communities for a better future
  • listening and learning together
  • celebrating success
  • respecting the dignity and value of all
  • giving pupils and staff a safe, happy and attractive place to work

These goals fit within the overarching strategy of North Lanarkshire which is to harness the combined forces of learning and leisure services to “provide a rich set of learning opportunities and experiences…which begin in the classroom…and extend out into the community and wider world beyond” (provision handbook).

The aims of the school are to:

  • offer day support to pupils who have been identified as requiring alternative educational provision
  • establish and maintain high levels of pupil commitment and attendance at school
  • seek to meet the social, emotional, behavioural, and educational needs of pupils through meaningful interdisciplinary working and the partnership of home, school and community
  • create a positive learning environment in which each person is valued and respected
  • foster a climate of learning in which pupils are encouraged to develop the necessary skills that enable them to contribute positively as responsible citizens in a modern society
  • to achieve the specific aims of
    a) reintegration to mainstream/further education, where appropriate
  1. b) preparation for adult and working life
  2. c) development of responsible attitudes to social and moral issues (provision handbook).

Willowbank is a non-denominational school, reflecting the wider spiritual and moral values of the community of which it is a part. The principles of mutual respect, tolerance and understanding are fostered to enhance a positive and caring school ethos.

Target Group

Willowbank offers day support to “young people who display high levels of anxiety, vulnerability and immaturity which impact on their attendance and progress at school” (Handbook). This however is a diverse group. The school enrols poor attenders, young people with health issues, young people who are disaffected, young people with ASD and associated behavioural difficulties and school refusers/phobics. However, the school doesn’t necessarily get young people with the most challenging behaviour in the LA.

The Willowbank school receives some first year pupils directly from primary schools when there is concern that they will be unable to cope with secondary school. Most students enrol at the end of second year or third year of secondary school because they have perhaps established a pattern of deteriorating attendance:

Often a pupil comes with some history of disadvantage or of being disaffected but often they will come up to secondary school and find it overwhelming and then start to withdraw and the school will go through all the staged interventions: attendance, looking at the educational psychologist and then planning any additional support such as part time in a base or one to one tuition or a reduced timetable. So pupils go through all of these interventions and that will take some time to do. So that means that a lot of the pupils who come to us will do so in the second or third year” (Senior member of staff).

Recruiting

Staff are employed by North Lanarkshire LA. They are paid according to the appropriate national scales. All teaching staff are qualified teachers. Many have experience of prior work with young people with challenging behaviour as well as experience in a mainstream school.

Staff

The staff across the two sites are: Head teacher; 2 deputy head teachers; 2 principal teachers; 12 class teachers; 2 clerical staff; 4 additional support needs assistants; a careers development worker (on secondment from Skills Development Scotland); a janitor.

A senior member of staff at the school said that staff in this sector need:

  • To have a wide range of interests, including popular culture, so they
  • are able to talk to pupils about things they are interested in.
  • Softer skills and communication skills to be able to talk to young people.
  • Thick skin so that they can move on from incidents and have a relationship with the young person again.
  • To be laid back but have rigour in their expectations and high aspirations for pupils.
  • To be in good control of themselves with good personal discipline.
  • Be aware that some of the pupils have difficult backgrounds and a long history of awful things that have happened to them and you shouldn’t take things personally. You have to see them as a whole person.
  • To build up positive relationships with them and enjoy spending time in their company as well because sometimes we take our pupils out for weekends or we might go to the Edinburgh Festival.
  • Everyone has made a positive choice to come here.

Adapted from Interview transcript.

All staff are engaged in CPD. Additional support needs staff receive tailored CPD. Staff are supported to access relevant qualifications that are recognised by the LA ,such as those tailored towards the support of specific special educational needs.. The school has five inset days during the year. They invite specialists to these to provide training, such as Educational Psychologists and Speech and Language Therapists. The school also do in-house training and link with other local additional needs schools in order to share best practice and training. There is a legal requirement for all staff to undertake professional updates. People have to commit to a five year cycle of their own CPD where their needs are identified and recorded, and their aspirations are looked at. If people are not pursuing CPD their registered teacher status can be withdrawn.

Communication

There is a staff discussion at the end of every day about how the day has been, any particular issues that have arisen, and any points which require follow-up by a senior member of staff.

Safety and Safeguarding

Willowbank see all adults as being responsible for child protection. The head teacher is responsible for the school’s actions in response to child protection concerns. There is an LA Child Protection in North Lanarkshire who can be involved in issues too.

Pupil wellbeing and safety is monitored in the following ways:

  • Staff observation and discussion at the end of every day to ensure problems are dealt with quickly
  • Pupil mentoring by senior management to discuss progress and welfare matters
  • Student council meetings create a forum for pupils to discuss issues important to them
  • A complaints system which allows pupils the opportunity to discuss concerns (complaints can be made anonymously)

All students are supervised during breaks by duty members of staff.

Medical and Health Care is available via the schools, including check-ups, and advice on substance misuse.

Rules and Discipline

Staff and pupils identify and agree expectations at the beginning of sessions, which focus on:

  • Positive attitudes and relationships
  • Appropriate conduct, attendance and timekeeping
  • Application to schoolwork and activities
  • Respect for others
  • Respect for school buildings, resources etc (provision handbook).

Staff encourage students to take individual responsibility for their actions and be accountable. A system of rewards, applied ‘fairly and consistently’, supports good behaviour.

Monitoring of progress

Pupil progress is recorded and reported to ensure that all relevant parties have up-to-date information, and to facilitate the setting of short and long-term goals. Outcomes are discussed 6-8 weeks after admission, to reflect on the appropriateness of the placement and to formalise the Additional Support Plan (ASP).   Regular reviews are held thereafter to evaluate the pupil’s ASP targets. Summaries of all reviews are available to parents/carers. Written reports are issued in April/May to indicate progress in curricular areas and in the personal and social development of the pupil. There are 2 parent days.

Pupil progress is assessed on a termly basis in terms of which modules they have been completing, and what level they have achieved.

All pupils have an Additional Support Plan (ASP) which is “used to create a unique pupil experience and to ensure that relevant supports are put in place” (provision handbook). These are reviewed regularly through case conferences, which enable input from pupils and parents. Before young people leave the school, transition and summative reviews are used to evaluate their overall performance, to “determine the effectiveness of the pupil placement and to establish the amount of continuing support required” (provision handbook).

Pupils have coordinated support plans which detail both short and long term strategies. These are legal documents so there is guidance on how often they should be completed and by whom.   The LA is good at sharing data (senior member of staff). Willowbank use the LA Pastoral Case Notes Software to record attendance. Staff also use it to monitor all attempts to contact the family so that they have a record of this when necessary. As well as a pupil profile staff can access a family profile so that they can support the young person and family not to fall back into bad habits. Staff support the family to support the young person, and they build in an expectation that they are to be informed if a young person is going to be absent.

Inclusion

Willowbank complies with the Education (Additional Support for Learning Scotland) Act 2009, and North Lanarkshire’s policy. All pupils have an Additional Support Plan (ASP) (see above discussion).

All pupils have an individualised programme. Teaching and learning approaches are varied to enhance pupil experiences. Differentiation enables pupils to progress at their own pace, “with extension work for the more able and greater support being provided to those with additional support needs” (Handbook).

The Willowbank School has an equal opportunities and social inclusion policy (Handbook) and a “commitment to equality of opportunity permeates the whole curriculum, including the way it is delivered and participation in all school activities and experiences”.

Looked after children are deemed to have Additional Support Needs unless an assessment determines otherwise. Each site has a designated officer to oversee this.

There is an additional Support Needs Tribunal to hear appeals made by parents or young people regarding decisions made by the LA about co-ordinated support plans.

Transitions

Referrals tend to come from mainstream schools and are most commonly prompted by poor attendance. Referrals are dealt with at the local authority allocation meeting chaired by the senior education officer at the local authority.   The LA circulates a list of timelines ahead of the academic year including: dates of panels and dues dates for information.

 

There is a lengthy period of planning. All transition applications must be submitted by October/ November 2013 for an anticipated change of school in August 2014. The local authority stress that evidence of involvement and consultation with parents/carers and young people should be included in any supporting referral documentation. Educational psychologists and/or Additional Support Managers must be consulted, and their views reflected, in the referral. In cases where robust data and planning is not available, an educational psychologist will undertake a process of information gathering

Referral Form: This seeks the following information:

  • Name and contact information
  • Panel information
  • LAC status
  • A list of the plans/assessments/forms/minutes etc being submitted
  • List of agencies involved with the child
  • Profile and Factors giving rise to additional support needs
  • Pre-school/School History
  • Home/Family Circumstances
  • Staged Interventions – what has been put in place to support this child
  • Impact of Additional Support Needs on child/young person’s ability to access education

Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC)[7] lays out statutory duties and protocols for working with children who have additional support needs. The Request For Assistance is one of the documents from GIRFEC and it is submitted to social workers and educational psychologists. The referral process, and beyond, is designed to build up a detailed profile of the young person, and their “narrative”.   There is also an information sharing protocol which means relevant information is shared across LA agencies. The information pulled together is “cohesive and very comprehensive” and the LA “are very strict on the chronology and making sure that everything is in place before it gets to this stage” (senior member of staff). This ensures that everything possible has been tried to support the child “in situ” first and foremost before specialist provision is triggered.

Prior to a pupil being admitted, the head teacher convenes an admission meeting to consider the placement. All relevant parties (student, parent, psychologist, representative from referring school, social worker, health personnel) are invited to this. This enables the school to promote its aims and to consider the needs of the child. After an initial period of enrolment, a meeting is held to review pupil progress, consider the appropriateness of the placement and formalise an Additional Support Plan (ASP). Regular reviews are held thereafter to have the pupil’s ASP targets evaluated.

Reintegration is supported where appropriate. Strong links are maintained with mainstream schools and FE options to relieve any pupil anxiety around transition, and to develop competence through exposure to a range of experiences, contexts and courses.

Post-16

The Willowbank School works with Skills Development Scotland and have developed a process to make sure that the pupil’s goals and aspirations are identified and that they have a post-16 plan in place. This process begins well before the final year of compulsory education.

There are Expanded Learning Opportunity Programmes. This is an inter-agency programme including personnel from Skills Development Scotland.

The programme enables them to participate in a structured and personalised programme which helps prepare them for adult and working life. A full time Client Development Worker (CDW) is employed by the school to work closely with pupils to identify a relevant curricular/career path and to offer appropriate support. Initially pupils are interviewed about career goals, targets are set and an individualised programme is co-ordinated. Through work, college, training and leisure and also develop their skills for the adult world. Pupil confidence and success are enhanced as they work towards meeting agreed targets” (Handbook).

Young people are followed up for three months after they leave the school by Willowbank staff, and some young people stay in contact beyond this, and have access to the client development worker. This has led to greater success at post-16. Some people stay at the school at post-16, although these programmes typically include them engaging in a lot of off-site provision and courses. This means that when young people leave they will have a better idea about where they want to go and what they want to do.

Relationships with Students

Lunch is provided free of charge to all students. All staff and students sit together at lunch to foster positive relationships.

Staff told us that they were concerned that some of the students are quite isolated because they come from a wide geographical area, and don’t necessarily have any “pals”. Willowbank therefore organises after school and weekend events as an opportunity for students to socialise with one another outside of school:

Planning is very important as well because you can spend five or so minutes at the start of a lesson just having a chat with them and finding out what they do at the weekend. We really encourage that and it’s like a primary school thing because you can build up good, positive relationships” (senior member of staff).

Relationship with parents/carers

The school improvement plan is shared annually with parents/carers. Parents/carers can attend the following events:

  • Case conferences and reviews. Reviews happen when the pupil first joins. Staff go through the timetable and expectations. Another review happens six weeks later, and subsequently all students have at least two reviews a year.
  • Parents days/nights (two a year). Parents/carers come at the time of day that is most convenient for them. Staff will stay until 9pm and provide transport if necessary.
  • Schools plays and activities
  • There is a parent/carer forum and a parent/carer council, which at the time of our vsit consisted of three parents. The forum is to enable parents/carers to get advice and information, and the council provides parents/carers with a voice and an opportunity to inform school developments. The council meet once every term.

The wider calendar of events gives parents/caers an opportunity to discuss their child’s personal, social and academic progress; celebrate attainments and achievements; and become more aware of and influence educational issues that impact on their child’s education.

Staff provide parents/carers with regular newsletters and progress reports and conduct home visits when necessary. Staff create profiles of the families and work to get the necessary information to be able to offer adequate support to families. They have a good relationship with parents/carers but are always working to get more involvement. The headteacher speaks to most parents/carers on a weekly basis.

Relationships with other Services and Agencies

Some students require significant support from education and at least one other agency such as health, social work, voluntary agency to help them meet their learning targets” (handbook).

The size of the school facilitates good relationships with agencies such as CAMHS and Social Work.

Willowbank has strong links with the local community and pupils have the opportunity to engage in a range of experiences and activities in the local and wider community, including:

  • Use of community facilities
  • Use of CLD personnel to develop pupil skills
  • Use of facilities in local schools and FE colleges
  • Work experience placements in local and wider community
  • Careers open days and industry visits
  • Involvement in community projects e.g voluntary work with the elderly, fundraising for St Andrew’s Hospice.

Facilities

The school has a main office, three classrooms and a kitchen. The annex has a main office, three classrooms, a general purpose room, an art room, a staffroom and a kitchen. Both sites have extensive links with and access to mainstream schools, F.E colleges, local facilities such as sports centres, training providers and private employers.

Finances

Staff are paid by the LA and the school gets an annual budget.

Evaluation and Quality Assurance

There is rigorous and systematic evaluation of all aspects of school practice. Subsequently, targets and priorities can be set for continuous improvement and development” (Handbook).

Willowbank School has an improvement plan which is issued annually and is a self-evaluation tool. It provides personnel, staff, parents and other interested professionals with an overview of the school’s present strengths and achievements, and also identifies specific areas for development. These are underpinned by a firm commitment to local and national priorities. The priorities for the 2013/14 plan were to:

  • enable learners to engage in relevant curricular experiences during the broad general education phase which will address the gaps in their learning and help develop knowledge, understanding and skills for transition
  • develop a senior phase framework to provide learners with opportunities for attainment and achievement and equip them with skills and knowledge for learning, life and work
  • develop community-based programmes to ensure an enriched learning experience, providing opportunities for relevance, personalisation and choice, personal achievement and positive progression.

The Willowbank School shares information from the annual school improvement report with the LA; it performs the function of annual quality assurance. The school reflects on improvements over the last year and plans for the forthcoming year.

The Willowbank School is subject to external inspections. LA quality and improvement officers conduct focused visits where they scrutinise a particular part of the service, such as a specific curriculum area, or pastoral care. Staff view this positively as they are always looking for ways that they can better meet the needs of their pupils. This process is viewed as a professional dialogue; rather than being critical it is there to help them develop.

The school is also subject to national inspections by Education Scotland (previously HMI). ES inspectors measure the school against quality indicators presented in a document called ‘How Good is Our School’[8]. Sometimes these are whole school inspections and sometimes they are targeted inspections e.g. focusing on literacy or science. Last year The Willowbank School had a science inspection and “that probably ticked a box in as much as we had been inspected and we had a very good report if they then had any concerns they would come in and have a wider look at what is going on in the school” (senior member of staff).

Teachers at The Willowbank School have formal lesson observations twice a year. Teachers can either have one lesson observed or snap shots of several lessons. Information is collated and shared with staff as part of inset or CPD. The lesson observations also informs the annual school improvement report.

External Providers:

Willowbank staff thoroughly inspect and quality assure all off-site providers that the school commissions to run sessions,. They track attendance, collect statistics on a monthly basis to ensure pupil progress, and ensure that the service level agreement is being met. If staff are not happy with the provision it will be discontinued.

Staff have data on leavers (Handbook). For 2012/13 there were 8 leavers. All had a known destination, 6 young people went into FE or training. They also have data on the number and types of qualifications achieved (handbook).

 Transformation (choice and autonomy)

Staff involve the young people in community projects e.g voluntary work with the elderly; fundraising for St Andrew’s Hospice. They have student council meetings and a student forum where pupils can discuss issues that are important to them. There is a pupil complaint system which allows pupils the opportunity to discuss concerns (complaints can be made anonymously). 

 Notes 

[1] Equivalent to year 11 in England.

[2] http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/sharingpractice/e/expandedlearningopportunities/introduction.asp accessed 16/10/14

[3] Skills Development Scotland – an agency promoting employment, with an interest in youth employment.

[4] http://www.asdan.org.uk/home accessed 16/10/14

[5] http://www.youthscotland.org.uk/projects/youth-achievement-awards.htm accessed 16/10/14

[6] http://www.youthscotland.org.uk/projects/dynamic-youth/dynamic-youth.htm accessed 16/10/14

[7] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/Young-People/gettingitright accessed 16/10/14

[8] https://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/HowgoodisourschoolJtEpart3_tcm4-684258.pdf

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