Success from adapting provision in a boarding school
– David King, Headmaster of Appleford School
Boarding brings a wealth of opportunity to children and young people and helps improve their academic and personal progress. This is particularly the case for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). At Appleford – a specialist dyslexia school – more than 70% of pupils board. By adapting our provision to meet their needs we actively help pupils enjoy their school day and develop into well-rounded, independent adults. With a little thought and some subtle changes, this is achievable in any boarding house and can be of direct benefit to any child.
Critical to the success of any school is knowing the pupils as individuals and having an emphasis on this ‘from the top down’. For example, at Appleford we produce individual and concise ‘aides memoire’ for all staff to have a snapshot view of any child who may require closer monitoring or individual attention for a particular need. These can, where necessary, evolve into individualised assessments which are reviewed and discussed in senior leadership team, pastoral, house and staff meetings. This might be knowing what makes a child happy or sad, what they are interested in or what causes them to feel vulnerable – it is key that all staff know this.
The concept of a ‘24-hour curriculum’ is well embedded at most boarding schools. At Appleford all boarders have a SIP (Social Independence Plan) which details a hierarchy of key functional skills required by pupils as they mature. These start with simple tasks such as washing and personal hygiene and move up to taking driving lessons, wiring a plug and managing household appliances effectively. By focusing on these skills and evidencing them in the pupil’s SIP, parents and staff can see clearly how ready the child is for the wider world and what can be expected of them within the boarding house and around school.
In any school, it should not automatically be assumed that pupils can read, process and act upon information presented around the campus. Specialist staff at my school spend time ensuring displays of information are accessible, presented appropriately and targeted at the ability levels of pupils in the house. This comes back to ‘knowing the child’. If all the clocks in the house are analogue and the timetables are presented digitally, how can we expect pupils who have difficulty telling the time to be punctual? Equally, opportunities for accessing schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award could be missed by dyslexic children simply because they could not understand the meeting notice.
For many pupils with dyslexia, prep and homework can be a real challenge – particularly without the one-to-one support of a parent at home. By embracing IT and, for example, sending all homework via email in Word format, schools have the opportunity to integrate the plethora of software now available to assist pupils access and understand their work independently. This obviously requires the school to ensure that appropriate IT facilities exist in the boarding houses and that there is a commonality of software provision across the school.
In many ways, however, the greatest advantage of boarding for any pupil with SEND is in personal and social development. Unfortunately children with SEND can easily become isolated because of their lack of confidence or inability to access appropriate peer groups. For these children, a well-organised and empathetic boarding environment can and does open fantastic opportunities for engagement and fulfilment. Simply giving children the opportunity to mix with a wider peer group, share mealtimes, make friendships, work through adolescent problems and have someone to talk to may be the greatest gift we can give our pupils.
A boarding school can provide a positive force in the development of children and young people with SEND – by not making easy assumptions about their abilities and functional independence, by ensuring school management places a high, practical tariff on inclusion, and by providing all staff with the support and CPD to recognise, assist and develop pupils in a pastoral environment.
David King was appointed Headmaster of Appleford School in 2012. After attending the University of Liverpool (History and Art) his career in education began as a primary school teacher, followed by Maths Co-ordinator and then SENCo. He gained Dyslexia Friendly Status for a Somerset primary school and was part of a pilot group which developed strategies for Teaching for Effective Learning, which has now become part of mainstream policy. After headships of two independent special senior schools, David took time out of education for five years in business as owner and chairman of an outdoor pursuits company.