Finham Park is a mixed secondary comprehensive in Coventry. The school became an “outstanding” academy convertor in 2011. Currently oversubscribed, with more than 1,500 students enrolled, Finham Park is described by Ofsted as a “happy and harmonious school where diversity is celebrated”. Inspectors also recognised the school for its inclusive philosophy.
Pauline Parkes, Finham’s inclusion manager, attributes this philosophy to a culture of collaboration. She explained: “It’s crucial that we all work together to help students achieve, and the role of teaching assistants and the teachers, as well as the students that they support, plays a large part in this approach.”
Communication is key to this: “Before lessons even start, the teacher and teaching assistant decide together the best way to meet the needs of all learners. That way, we’re all on the same page and we can help each student to make the desired progress during lessons.”
Beth Owen, a teaching assistant at Finham Park, continued: “My role is to help the teacher with knowing exactly what the students’ needs are and how they might be met. I help the students to gain the independence that they are capable of and to achieve as best as they can.
“Something we do well here is making sure that, wherever possible, we keep children with SEN in the classroom, with the teacher,” Ms Owen added.
“It’s about a network of communication, rather than exclusively one-to-one work. I think that’s important, it really helps the children to improve across the board and helps us to promote independent learning.”
Indeed, promoting independence is a significant focus. Ms Parkes continued: “One of the critical things which we must encourage and support children in doing is becoming independent; not only in their learning, but as a skill for life – because they’re not always going to have us, or their parent, stuck to their side.”
Taking advantage of programmes which are available to provide greater independence helps to ensure that children become more proactive and self-determined learners, as well as allowing them to integrate more easily into the class. This is key to progress, both in terms of their education and for social development.
Finham aims to meet the needs of every pupil within the school and for those with additional requirements, further measures are taken to help alleviate any unnecessary pressure. “We personalise timetables in certain situations to enable children to have more time to put towards their studies, which can be difficult to achieve during lesson time,” said Ms Parkes.
“We can provide children with extra time to spend in the Personalised Learning Centre (PLC) to do any work which is necessary to help them get the most out of lessons, or to support them with homework so that they can progress effectively.”
This ethos of support is shared by all staff, but not at the exclusion of independence, explained Dr Liz Pyne, head of history at the school: “The key is to see our children as special, but not different. They do need our support, and we will give them that support, but sometimes it’s about knowing when to walk away.
“We can’t always be there for them, so it’s important that they can gain that independence. That’s the most important thing we do at this school.
“It’s not just knowledge they need, but the skills to carry on and find that extra bit of information themselves. That way even if we are not there to support them, they still know how to do it themselves.”
However, while helping to build independence is essential, providing additional support and time can often be integral to improving attainment for children and young people with SEN.
Cameron, a student with dyslexia on the autistic spectrum, needs additional support with reading. Staff at Finham Park provide Cameron with one-on-one literacy lessons and small group sessions in the PLC to help support him with English.
“We are thrilled that from October through to March, Cameron has gone from a reading age of just over seven to 12. This is phenomenal,” explained Ms Parkes. “Literacy is something which becomes increasingly important as a student moves up the school; if they are struggling with basic literacy skills all subjects will be more challenging.
“That’s why these tailored sessions can rapidly help students who have difficulties with key skills like literacy or numeracy to improve their levels of attainment across the curriculum, and should be a significant feature of successful SEN provision in all schools.”
In addition, the school has implemented a 6th form peer-mentoring scheme to give students like Cameron the additional support they need in a more relaxed and informal environment.
“Cameron didn’t have a lot of confidence when we first started,” said Kim, his 6th form mentor. “Just having those one-to-one sessions with someone a bit younger, closer to his age, meant he could relate to it all a bit more. He felt comfortable asking me as many questions as he needed to. He became a lot more relaxed, and it was a real boost for him. Now his confidence has grown, as well as his fluency, which is great.”
The school believes that programmes such as these can be a great way of ensuring that those students that need additional support are able to get the extra attention they need. Making use of older students that want to gain experience in helping to teach or support others is a great way of maximising both students’ potential, and is something which any school can implement.
A key ethos at Finham Park is to ensure that every child, irrespective of their need and ability, is made to feel welcomed, supported, and equal. For one student, Wilf, who came to Finham Park after a difficult education in other schools, the school experience has been completely transformed. When difficulties arose in the classroom, the staff worked with Wilf to establish what was causing the problem in order to identify and resolve those issues and build a positive relationship with him.
“I met Wilf quite early on as part of his transition and started to get to know him,” explained Sarah Jones, a higher level teaching assistant. “We looked at why things went wrong, and how we could make things better for him.”
Exercises such as “emotional timetabling” helped the SEN team to establish which lessons were causing particular problems, meaning they could then take measures to help Wilf succeed within those classes.
“Emotional timetabling is when a student colours in their timetable in either red, orange or green, like traffic lights, depending on how they feel in those lessons,” explained Ms Jones. “We could then look at what made a good lesson to see how we could transfer those features into other classes to improve them for him and help him to achieve.”
The staff have found that creating a safe environment offers students like Wilf the chance to feel encouraged, nurturing their talents. By offering continual praise when students succeed they have seen young people like Wilf flourish and achieve beyond expectations.
Ultimately, Finham Park believes that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to SEN support and that this edict should be woven into any school’s approach. The key is to treat everyone on an individual basis and cater to their specific needs. This helps to foster an atmosphere of inclusivity and support, which, above all else, helps students to thrive. Further informationNasen is a professional association embracing all special and additional educational needs and disabilities. Its Outstanding Schools project seeks to identify, recognise and share the very best SEN practice. Visit www.nasen.org.uk
CAPTION: Tailored approach: Finham Park is a Nasen Outstanding School due to its SEN provision