Here U belong: A case study of autism inclusion and support

Written by: Bob Harrison | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Hub – which stands for Here U Belong – is at the centre of Lostock High School’s inclusive ethos and offers crucial support for pupils with autism or communication needs. Bob Harrison explains

Lostock High School, a non-selective school in a selective authority, is situated in the shadows of the Stretford End at Manchester United’s Old Trafford football ground.

Trafford is one of 14 local authorities that still select pupils at 10-years-old, with around 20 per cent making it through to the grammar schools while 80 per cent of Trafford pupils get to go to what once would have been called secondary moderns.

The issue is brought sharper into focus because Trafford Metropolitan Borough is a borough of two halves. The commercial and industrial north of Old Trafford, Stretford, Flixton and Urmston and over the river leafy suburbs of Sale, Altrincham, Hale Barns and Bowden.

It is against this back-drop of selection and exclusion that Lostock High has focused on open access and inclusion. It has not been an easy journey but the governors and headteacher, Lee Fazackerly, with support of the local authority recently opened a specialist unit called The Hub (a name chosen by the pupils and which stands for “Here U Belong”). The unit is designed for Trafford pupils with autism spectrum condition/social communications needs to help them access mainstream school.

The Hub is part of a whole-school “wraparound” approach to inclusion as Mr Fazackerly explained: “As a smaller school we pride ourselves on having an inclusive, warm and welcoming learning environment where our students can thrive, fulfil their ambitious and meet the challenges that lie beyond education.

“We are dedicated to give our young people the best possible education and access to opportunity to help them grow socially, emotionally and spiritually and this is achieved through a blend of mainstream and resourced specialist provision that is interweaved to ensure all of our young people have the space and opportunity to develop as individuals.”

This approach to inclusion has been crucial given the school intake is made up of 40 per cent Pupil Premium pupils and 22 per cent SEND. This compares to three and 0.3 per cent respectively in the local grammar schools.

Emma Benfield, the school’s SENCO, is responsible for the whole school wraparound support at Lostock and is keen to point out the importance of local community and the sense of “belonging” when The Hub was set up.

She explained: “I think a really nice aspect of having The Hub is that students are able to remain in their local community mixing with their peers rather than having to travel out of area.

“It is inclusivity at its best; these young people have a place in our community and are able to attend a mainstream school alongside every other young person. But the Hub is just one part of a coherent network of support designed to keep all pupils included in learning. These include small learning communities, an independent learning hub and support within mainstream lessons from an experienced and committed team.”

Karen Harris, Trafford’s principal educational psychologist and head of inclusion gives an insight into why the Hub was established and what progress has been made.

She explained: “The council was conscious of a gap in our local provision for pupils with ASC/social communication needs transitioning from year 6 to 7 who were academically able but needed some environmental adaptations in order to achieve their full potential. We were anxious to find a school that was not just understanding and empathic but which shared our vision for high-quality local provision. We have experience of small specialist classes in the primary phase but not in a secondary school. Lostock High School seemed the perfect fit.”

Tom was a year 7 pupil with an EHCP for his ASC diagnosis and who was struggling with mainstream education in one of Trafford’s other schools. Things were not going well. He didn’t make any friends, he was getting depressed and anxious, felt unsafe, and unable to cope, He was refusing to go to school, low in confidence and beginning to get thoughts of self-harm.
Tom’s mum was getting increasingly concerned until she heard that Trafford was establishing the Hub at Lostock High School.

Lead tutor at the Hub, Naomi Kinsey, explained: “The pupils are able to really focus on, develop and achieve their full potential in their favourite and strongest subjects – accessing them through attending mainstream lessons with support from the Hub.

“We are then able to build on and reinforce this with them when they return to the Hub ensuring that their learning is secure and reinforced which in turn raises their self-esteem and confidence.”

She continued: “We are really focused on students having a sense of belonging to the Hub which also gives them the confidence to go and be a part of the mainstream as they know that they are able to return to their ‘secure’ setting.

“The pupils have the opportunity to access mainstream education, giving them access to a range of GCSEs as well as receiving a bespoke specialist package within the safety of the Hub.

Each pupil receives a unique package with each one being very different. We promote uniqueness and want all our pupils to aspire to reach their potential.”

Tom is now a regular attender, following his favourite subjects in mainstream and studies in the Hub. His mum told us: “Tom is a lot happier in himself, more settled with his own space in the Hub. He feels safer at school and home. I am less concerned about his emotional state and we value the communication and access to support.”

There are places for up to eight pupils in the Hub, located in some adapted rooms in the middle of the school with a distinct entrance and specially designed sensory spaces and a small team of specialist teachers and support staff.

It is not just the pupils who decide to attend the Hub who benefit. For our other SEND pupils in mainstream, the Hub provides a safe space before and after school and at lunch and break times for those pupils who may be anxious or starting to feel a bit of sensory overload or for those who are starting to struggle in the hum-drum of mainstream.

Ms Harris added: “We are very proud of the provision and have really positive feedback from current and prospective parents. Pupils who were previously struggling to attend mainstream school are now really achieving, attend regularly and are integrating into the mainstream. The close connections between the Hub and mainstream is allowing for a greater development of social opportunities for pupils and CPD opportunities for all staff.”

Mr Fazackerly said: “The Hub has provided an opportunity for osmosis of pupils, teachers, ideas, staff development which has added value to our whole school approach to inclusion.”

  • Bob Harrison is co-chair of governors at Lostock High School in Manchester, a former teacher and college principal with personal experience of young people with ASC. You can follow him on Twitter @bobharrisonedu


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