Supporting SEND students – a case study

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Melland High School, a SEN and disabilities academy in Manchester, was rated outstanding in all areas by Ofsted in February. Principal Judith O’Kane discusses their approaches to supporting their students and offers some ideas for mainstream schools.

Following three consecutive Ofsted inspections where Melland High School was rated outstanding in all areas of evaluation, we have worked closely with our staff, students and community to ensure continued capacity for further improvement and to maintain this status.

Through system leadership we constantly monitor our students’ progress and achievement, behaviour, attendance and safety and we provide bespoke CPD for our staff so as to constantly improve and raise standards in the quality of teaching and learning.

Since becoming a member of the Bright Futures Educational Trust we have benefited from working with the organisation’s principal child and educational psychologist and through investing in external agencies.

Staff development 

To continue improving our staff performance, one of our first priorities was to develop and refine the practice for appraisals.

This means priorities are carefully identified through self-evaluation processes that provide in-depth and accurate judgements on key aspects of the school’s performance. These processes are continually refined. Appraisal objectives for all staff are integrally linked to improvement and the practice of rigorously checking its effectiveness is well-established at all levels.

Another integral part of ensuring all areas of our school are improving is our IMPACT group – made up of students, staff, parents and community partners – which monitors how well the school is doing in achieving the targets in its annual plan.

The IMPACT group tours give members the opportunity to see first-hand the work set out in the plan. This allows them to ask questions, talk to students and staff and build their knowledge of the everyday work of the school.

As a result, senior leaders and governors know precisely how effective the school is being. It has helped to bring to life the sheer volume, quality, vibrancy and excitement of work on improvement priorities.

Working with the mainstream

Being part of the Bright Futures Educational Trust has enabled us to work closely with member schools to share best practice and effective teaching methods.

As a specialist SEN and disabilities (SEND) support school it has been refreshing to hear, from both Ofsted and the schools and academies we work with, that our work is highly regarded and produces tangible results.

Our most recent provision has been working with partner schools that have significantly high percentages of SEND pupils. Each partner school has now appointed a senior leadership team member to a position of strategic lead in SEND.

In each, their full senior leadership team and SEND co-ordinator have partnered with Team Melland in undertaking a rigorous SEND diagnostic review. Following a detailed report identifying strengths and areas for development, Melland has supported each of them with SEND school improvement priorities and accompanying action plans setting out clear, precise objectives. 

Effective provisions for schools to model

We are constantly tracking and analysing data, which is a really useful process that other schools with SEND pupils can share and use. Developing high-quality, coherent systems and documents related to assessment, tracking and target-setting will enable key leaders to keep a very close watch on the quality of provision and outcomes for pupils, which informs planning for improvement very well.

We have also seen great success in developing opportunities through well-designed and individualised curricular arrangements. 

For example, in order to accelerate the progress of very able SEND key stage 3 boys in English, we commissioned a one-to-one tuition programme. In addition to data demonstrating their progress, the boys were able to confidently describe their own individual achievements, such as being able to read more books or to spell longer words.

We are now building on this work by enabling pupils to access a new reading scheme through the use of technology that is proving highly motivating to pupils.

Working with, and buying in support from, external agencies can also enable students with exceptional needs to maximise their potential. Through the purchase of an electric augmented communication aid, a young man at Melland with profound communication and physical disabilities is now able to interact with other pupils, staff and his family in order to express his needs, feelings and to describe activities he has participated in both at home and school. 

Personalised learning pathways have also forcibly illustrated their impact. We have worked with a group of key stage 4 students to develop these and consequently they have made outstanding progress.

Elsewhere, a student leader group has really improved our students’ independence, giving them the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves and what they are doing. As an SEND school, we have found that being part of such a group enables students to develop a range of life-skills such as self-organisation and punctuality, so they become good role-models with fantastic communication and social skills.

The group has provided a forum for young people to be genuinely listened to and contribute to developments and activities in the school. Student leaders were involved in the academy consultation process, have responsibility for showing students from other schools around their own school, and make presentations to the IMPACT group about how they feel the school can improve further. 

Students now speak with confidence and can articulate clearly their feelings about being a member of the group: “I feel more like an adult,” and “I feel honoured and proud.”

It would be fantastic to see a similar model being used across other SEND and mainstream schools.

Child and educational psychologist 

As part of a drive to aid the development and sustainability of outstanding SEN provision, the Bright Futures Educational Trust employed a principal child and educational psychologist, Jude Joughin, in September 2012. Jude’s role across the member schools is to provide direct and indirect support to pupils whose identified needs warrant specialist advice and input. 

Melland High and Jude work closely at a systemic level across the Trust. Typically work involves identifying priorities for development and intervention to improve staff confidence and competence in providing for SEND pupils. Regular SEND network meetings with partner schools’ strategic SEND leads and SENCOs are co-hosted by Melland and Jude, to share best practice and collaboratively discuss and plan new developments in relation to SEND. 

Jude said: “My role is focused on identification, assessment, intervention and liaison with families and working with key members of staff to underpin the importance of child and educational psychology practice.”

Investing in external agencies 

I cannot emphasise enough how our creative agent Fiona Johnson, a professional film-maker, has brought our multimedia studio at Melland High to life. 

She and her team bring professional expertise to a wide range of creative projects for our students who have really benefited from the highly effective and long-standing partnership. Together with students, they work in an environment with the same culture and expectations as would be found in the media industry. There is no “hit and run” aspect to these partnerships and the school has a clear perspective on how partnerships develop over time. 

For example, in the first year we focused on pre-production and developing human and material resources. In year two, we focused on training in the necessary skills for students and staff to enable industry-standard practices and protocols to be developed and followed.

And in year three, we focused on “getting the products out” through the school’s networks as well as through links to the academy’s website.

As creative agent at the school, Fiona has harnessed the skills of a range of professional creative practitioners to work alongside staff and students – these include graphic designers, poets, story-tellers and musicians. The multimedia studio is now a registered City and Guilds centre.

In addition, one of our most successful projects has been the development of our fully inclusive academy campus orchestra – “Rawchestra”. Two professional musicians and a vocal coach have worked particularly closely to tap into the raw musical talent of pupils and staff from both Melland High School and Cedar Mount Academy – another school in the Trust.

Sustained improvement 

Our school is a calm, but purposeful place to be, where all staff manage to combine a very structured environment – having predictable routines and patterns of every part of every day – with a great deal of challenge, creativity and enjoyment. Staff have a shared understanding and insight into each student’s very individual needs at any time.

Leaders recognise the importance of maintaining a relentless focus on improving teaching in this regard and the school is highly effective in harnessing the support and challenge from its wide community, which contributes to a very strong and effective team working together to achieve outstanding outcomes for pupils.SecEd

Bright Futures 
Bright Futures Educational Trust is a multi-academy and school-led organisation based in the North West. The Trust was set up in 2012 in consultation with the Department for Education and Manchester City Council. There are currently six member schools. 
Dana Ross-Wawrzynski, CEO of the Trust, said: “Melland High School’s progress over the years has been inspirational to both staff and students and together they continue to drive the Trust’s academies forward.”

CAPTION: Excellence: Staff and SEND students from Melland High School, which shares its expertise with partner mainstream schools


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