No Ticks - No Boxes
Don’t think outside the box. Think like there is no box!
This is my report of the 2-day forum 'Outstanding Practice in the Education of SLD/PMLD Learners’ on 30 Nov and 1 Dec 2017 in London, led by Flo Longhorn with 20 presenters and 100 participants. That I’d like to share with you because it was full of optimism, knowledge and determination for progress in the education of very special people.
This two-day forum was packed with astonishing information from leading experts teaching in special schools in this country, including a variety of curriculum models, approaches and research, early years development, behaviour and therapies including music, yoga and multi-sensory.
Peter Imray, Special Educational Training and Advice, Bedfordshire talked about the Semi-Formal Curriculum he is developing for the Equals Approach to reach all learners.
I was shocked to learn from Peter Imray that the extended experiment for learners with special needs with the National Curriculum has not changed since 1988, even though it has been proved that ‘subject specific learning’ does not work for learners on the SLD spectrum. In fact, over the past 29 years there has been no evidence that anyone of the quarter of million people with SLD/PMLD in UK has ever successfully achieved academically! If learners could succeed within an academic, linearly developmental mode, they wouldn’t, by definition, have SLD (Imray and Colley, 2017). Peter emphasised the need to be very clear about our reasoning and that there must be a clear pedagogy for the methods and activities of teaching special learners.
Peter concluded: Children, young people and adults with severe and profound learning difficulties learn differently from neuro-typical conventionally developing learners (Imray and Hinchcliffe, 2014). If they learn differently, we ought to be teaching them differently and teaching them very different things. Peter suggested that people keep in touch with the online sld-forum for sessions on the Equals Semi-Formal (SLD) Curriculum at a nearby school.
Simon Yates, Headteacher of the Chailey Heritage Foundation, Brighton spoke about their pioneering work of a ‘no tick - no boxes’ curriculum, with use of a powerful ‘profiling’ system for each young person’s next step of learning with set targets all the while questioning ‘what’ and ‘why’ this pupil is aiming to achieve for their real-life progress!
The Chailey Heritage Foundation1 is charity run for providing education, care and transition services to children and young people with severe and complex medical, physical difficulties, with a wide range of cognitive abilities. They mostly accommodate wheelchair users with neurological motor impairment such as cerebral palsy. Chailey Heritage is recognised as one of the UK’s leading centres for supporting such young people’s communication and developing independence through powered mobility.
Simon was pleased to inform us that the Chailey Heritage School’s recent Ofsted Report stated that it was an ‘outstanding special school for children and young people’. He passionately gave details of his schools’ learner driven, fluid and inclusive assessment model, called CHILD (Chailey Heritage Individual Learner Driven) curriculum. The CHILD curriculum is based on a system of ‘profiling’ each learner, involving parents, therapists and teachers to work out the next steps of learning and set targets for the learner. There is no bank of targets to pick from, no set number of targets and no benchmarking progress against other learners – in his school or against national datasets. I was really impressed with the honesty of how his school abandoned the national curriculum and did it their way.
Simon reports, “Through trial and error we decided the best course of action was to turn the whole thing on its head. We’re no longer looking at how well we think the learner has done, we’re looking at how well we think we have done for that learner, taking all circumstances into account. For each learner, we have a panel meeting once a year. The panel discussions are interesting, as well as being a fantastic forum for thinking up new ideas to support progress. It is wonderful to see how professionally honest everyone is now that we are focusing on our input and the success it can bring.” Simon’s assertion of measuring progress this way has turned out to be very controversial. He claims, “If we can show that there was the very best possible input to the learner’s progress, then whatever progress the learner made, must have been the best possible”.
I was truly moved by Simon’s talk, it reiterated my findings of 1985 Indian Special Needs National Curriculum. Whereby the special educators are taught all pupils, irrespective of their special needs are capable of learning something and that the responsibility for achieving the set goals during the year lies with the educator rather than with the pupil. Thereby if the pupil has failed to learn, the educator must ask in what respects did their lesson plan fail its purpose, and modifying the learning conditions for that pupil accordingly. Further details on YouTube of Yoga Therapy and Special Education India 2.
In addition, the Aurobindo Ashram’s two-tier schooling system came to mind, which had the exam tested Western system and a non-exam creative education approach. The later approach, allowed children to choose their own learning of what to do in school, and in the afternoons these children taught adult visitors attending the ashram. Research showed over three decades, this creative group of learners proved to have the best successful working careers after leaving school, than their other western trained peers. It seems 33 years later we in the UK are only just beginning to catch up! I shall also be posting about this with video footage soon on my blog 3.
Ellen Croft, PMLD Curriculum Leader, Ash Field Academy, Leicester began her talk explaining how she is on a path of self-development with spiritual and positive thinking practices. She showed many of the metaphysical books she has read and advised every one of us to pursue our own personal development for wellbeing, whatever that may be.
Ellen introduced us to five ways to wellbeing4: To connect with others, to be active, to take notice, to learn, and to give.
Strong evidence indicates that feeling close to and valued by other people is fundamental for functioning well in the world. Social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and to act against mental illness for people of all ages.
Regular physical activity lowers depression and anxiety across all age groups. Exercise is essential for slowing age-related cognitive decline and for promoting wellbeing.
Remembering to ‘take notice’ can strengthen and broaden awareness. Being aware of what is taking place in the present moment directly enhances our wellbeing, life priorities, and choices based on our own values and motivations, in contrast to the cause of depression which is nearly always due to one not being in the now.
Learning throughout life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and an active life. Evidence shows having the opportunity to engage in work or educational activities lifts older people out of depression.
There is also evidence that individuals who help others in the community are more likely to rate themselves as being happy. Research into actions for promoting happiness has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.
Apparently, here in the UK approx. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people experience common mental health problems (i.e. anxiety/depression). Children with SEN are 6 times more likely to experience mental health problems. External factors that affect a person’s mental health are changes in the environment or the people. Internal factors affecting mental health are due to changes in physical health, bodily changes, or level of pain.
Ellen talked about her developing plans for mental health and wellbeing within a school setting, based on supporting the emotional and mental wellbeing of special learners. To ensure that learners feel secure with the people around them, and safe and comfortable in an environment that is not overwhelming.
Apparently, Yoga has played a large part of the progress with previously ‘unteachable’ children in her school. She described one learner in particular, who isolated himself from the rest of the school children. Soon after starting doing daily yoga, he was able to fit into class and learn with his other peers. Now, that is amazing!
Jane Thistlethwaite, a teaching fellow from Birmingham University has visual impairment and specialises in this area. Her work includes the Engagement Profile and Scale (EPS) of children with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (CLDD). This is a facilitating and processing approach which has 7 Indicators of Engagement:
- Curiosity - to explore, to know, and connect.
- Responsiveness - for recognition, awareness, and acknowledgement.
- Initiation - to ask what motivates.
- Anticipation - with expectation and prediction.
- Investigation - of activity and engagement.
- Persistence - sticking with it.
- Discovery - of that ‘wow’ moment!
The Engagement programme pilot was launched on 4 December 2017 with eight different hubs throughout UK, in order to initiate Engagement training for more local peers in time.
Phil Martin retired Headteacher, Wales talked about the EnRoute software he continues to develop after his retirement. In order to support teachers in assessing learners’ achievements on the Routes for Learning. This software facilitates recording evidence including video, image, and document files. With the aim to enhance shared understanding of early development and encourage consistency across a school in relation to using Routes for Learning (RfL).
RfL is well supported in Wales and is consistently presented as the starting point for measuring progression in the curriculum. Apparently, the Welsh government is reviewing RfL in the context of a new curriculum. The EnRoute electronic recording system of RfL is being developed to accommodate this, as such a system is capable of demonstrating learners’ progress over time. Phil concluded, in any recording system, reflection on ‘evidence’ should take priority over ‘box-ticking’.
Early Years Development:
Maria Robinson, Early Years Author, Bedfordshire. Maria spoke about how the baby develops and importance of securing attachments for emotional strength.
Les Staves, Very Special Maths Consultant, Leeds, talked about Schema in relation to the early development of learning through repeated behaviours. The following is extracts from Les Staves updated article for Information Exchange, that his talk was based on: Schema - Thinking about Thinking - Les.firstname.lastname@example.org
How play develops into thinking
It is fascinating to think how children learn to ‘think’ before they can talk or even before they understand what is said to them. Look into typical baby’s eyes to see its mind is racing - making sense of you - reacting to all it sees hears and touches, or to the effects of its movement and position. Children’s understanding of the world actually grows through their memories of actions and movement.
Literature about early childhood learning describes the beginnings of thinking as springing from the child’s memory of sensory interactions and reflex responses – repeating; remembering; and developing increasingly intentional actions. Psychologists have noticed patterns that children repeat and combine to become more complex actions – they call these patterns ‘schema’.
Because children remember these actions, psychologists suggest that they are - non-verbal memories of experience the actions are actually ‘ideas’. So when children are using these actions- to experiment or affect things they are in effect ‘thinking’ through action. As they observe the effects of their actions they modify their ideas. They refine and combine – remember and develop expectations, through continuous exploratory activity, i.e. play.
For the typical child, play is a spontaneous activity, exhibited in the ceaseless curiosity, investigation, manipulation and practice of the development of body skills and developing ideas. Staff working with very special pupils will often need to support their pupils to develop spontaneous play activity in ways that are not necessary for more typically developing children.
Balancing support and independent exploration
The ideas of late Lilli Nielsen of the ‘little room’ and the resonance board were notions of simple genius that have enabled us to motivate independent active learning for many profoundly disabled infants. When observing such pupils in these active environments we can often see them start to experiment with movement and develop schema beginning to chip away at their enormous physical and sensory barriers to learning. As they learn to control and repeat patterns of an arm movement today they are contributing to the later possibility of pointing, counting, mark making or even writing in the future.
Patterns for learning – Developing Schema
One of Lilli Nielsen’s important premises for us was that we should always look towards what typical children do in order to help us see relevant learning for our very special pupils. Typical infants extend their early reflex actions to become patterns of exploration. These early roots of a small number of patterns become important schema: Eg. vertical and horizontal movements, circular movements, enveloping or containing. These permeate through their childhood actions and can be seen in their physical play and mark making.
Look for ‘action thinking’ with your special children
By watching your special children’s play and you may see them repeating particular routines that they like or are interested in. They are their action thoughts. Ask yourself can you provide environments or resources that capitalise on what they do, and encourage them, to extend or move them to another use or level. Can you, or their peers, be models or play partners whose behaviour can illustrate new possibilities for the child to try.
For many years, Early Years practitioners have used observations of children’s schematic activities to both help them see how the child is progressing and to help plan what is required to ‘seed’ the environment for next steps of learning. Using such approaches with ‘little and often notes’ may help the special needs practitioner, because they can be entirely individualised to children’s particular behaviours, as opposed to fitting a checklist!
Peter Imray, Special Educational Training and Advice - second talk - Teaching the Unteachable - Managing the Unmanageable. Peter presented an incredible, revolutionary approach with the most disruptive and disturbed pupils at St Ann’s School, London. Peter described how one young man was so violent that no one could be within his 3 meters proximity, because he was constantly agitated, defensive and was a threat to anyone.
St Ann’s school decided to go completely against all other behaviour management procedures by putting seven of their most unmanageable pupils together in one classroom. There was no set curriculum in place, except six highly trained SEN staff placed in the classroom to facilitate the pupils needs and learning as and when needed.
The outcome was astonishing: instantly, that particular young man stopped demonstrating disruptive behaviour. He, in fact, settled down, was much less stressed, and started to apply himself to different activities, such as playing with water and splashing paint to form moving shapes. He began to show areas of learning and attention, and different forms of communication. Quite phenomenal!
James Galpin, Developmental Psychologist at The Bridge school, London spoke about our ‘interception processes’ involving: receiving, accessing, and appraising our emotions and physical sensations. ‘Exteroception processes’ involve our visual and audio processing. All of these are particularly difficult for people with autism. James’s current interest is looking at the child’s feelings and emotions for assisting their educational development. He is an intellectual, extremely articulate, and will surely be very influential in the future development of the Special Needs curriculum.
Inspirational speaker, Helen Lane, Neurologic Music Therapist, Woodlands School, London spoke about The Musical Brain for those with autism. She showed images of an autistic brain, highlighting the extensive areas affected by music and singing in contrast to the areas lesser affected by language and speech, hence, the impact music can have on autistic people.
Helen pointed out that each of us has their own rhythm, i.e. the intrinsic rhythm which is our pulse; and the extrinsic rhythm that can be observed by the pace we walk, from which we can change to link up with the same pace as whoever we may be walking with. In this way, we can make a link with a child’s external rhythm. In doing so, there is a connection which can help improve attention and engagement; thereby reduce anxiety and challenging behaviours. She finished her talk by suggesting to ‘keep it simple’ and made us realise how awesome and powerful music and rhythm really is!
During the two days there were several female teachers covering Multi-sensory activities including Sarah Hall, Willows Sensory Services, Sarah Hall’s Sensory Surprises5. Sarah presented one I really liked, of toilet rolls with father Christmas faces drawn on them with red and black felt-tip pens. Sarah gave each one of the group (over 100) a small plastic bottle with the bottom cut off, covered with a sock, fastened with an elastic band. We were all instructed to dip the sock into a bowl of washing-up liquid, then blow through to bottle top. This produced a soapy, bubbly long trail, that Sarah encouraged us to burst and flutter around like snowflakes!
Jo Grace, author of the Sensory Project6, Cornwall. Jo presented the Sensory Story of a Star explaining the wonders of the star’s formation in the sky. She used lots of sensory items and finished her story with a shooting star ‘gold dust’ funnel tube that exploded with a big bang and floating pieces of coloured paper fired out covering the entire room and carpet.
Jo is a sensory specialist, involving Sensory Stories of a few lines which are brought to life through a selection of meaningful sensory experiences. These sensory stories can open new avenues for communication and inclusive learning. They offer a fun way of encouraging sensory experiences and triggers in a safe, repetitive way, which over time can help to reduce anxiety, depression and challenging behaviour.
Hannah Underwood and Lucy Allen, from John Fielding School, Lincolnshire, enthusiastically described The Sensory Dispensary. These two young teachers are blogging about all things sensory for those with PMLD. They also want to share and promote what others are doing with their special children on their blog7.
Unfortunately, due to my train being delayed on day two, I missed Becky Lyddon, Sensory Spectacle talk on Immersive Experiences. Sensory Spectacle provide workshops and immersive environments to help people learn about sensory processing difficulties by learning through experience8.
Alas, I also missed Julie Tilbury, Lead Teacher SPMLD and Hannah McCarthy, Teacher SPMLD, Chailey Heritage School, who gave a talk titled Observe and then teach. This is the same school Simon Yates is the Head. These teachers were very proud they just got an ‘outstanding’ report from Ofsted.
Flo Longhorn talked about Happiness and Life Satisfaction. She produced a check sheet for Sensory Happiness by asking questions to learners about their physical senses and preferences to know and experience happiness and assess the learners’ environment to encourage optimum happiness. Flo also spoke about her spiritual need for silence and solitude. In relation to teachers needing to respect learners to just ‘be’ to feel safe and peaceful.
I continued this theme with the 3rd Eye Massage practice. By showing a slide of a young client sitting on the floor while I gave him this calming and soothing massage technique. I then instructed everyone present to do the same to themselves, by placing a fingertip on the point between the eyebrows and gently circling the finger at this focal point - the main centre for concentration in the body. I asked everyone present to carry on doing this silently for a short while. Afterwards, some teachers commented how relaxed this had made them feel, which was very pleasing.
Throughout the forum, between intervals of speakers’ change-over, Keith Park (the Wandering Minstrel) entertained us all with his ‘rhythm and reason’ songs.
He rounded up the forum by chanting ‘Flo Longhorn is a Super Women’9, for she managed to bring together all these talented professionals developing the UK educational services for our very special people.
At the end of each of this two days forum, Flo, who is a Humanist dedicated the forum to the memory of Timmy Pettitt, the Sunshine Boy, a very special person by showing a video she made in loving memory. She asked us to remember the special persons we knew who have passed on. It was a very moving experience. On the second day, she gave tribute to Lilli Nielsen’s legacy of little rooms, resonance boards, HOPSA suits and active learning for SLD/PMLD. Flo showed examples of similar sensory materials that can be easily created from recycled materials. She was quite animating, as usual! Also, in memory of Lilli Nielsen, Flo provided a beautiful printed story - ‘The Snowdrop’ from the new versions of stories by Hans Christian Andersen.
This was an astonishing two days forum of inspiration and development of education, therapy and wellbeing for our very special PLD/PMLD learners, that I was privileged to attend and very pleased to share with you.
Maria Gunstone, December 2017
YOU & ME Yoga
Author, Consultant and Teacher
Text: 07734 014876
2. Yoga Therapy and Special Education India, 27-minutes video - YouTube:
3. YOU & ME Yoga Blog:
9. From the proceeds of this forum, Flo Publications will make a donation to New Hope Children’s Village situated in Western Orissa, India. To fund a special needs teacher for a year.