Opportunity knocks

BELSTEAD School in Ipswich is unique in the county, because it teaches children with profound learning difficulties at secondary level. As it prepares to become even more special, education reporter JAMES MARSTON takes a closer look at the school determined to focus on the individual rather than disability.

BELSTEAD School in Ipswich is unique in the county, because it teaches children with profound learning difficulties at secondary level. As it prepares to become even more special, education reporter JAMES MARSTON takes a closer look at the school determined to focus on the individual rather than disability.

FROM the moment you walk in to Belstead School you feel welcome.

The atmosphere is warm, calm and secure.

Students' art work decorates the walls and pictures of school trips, and all their achievements are prominently displayed.

After singing the visitors' book, I was met by headteacher Sue Chesworth. As we begin a tour of the school Sue explained what Belstead School, in Sprites Lane aims to do.

She said: “We have 74 youngsters and all have profound and multiple learning difficulties. We have youngsters with a variety of syndromes and conditions including autism, cerebral palsy, global developmental delay, and epilepsy. Some also have complex medical needs.”

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Sue said: “We have students from all over the county and some travel a long way each day to come here.”

The school is split into two parts. The 11 to 16-year-old section and post-16 department.

Sue said: “There are 15 teachers and we follow the secondary model curriculum so students go to different lessons and different subjects. Our teachers adapt their methods so they can access learning at their level.”

Sue, who started her career as a mainstream teacher, is passionate about making sure students at Belstead School get the opportunities to learn. She said: “As long as our students have the right information in front of them, they can learn. It is our job to make the learning process accessible.

“Our students follow national accredited courses called ASDAN (formerly Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network) either at entry or pre-entry level.”

Inspectors from the Office of Standards in Education (OFSTED) visited Belstead School back in September. Their report said: “The school is a welcoming, supportive environment with good, attentive relationships. Staff are consistent in encouraging pupils and students to be self reliant and to have a positive regard for all around them. Healthy eating, keeping fit and improving physical skills have a high priority and pupils benefit a great deal as a result.”

The report highlighted the school's art and music teaching, and said: “The flair with which music and art are taught shows that confidence in teaching these subjects leads into activities which are relevant and exciting for pupils.

“Lively and skilled music and art teaching realises exceptionally high expectations and, as everyone sees, achievement is remarkable.”

It also praised the school for its caring ethos and links with the wider community.

The inspectors said teachers should work harder on improving evaluation of the school's work and assessment of progress by pupils, but inspectors were impressed with the school's extra curricular activities and care, guidance and support off pupils.

They added: “Effective support is given to pupils with communication difficulties. Staff are trained and make good use of signing, symbols, and electronic aids to promote effective communication.”

Sue said: “We are very pleased with the report, particularly the highlighting of the role of the arts in the school. Music is a very motivational subject and the arts are something we have deliberately concentrated on.

“Music is a way of encouraging our students to express themselves and it is a way of communicating. It encourages teamwork and it is also an empowering experience.”

Music and the performing arts are used across the curriculum, and play a crucial role in the lives of many Belstead School students, again highlighted by OfSTED inspectors.

The school also focuses on drama which improves English and communication skills, forging strong partnerships with theatres and in February some students will be performing Shakespeare's The Tempest at the New Wolsey theatre.

Along the corridor in the science class, students are working on the ASDAN curriculum, under the guidance of science teacher Charlotte Gooch who said they were looking at picking up litter and other ways to improve the environment.

In the art classroom, teacher George Page is helping youngsters work on three dimensional paintings based on the work of artist Frank Stella. George said: “Art is a sensory experience and our students enjoy taking part.”

As we continue the tour, Sue says fundraising efforts by pupils for the East Anglian Children's Hospice have raised about £450. She said: “Although our students have difficulties themselves it is important to help other people as well.”

At the school's swimming pool, a class is clearly enjoying the water. Sue said: “This is a fantastic resource for us. For many of our students the pool is the only chance they get to make independent movements. They really enjoy it.”

Not far away in the school's gym, teacher Tina Wheatcroft is trampolining with 16-year-old Chris Watts. Trampolining provide students with physical exercise, movement and fun.

In the kitchen classroom, students are making chocolate chip cookies for the school's forthcoming awards ceremony.

The site is huge, and Sue said: “In some ways it's too big. It was originally a residential school. But I'm not going to complain. We have lots of space.”

The computer suite completes our tour of Belstead School.

ICT coordinator Eileen Perrins said: “The specially-adapted equipment here enables students to make choices, communicate and ask for things and use a computer.”

As we end the tour back in Sue's office, she said: “Our job is to provide the opportunities for our students to access the activities you would expect young people aged from 11 to 19 to access.

“We do that with imagination, determination and having high expectations of everybody. It is important we focus on the young person rather than focusing on their disability.”

Has your child been helped by Belstead School? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Weblinks

www.asdan.org.uk

www.belstead.suffolk.sch.uk

A pioneering curriculum development organisation, which grew out of research work at the University of the West of England in the 1980s.

Formally established as an educational charity in 1991, "to promote the personal and social development of learners through the achievement of ASDAN Awards, so as to enhance their self esteem, their aspirations and their contribution to the community".

It offers a wide range of curriculum programmes and qualifications for all abilities, mainly in the 11-25 age group.

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