Oaklands School is a very special place; from the majestic oak tree outside the school building to the spinney at the back, it is full of nature, open spaces, and opportunities to learn. Our school building is unusual: built in a square with a garden and playground at the centre. All of our classrooms have outside space and look out onto trees and play areas. This ‘inside-outside’ aspect of the school building perfectly reflects the ‘inside-outside‘ way of living and learning at Oaklands for every member of our community, whether staff, parent or child.
Our ’inside-outside‘ curriculum: The majority of our wonderful children have a diagnosis of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and all have communication and interaction difficulties, which can mean the wider world is a very over-stimulating, confusing and challenging place to be. Our classrooms and whole school fabric is controlled and calm, a low-arousal space to enable our children to relax and become more open to learning. We want all of our pupils to be confident happy children who know they have value and who have a sense of their own abilities. We want them to be able to communicate in whatever way or ways they are comfortable with; to have a voice and be listened to; to know that they have rights and responsibilities, and that they are entitled to learning that is fun, challenging and meaningful whatever their abilities or starting points.
That is the ‘inside’ aspect of our curriculum and the focus of our Oaklands Learning Habits and our core curriculum programme: My thinking & Talking; My Life, My Community; My Movement; My Maths; My World and My Creativity. All children study within these 6 Areas of Learning (AoL) and will be given lots of opportunities to explore their capabilities in multi-sensory ways both inside and outside a traditional classroom setting.
The ‘outside’ aspect of our curriculum is an extensive and progressive set of ‘life skills’ learning projects which are designed to help our children cope in social situations outside school. These learning projects, our ‘Out and About’ units, are highly valued by parents and carers as we take children to parks, shops, businesses and public places on a regular basis on foot and on public transport. These are not ‘one-off’ visits but well planned outings that are repeated several times so that our children can become better acclimatised to the social and sensory challenges of particular places and activities. They are prepared for these outside events and outings through roleplay and language building inside the school so that they get the most from the experiences and develop skills that they will need in their home lives.
Another ’outside‘ aspect of the Oaklands curriculum is our Spinney Sessions run in the woodland area behind the main building and in 2020-21 this will be complemented by a new programme of growing herbs, fruit and vegetables as part of our Food for Life award project.
Our ‘inside-outside’ staff team: At Oaklands we are very keen to share our expertise and to keep learning new things that we can use with our children. We share good practice and teaching & learning ideas inside the school through regular class meetings and in-house CPD. We also look outside school for inspiration and work very closely with CLASS (the City of Leicester Association of Special Schools), the local authority, the National Autistic Society (NAS) and partner schools in our Inclusion Quality Mark Centres of Excellence network. We are active members of the Challenge Partners network which is a pioneering school-led school-improvement organisation. Each year we both invite reviewers to evaluate our school and send our reviewers to assess other schools, an inside-outside system that ensures best practice is always flowing in and out of Oaklands.
We also support many schools in the city and wider a field who have autistic children in their settings. We try to include as many staff as possible in these school partnership and activities so that we are all learning all the time. On our staff, we also have a Specialist Leader in Education (SLE) Vicky Bland who was recruited by the local authority, because of her extensive expertise, to be an advisor to city schools about SEND matters.
We also work to support parents and families, both inside the school (through regular parent workshops, our Parent governor-led programme of talks, and more informally on a day-to-day basis) and outside the school through running Early Bird Plus parent courses for the local authority.
Our curriculum & the three pathways: From August 2018, we will have three distinctive pathways for our children to reflect their diversity and learning needs. Children who will follow the Willow pathway are at the very earliest stages of language learning and need support to develop their attention, communication and interaction skills. They will learn some basic numeracy skills building up to counting and 1:1 correspondence, largely through play interaction and working with concrete items. They will be taught PECS stages 1 and 2 and basic Makaton signs so that they can express their needs and likes. Their lessons will be creative and multi-sensory focusing on gross motor skills initially to build their resilience and positive behaviours for later learning. They will be encouraged to recognise and communicate their own needs and learn about basic self-care.
Cherry children will have some language skills and will be able to maintain attention during short whole group sessions. They will be able to make meaningful marks and move onto formal writing, reading and numeracy work as they mature. The TEACCH approach is a key strategy used in Cherry to support individuals’ skills development in communication and numeracy, as well as problem-solving. Visual systems, PECS and Makaton will be used to support communication with an emphasis on children learning to use them independently to express likes, needs and wants.
Chestnut children have developed language skills and will be working on their Reading, Writing and Maths skills in more formal learning (including sustained whole group teaching) than the other pathways. Although still requiring adult support within the classroom, they will be developing independence and social skills. Although all Chestnut children will communicate in speech (at different levels) visual systems, PECS and Makaton will also be used to support communication. At the end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, some pupils may be entered for SATS and/or Phonics Screening where appropriate. Some pupils may also be included in lessons at Whitehall school (with support from a familiar member of Oaklands staff) when this is considered to be appropriate to further enhance their learning.
All children will study the same topic each half term so that children in different pathways can share their learning at their own level and collaborate together during curriculum days. We hope that some of our Chestnut children will be able to ‘teach’ our Willow & Cherry children on those days, building on our ‘inside-outside’ ethos of sharing our learning.
‘Inside-outside’ assessment of learning: In order to ensure all the learning at Oaklands is as purposeful as can be in every area of the school for every child, we need to have a shared understanding of what we want children to learn and the small steps that they can make in order to make sustained and meaningful progress.
As a response to the Rochford Review we have developed a bespoke assessment package to match our bespoke curriculum and pathway structure. Many of our children make incremental progress and we want our assessment system to capture these small steps in learning as well as provide a way for us to set appropriately challenging targets which are child centred and ipsative. Where children are learning more slowly, it becomes particularly important for parents, teachers and learners themselves to be able to recognise and celebrate progress.
To more accurately assess the Areas of Learning within our new curriculum, we revised and expanded jigsaw assessments to create OPAL (Oaklands Pathway Assessment for Learning) drawing on sources such as the AET framework, the EYFS development profile and the new Pre-Key Stage Standards.
Working closely with parents, we wanted to be able to better identify what these small steps were, so that we could track them and work towards shared aims with challenging yet achievable outcomes. Some of the key areas that parents felt were key elements for their child’s independent living were:
Dressing and Undressing
Eating and Feeding
Toileting and Hygiene
These areas were all included in the outcomes our parents had told us, through parent’s evenings and EHCP meetings, they felt were critical for preparing their children for the future. Some of these small steps, such as within the Emotional Understanding statements, were also necessary building blocks to develop other, more formal learning skills.
OPAL statements are linked to the six areas of learning and are important indicators of where children are in their learning. Knowing where they are providing pointers for the next steps in learning and so provides the basis for setting targets and for describing and measuring progress.
All pupils have an individual assessment folder that includes observational evidence and reports towards their long term outcomes as decided upon at their EHCP review as well as on going progress towards their OPAL statements. These can not only be updated by class teachers but by all adults working with the child and therefore allows for a well-rounded view and ensures that there is a clear understanding of learning across the whole staff team. The folders also contain school reports, progress with behaviour and wider achievements giving a full picture of each child’s journey at Oaklands.
Assessment data is tracked using SOLAR (online platform) that can be accessed by all teachers.