BBC Radio Shropshire has featured our Access School staff as local heroes who make a difference.
Learning Support Assistant Laura Watton nominated the whole team for the ‘fabulous job they do’, prompting BBC’s Genevieve Tudor to pay us a visit.
During the visit, Genevieve toured Access School’s wonderful therapeutic learning environment and interviewed staff and pupils.
Access School is an SEN provision in the heartlands of rural Shropshire, where children are supported to be the best they can be.
Many of the pupils have not experienced education as they should, often coming from mainstream provisions which have not met their needs. The school and staff are fully committed to transforming these children’s relationship with education.
Speaking about their work, Laura Watton said:
“We have 30 children here at Access School. Before they come here these children are used to up to 30 or more in a class. Here class sizes are much smaller with four to five in a class with a couple of adults. There are so many barriers to their learning, part of our job is breaking down those barriers and helping them access it”.
The children attending Access are usually being looked after in Shropshire or surrounding areas.
Although some children are at home with their families, most attend residential children’s homes or are in foster care.
“Some of our children are neurologically different to other people and have not had their needs met in a mainstream school. They need someone to stick with them and stick by them through their journey of education”.
Laura Watton, Learning Support Assistant (LSA)
Special Educational Needs (SEN)
During lockdown, many parents and carers have found that teaching children can be a challenge. Teaching children who don’t quite fit into mainstream education can sometimes be a little more difficult.
SEN schools are there to support these children.
Through discussion with a local authorities’ Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), young people can secure a school placement in an SEN provision.
Special education needs can affect a child’s ability to learn, including their:
- Behaviour or ability to socialise with others, particularly with peers
- Reading and writing
- Ability to understand things and communicate
- Concentration levels
- Physical abilities
Most children attending Access School have an education, health and care (EHC) plan.
An EHC plan is a legal document describing a young person’s special educational, health and social care needs. It explains the extra help that will be given to meet those needs, and how that will support the child or young person to achieve what they want to in their life.
Most of our pupils have high anxiety which makes following strict rules or sitting in a classroom for long periods of time quite challenging. Using therapeutic strategies with realistic boundaries supports our pupils to become more engaged with their education.
By attending a therapeutic learning environment like Access, with our resilient amazing staff, these children can shine.
“Some of their big and scary feelings come out in big and scary behaviour, and there’s not a lot of people resilient enough to stick with them. It’s a big ask for children who come in full of anxiety before they even get here in the morning; asking them to sit down and learn English, Math’s and Science, it’s huge. You need to be resilient to sit by them and encourage them day in day out, and the staff team here at Access do that really really well.”
Laura Watton, LSA
Therapeutic Learning Environment
Access School boasts a range of therapeutic tools to help children with their education and life development.
Within the grounds is a separate therapy village, which is a non-education space. There is a reflection room where children can relax, unwind, or express their frustrations, and a therapy pod. There is also an office room here for our on-site therapist.
Upon entering the therapy village are two flower beds which the children take pride in maintaining.
The school was previously a working farm and the land is expansive, with lots of green space.
Growing on the land we have pumpkins (recently harvested for Halloween!), carrots, marigolds, and tomato plants which have just been harvested and turned into delicious chutneys.
“Land use is really helpful for our children because they are getting to use their muscles” says Mrs Bishton. “It’s worth remembering that all the gardening done here is done with the children. We have no external time to make it beautiful, what you see is what they’ve grown”.
Sophie Bishton is our in-house Alan Titchmarsh who oversees the gardening greatness. Autumn flowers have just been planted, and we also grow cucumbers for our Giant African Land Snail.
Animals can have a calming, soothing effect on children. Our giant snail is accompanied by nine chickens, often seen freely roaming the school grounds. The effect one chicken can have when the children are angry or upset is remarkable.
“Sometimes when our children are not able to sit in the classroom, they might leave the classroom and very often you’ll find them sitting on a chair by the chickens with a chicken on their knee, just stroking a chicken. And how helpful that is in helping them regulate and calm down is phenomenal.”
Laura Watton, LSA
What next for Access?
The team don’t stand still at Access School. They are talking about getting some guinea pigs soon and perhaps even a few bunny rabbits. The animals’ therapeutic calming effect on the children is amazing, and hugely beneficial for their learning.
Those who visit Access School often say it doesn’t feel like a school. As Head Teacher Sarah Earing puts it, “we don’t want it to feel like a school!”
Sarah has been with Family Care for 10 years and Head Teacher at Access School for 5 years. She is also Head Teacher at our Macclesfield SEN provision, Eden School.
“I’m very lucky that I’ve got the best team in the world. They have been phenomenal throughout Covid as we have stayed opened throughout the whole thing. This has been really important for our young people who have been able to continue attending school when many children across the country have not been so lucky”.
Sarah is soon taking up the post of Head of Education for Family Care. Our education services are set to expand with the addition of a new school in Telford, which Sarah has been instrumental in.
The new school in Telford will allow us to help more young people be the best they can be.
Katie, a pupil at Access School in Shropshire was asked what the school is like: “It’s a lot more chilled, teachers are a lot more supportive. They understand you go through a lot and if you need time out you can have it. You can succeed here as well, it’s very academic but you still have that time”.
Listen to the audio clip below to hear Sarah and some of the Access pupils talking to BBC Shropshire:
We always knew Access made an enormous difference to children’s lives and learning. After BBC’s visit, hopefully a few more people know. You can listen to all the clips from the week of features below.
“I think the staff team here at Access are all local heroes, the teachers, the learning support assistants, the managers…the way everyone comes together to do their very best for the children”
Laura Watton, LSA
Healing Pasts | Building Futures
BBC Radio Shropshire featured Access School from Monday 19th to Friday 23rd October. See below for audio clips from each feature.
Monday 19th October
Tuesday 20th October
Wednesday 21st October
Thursday 22nd October
Friday 23rd October