Exemplary Practice: Creating a positive future of meaningful work for young people with SEND

with Matt Silver, Head Teacher, Shaftesbury High School, Harrow

Exemplary Practice: Creating a positive future of meaningful work for young people with SEND

Recently I put out a call for positive stories of great practice in education, health and social care that we could share here. I'm hoping that by highlighting the great work that some are doing, we can influence and inspire other schools who want to improve how they help their SEND pupils.

It's one thing to call out bad or poor practice and report the things that are going wrong. But we need also to show the way forward. As part of the Whole School SEND/nasen Expert Reference Group on SEND Leadership, I have been working with a group of education leaders on Every Leader a Leader of SEND, including our own columnist, Hannah Maloney, to create a key resource for this. Another way for us to help is to showcase exemplary practice.

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Exemplary Practice in SEND: Shaftesbury High School, Harrow

So today we start the first of what I aim to be an ongoing series of "Exemplary Practice” in education, health and social care for children and young people with SEND. If you are part of such a team doing brilliant work in any of these disciplines, please get in touch

Matt Silver is the headteacher of Shaftesbury High School, a secondary for pupils with moderate learning difficulties in Harrow, North London. His school have developed an innovative #carvingpathways offer to find or create jobs for their young people that don't already exist.

They've also had some amazing success stories with their Deeper Learning, Deeper Living (PDF) curriculum. The school's 170 students have become agents of social change, with the reach is growing higher and wider across the globe. Matt summarises his doctorate research based on the key questions and theory behind the 21st Century Model for Learning that focuses on roles of social value and employment from Day One.

Creating a positive future of meaningful work for young people with SEND by Matt Silver

The first question I ask every time I run a curriculum workshop is ‘Why?’.

What is the purpose of learning for our young people? Can they see that purpose? Is the end goal clear? Does your own approach to learning align with it? Does the content? Is the development of the whole, individual child being considered and planned for? 

It is a question that is too often missed in education as teachers enter trying to survive, leaders are pressured to perform and time to pause and reflect on the bigger picture of the 21st century is a rare moment. Yet the opportunity that the new Ofsted framework has provided is to state your intent. Some time has to be given for alignment. 

At Shaftesbury High School we asked this question in 2017 and found the problem we now focus on fixing: Only 6% of young people with an Education, Health Care Plan go on to find employment in the UK. Should we concentrate purely on the roles of social value and independent living? We raised the bar and established the vision of #carvingpathways. If the job exists, let's prepare our students for it, if the job doesn’t exist, let's carve them into our communities. 

Self-Determination Theory

The community aspect resonated with my doctoral studies, which was researching why it is students are driven to engage and grow. The underlying principle of the rest of the curriculum offer and the leadership style is based on Deci and Ryan’s (2000) Self Determination Theory (SDT).

It looks to move learning towards intrinsic motivation, not carrot and stick rewards. SDT identifies three key components of humans’ basic psychological needs (often missed in our understanding of mental health) to fuel this drive:

  1. Relatedness
  2. Autonomy (choice)
  3. Competence

The relatedness component suggests that the more meaningful you can make something, the more a person is committed to it. This led to a clear cycle of each term focusing on a global issue or good cause that the projects would connect with because they had chosen and researched it. When they give back to it, they are giving to something greater than themselves and therefore being rewarded with a sense of self-value. A vital flip of typical expectation of young people with needs taking from their communities rather than giving. 

In Key Stage 4 and 5, students get to choose (autonomy) the project that they wish to study for the year, meaning they have 400 hours over the year (two hours every morning) to ‘master’ their subject as opposed to the typical 36 if they were rotating between the six Meaningful, Mastery Projects; Art, Performing Arts, Life Skills, Sport, Food Technology and Design Technology. This sees a significant shift in competence, with students excelling in their subject whilst creating a sense of identity from it (for example, sports students all having school tracksuits). 

Amazing successes

The first of our students broke the ceiling of preconceived expectation first, speaking to 20,000 people at Wembley Arena on WE Day about his mental health and autism, followed by meeting many celebrities afterwards (he was far calmer than the staff!).  He has gone on to address his depression and was successfully given a casting contract this year, whilst also training local authority staff on ASD and mental health.

One of the students with Prince Harry

To ensure our community, and in particular, our parents, were able to see our young people's ability, we embedded exhibition days into each term. The whole school gets to see each other’s work and learn from each other as to how to present it, what has been achieved and what network could support the projects. When the final exhibition was hosted as part of school led SEND Conference in Harrow, the network grew further, with the Camden Arts Centre and the London Chamber Orchestra being involved in this year’s curriculum offer. The students have also self-designed rubrics for Fullan’s 6C’s of the 21st century. They are responsible for training and self-marking of their own journey.

As can be seen in the table below, the staggering results of the commitment of our staff, students, parents and community from the first year alone has left us each fulfilled of collaboratively being part of something that is moving the goal posts for our young people and provides such a solid foundation of belief in continual growth.

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Summary of the Impact of the Deeper Learning, Deeper Living Curriculum at Shaftesbury 2018/19 #carvingpathways

#carvingpathways chart

The approach has enabled bi-directional networking by every leader in our school, which is everyone that belongs to it. This has led to a network with local businesses and projects, which see all of our sixth form on a weekly work experience placement, eight of whom are on the NHS Project SEARCH pre-internship at Northwick Park Hospital (see below) which is in preparation for Project SEARCH’s Internship following on from college. It has also generated half a million pounds of income over the past two years.

The school has seen the collective power of individual empowerment and intrinsic motivation, ceilings have been removed and the whole school now seeks continual growth. One of our LSA’s is now running VR across the curriculum. One of our students has become an ambassador for London Youth Advisory Board. But next comes the final step in the curriculum, our post-19 entrepreneur program.

We are now working with an education company to pilot a social enterprise company training program that combines the growth of a more secure route into employment (focusing on becoming a barista, cleaner and food preparation), with building their own mini company that grows out of the company over time.

I look forward to writing another piece in a year’s time letting you know how this has gone. Please contact Shaftesbury High School if you want to see this in action, seek our expertise into developing your own provision or contribute to #carvingpathways in whatever medium you have to offer. We welcome collaborative partners locally, nationally and globally! Anything is possible if you have the passion for it.

Has your school got some amazing SEND practice to shout about? Let us know!

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two young adults with autism. Tania is a member of the Whole School SEND Expert Reference Group for SEND Leadership, the Ofsted SEND Inspections Stakeholders Group, and sits on the Advisory Board of the Royal Holloway, University of London Centre of Gene and Cell Therapy.
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
Tania Tirraoro
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