Exemplary Practice: Why this special school is PROUD of its pupil voice

with Mary Isherwood OBE, Headteacher Camberwell Park Specialist Support School, Moston, Manchester

Exemplary Practice: Why this special school is PROUD of its pupil voice

There's so much bad, stressful or just plain fake news around to drive us all crazy, it's way past time to shine some light on something good. So today, we have another article on fantastic schools. It's my hope that by showcasing the great work that schools do, others will be inspired to take up their ideas or, if you're in a school already doing great work, you might want to share it with everyone on SNJ. If you're a teacher or parent at a school doing great work, let me know and we will shout about it!

Today, we visit headteacher Mary Isherwood OBE, of Camberwell Park Specialist Support School, in Moston, North-West Manchester. In 2018, Ofsted described it as "...a school full of smiles and laughter". It scored an "Outstanding" rating with Ms Isherwood being told, "You are a dynamic school leader with high expectations, who leads by example. There is a strong sense of school improvement never standing still in your school."...Everyone in the school lives up to your school acronym, ‘PROUD’, by being ‘Passionate’, ‘Respectful’, ‘Organised’, ‘Understanding’ and ‘Dedicated’.

Praise indeed! But what makes this special primary school so.. well, special? Mary Isherwood is on SNJ today to explain all...

Pupil Voice
A boy is choosing the things that make him happy for his pupil voice
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Why the pupil voice is paramount at Camberwell Park School by Mary Isherwood

With a strong ethos where children are at the heart of everything we do at Camberwell Park School, attention to pupil voice has always been a golden thread to our policies, procedures and day-to-day life.

For us, 'pupil voice' is about giving our pupils the opportunities to share their views, their feelings and their learning, and be enabled to communicate them, whether that be by spoken word, signing, symbols, gesture, AAC or combination of any of these. At the root of all of this, to ensure pupil voice is relevant and meaningful, are strong relationships with our staff. We get to know our pupils really well so we can understand how they best learn, how they can best communicate and how best to facilitate opportunities to share their news, views, and feelings. 

Along with the majority of schools, we have a school council, which includes a representative from all classes across the school. The agendas are varied – the most recent example being the pupils choosing the names for our new building as part of the school expansion. But it has also included school dinner decisions, fundraising, planning and input into the content of the pupil voice booklets shared as part of the EHCP annual review process. 

Mary Isherwood OBE
Mary Isherwood OBE, headteacher, Camberwell Park School

The pupil voice booklet

Pupils all complete their own pupil voice booklet for annual reviews with familiar staff in the classroom and then attend and present them at the meeting. The outcomes from the EHCP are converted into ‘my learning targets’ which are presented as pupil-friendly working documents in the classroom, ensuring the pupils are actively engaged in their own targets on a day-to-day basis. Self-evaluation strategies at the end of lessons enable the children to reflect on their learning, as appropriate to their age and stage of development. 

Understanding and supporting our pupil’s mental health is embedded into school practice including access to ‘feelings boards’ in the classroom. There are also open discussions about feelings as part of circle times, work on social and emotional aspects of learning and as part of the PSHE curriculum.

It's important our pupils feel confident and able to share how they feel at incidental times during the day so that in the context of safeguarding, they have the language to share when they do not feel safe. Hearing the voice of our pupils within the safeguarding arena, including their meaningful voice as part of the Looked After Children (LAC)/ PEP process in an area we believe is essential, as we know our pupils have an increased vulnerability to abuse. 

self-assessment symbols
Self-assessment symbols

Seven stages of pupil voice

Including all of our diverse school population when in the pupil voice is essential to us. To this end, we developed our own ‘Seven Stages of Pupil Voice’ to support our pupils in the involvement and evaluation of their own learning. 

  • Stage 1 – Adult to notice child’s reaction to activity/ experience and give the child the language to describe this
  • Stage 2 – Child to eye point to demonstrate choice
  • Stage 3 - Child to reach towards or touch object/ symbol/ switch to indicate choice
  • Stage 4 – Child to independently indicate choice by grasping and moving object/ using voice/ signing / symbols
  • Stage 5 – Child to say what they have done well, or need to try harder with, using AAC as needed
  • Stage 6 – Child to say what they could do next time to improve using AAC as needed
  • Stage 7 – Child to comment on their peers’ achievements using AAC as needed

We are a Unicef Rights Respecting School and fully support the pupils’ access to all of the articles in the UNCRC, and their awareness, understanding, and empathy towards the plight of others in the world. Having trained our staff in Philosophy for Children enables us to have discussions about ethical/moral decisions, where our pupils are able to.

In addition, we include our pupils in learning walks around the school alongside staff and governors, so they can spot and comment on our thematic school evaluation of issues like our spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC) provision across the school.

child-friendly MLT copying
child-friendly Learning targets
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Empowering pupils to be PROUD

Pupil involvement in their own class rules, help them to understand how to support others in their learning by not distracting them, for example. 'Pupil choice' boards in class, whether as part of a lesson or for a ‘golden time’ reward, help our children to use their leisure time purposefully.

As a school, we have an agreed set of professional behaviours for staff, which permeate our policies and procedures. This is to be Passionate, Respectful, Organised, Understanding and Dedicated.

We are Passionate about giving our pupils a voice, Respectful about the different ways children are able to communicate, Organised in our systems to facilitate communication, Understand the need to know our pupils well in ensuring pupil voice is meaningful and relevant, and Dedicated to making sure that the pupils are their needs always remain at the heart of ensuring Camberwell Park is a school to be PROUD of. 

Mary Isherwood OBE, Headteacher, Camberwell Park School, Twitter: @Mishwood1 / @CamberwellPark

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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.
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