Case study: Meeting complex SEN

Written by: Headteacher Update | Published:

We continue our focus on the work of Nasen’s Outstanding Schools. This time, we visit special school Camberwell Park to find out about its collaborative approach, working with parents and external services to meet their pupils’ complex needs

Camberwell Park, a specialist support school based in north Manchester, was judged as "outstanding" by Ofsted in May 2010 and again in June 2013.

As part of the Nasen Outstanding Schools Project, Camberwell Park has also been highlighted as a school that provides unparalleled support for pupils with SEN.

Camberwell Park caters for 85 children with SEN who are aged between two and 11. Their "outstanding" status serves as a reflection of the school's mission statement: "All children are given the right to an outstanding education."

One of the most notable attitudes shared by the staff at Camberwell Park is their belief that they are all partners in pupils' education. The aim is for teachers and teaching assistants to work collaboratively and flexibly with parents, carers and multi-agency workers to ensure pupils' needs are considered and met.

Mary Isherwood, headteacher at Camberwell Park, explained: "Camberwell Park is a special school, and the children that come to this school have very complex needs.

"The thing that makes a difference in this school is the multi-agency working – that includes the parents and carers too. We need to involve a range of people, because while the staff here have an awful lot of knowledge, expertise and training, there are other agencies that have particular specialisms. Everybody works together and the pupils are at the heart of what we do."

Working in partnership: Blake's Story

Blake, who is in year 6, has profound and multiple learning difficulties and complex health needs. In school and at home, Blake is at the centre of a multi-agency team which supports his needs and enables him to achieve and make progress.

"Blake came to us when he was three-years-old, he is one of our children who has profound and multiple difficulties," explained Allison Taylor, the assistant headteacher. "Parents and carers are absolutely integral to children's development, particularly as children with needs as complex as Blake's are often at home more than they are at school. Parents are the people that know their children best in that context, so unless we're working collaboratively, we're not supporting them to achieve their potential."

This is something which Joy Selley, Blake's foster carer, views as integral to providing Blake with the best possible support. She said: "I have a good working relationship with staff at the school, we communicate in lots of different ways."

For Blake, any confusion between home and school can disrupt his learning, making a continual and open dialogue between the two an imperative part of his care.
Ms Selley continued: "We have a home-school diary so that if there's anything I want the school to know about, I can write it in his book and they'll check it, and vice-versa. Otherwise if it's something more urgent, the school will ring me."

Catering for physiological needs

The number of professionals involved with Blake has varied over time according to his needs. The school has a physiotherapist who comes in to work with students to ensure those children with physiological needs are cared for, as well as to help train the staff to more easily recognise and cater for those needs.

As Ms Selley explained: "The physiotherapist does different exercises with Blake at the school, but then she also comes to the home over the school holidays to help us. I know I can always call her if I need to."

Jean Turner, the paediatric physiotherapist who works with Blake, added: "I want to enable Blake to absolutely make the most out of his potential with what he can do physically and with his learning. His movement is very much dominated by his muscle tone, and the position we put him in his chair or on the floor is absolutely critical to ensure he is comfortable and able to work."

When putting him in his chair, Ms Turner and the other staff place his head in a mid-line position, which is vital as the moment his head goes beyond this, he goes into an extensor spasm. "The moment he does that, his arms fling back, he can't keep his hands together, he can't concentrate, and he just loses control."

The staff at Camberwell Park use a number of strategies to ensure Blake is kept as comfortable as possible to help keep him engaged in learning.

One such strategy is to accompany Blake in a swimming pool, which helps him to relax and encourage his head to get into a decent mid-line position. This helps his eyes to focus too, which are Blake's main way to communicate.

"We suspected that he was trying to use his eyes to speak with us," explained Amy Blinkhorn, Blake's class teacher. "He kept looking up for 'yes' and kept looking left for 'no'.
"At first we weren't sure, then he kept doing it really consistently. So we got an E-tran frame (see photograph) to enable him to communicate, make choices and tell us what he wants to do."

The staff at Camberwell Park are hoping that as Blake gets older and continues to use the E-tran frame, he will be able to communicate more about what he wants and why he wants it, in addition to letting others know if there's a problem.

"We get so much advice and help from the physiotherapists," Ms Blinkhorn continued. "Without them, I wouldn't know if I was doing the right thing for Blake in the classroom."

This external support is paramount to the school as it ensures that all the staff are able to provide their students with the best care at all times.

Ms Turner added: "Because I'm not there all the time, and I insist that the children are properly positioned 24 hours a day, the staff need to know how to use the equipment, how to maintain it, and when to change a pupil's physical position so that they don't become too stiff or uncomfortable."

Network of communication and support

Camberwell Park's aim is to work together with all teachers, non-teaching staff, parents and carers to achieve the best for each pupil. This includes the school nurse, as Ms Blinkhorn explained: "The school nurse is in and out all the time, she sorts out things like his medications. If there's a problem we can always get hold of her and get her help with any specific medical issues."

She added: "The nurses also give us advice on how to feed students who require assistance with eating. One nurse this year taught me how to tube feed."

The school has very clear procedures for bringing professionals together to establish how best to work for the benefit of the children.

"We have regular multi-agency meetings across the year where education, health and social care professionals get together," said Ms Taylor. "The meetings are very important. They help us get a holistic view of each individual child, and we can also share our view of what we know about them."

From speaking to the staff at Camberwell Park, it is clear that teamwork is at the core of their outstanding practice.

As Ms Isherwood said: "As a school, we recognise that we are that universal service, and as such we are responsible for making sure that everyone works together in a coordinated way. We work hard to maintain good relationships between all concerned parties, and everyone has clearly defined responsibilities within the school and for each child."

Ms Blinkhorn added: "There are a lot of people involved. I think the most important thing at Camberwell Park is the teamwork: everyone working collaboratively, everybody communicating, and everybody working together to do our best by the children."

Further information

Nasen is a professional association embracing all special and additional educational needs and disabilities. Its Outstanding Schools project seeks to identify, recognise and share the very best SEN practice. Visit

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