Strategies to support vulnerable children

Written by: HTU | Published:

Faced with a large proportion of both Pupil Premium children and pupils who have SEN and disabilities, Harbour Primary and Nursery School has used a range of strategies – not least parental engagement – to meet these children’s needs.

Harbour Primary and Nursery School is a 516-pupil school in the coastal town of Newhaven, East Sussex. It was formed from the merger of Grays Infant School and Southdown Junior School in January 2013.

Newhaven is a town with challenges. There is a significant amount of social housing in the town and several of Harbour’s families are homeless and live in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation. 

Headteacher Christine Terrey and her staff have been motivated by a strong desire to support the achievement of all children, particularly those with SEN and/or disabilities (SEND).

Just over 14 per cent of Harbour’s pupils are classified School Action (the national average is 9.7 per cent) and 18.4 per cent are School Action Plus or with a SEND statement (the national average is less than eight per cent).

The school also has a higher proportion of children attracting Pupil Premium funding – 36.6 per cent compared to the national average of 26.7 per cent. Over half of the children at Harbour Primary children who attract Pupil Premium funding have the “double whammy” of also being on the SEND register.

Ms Terrey explained: “We know that there is a significantly vulnerable group in our school and we need to be sure that we are doing everything we can to improve outcomes for these children. They appear to have the odds against them in many ways, so they need everything to go right for them at school. They need the highest quality teaching and support that is possible. And their parents need a lot of support as well.”

The school has engaged with the Achievement for All programme to help them focus on these children. 

Ms Terrey continued: “The programme focuses on four different areas of school life – leadership, teaching and learning, parent and carer engagement and “wider outcomes”, which includes behaviour and attendance – and all have had a significant impact.

“We have had a very big focus on parental engagement. Many of our parents went to special schools themselves and have SEND and even more have had negative experiences of school themselves, and we have had to change that around. 

“They need a positive experience of our school in order to aspire for their children and support them to achieve well. We needed to get the parents fully understanding the process of learning, so they could better support their children’s learning.”

Structured conversations – focused, managed conversations between teachers and parents designed to help parents effectively support their children and enhance their chances of success – have played a major role in winning parents over. 

As the meetings are led by parents, the school develops a much fuller picture of the family’s situation. The school can identify any issues at home that might be affecting a child’s attainment at school, work with parents on getting support and advice, and agree targets for the child. At Harbour Primary some of these structured conversations take place in the home, to ensure that even the hardest to reach parents have access to this important time.

The success of structured conversations has had a big impact on the way the school works with every parent, Ms Terrey added. The school has extended parent consultations with all parents and all now include a “partnership goal” for children devised by school and parents – for children who do not have SEND as well as those that do. The school uses technology to share the learning towards these goals, through e-portfolios.

The school has also re-evaluated how it uses pupil data. The focus is now on rigorous scrutiny of data to determine how interventions affect pupil attainment and other measures. All staff are now equipped with iPads with an app that gives them instant access to data on individual children’s achievement, attendance and behaviour.

“We have to know the impact of our interventions,” Ms Terrey said. “If a child has been through an intervention we want to see what impact this has had academically as well as on social and emotional needs. The belief is that if we can improve social and emotional skills then ultimately their attainment will improve as well.”

The impact has been significant and the school exceeds national averages for all of its SEN children. According to the school’s latest RaiseOnline data at key stage 1 School Action and School Action Plus, the APS (average points scores) were 13.4 and 11.7. The national averages are 12.6 and 7.3 respectively. At key stage 2, APS was 25.7 for School Action and 24 for School Action Plus. The national averages are 25.2 and 23.7. Attendance has also increased since the school adopted the programme.

Ms Terrey says the story of one year 1 pupil shows the positive role Achievement for All is playing. The girl was identified by the class teacher as displaying high levels of anxiety and was unable to concentrate and settle to tasks. Both the teacher and senior leadership team could see she had made little academic progress during the summer 2013. Social services contacted Harbour to explain that her mother had recently attempted suicide, and that her dad was caring for her.

The school held a structured conversation with both mum and dad and it was agreed that the girl would join the school’s nurture facility for five mornings and two afternoons a week. This provision has one teacher and one teaching assistant leading a group of seven key stage 1 children.

The intervention had a major impact, with the parents writing to the school to express their thanks. They said: “(Our daughter) now comes out of school so happy that she is jumping and skipping around, just like her old self. We wonder if (she) has been suffering from childhood depression because severe depressive disorder runs strongly in our family as we told you in our parents meeting. We think the small group and slower approach has made a huge difference and you have cured her!”

The school compared data for her reading, writing and maths attainment since the intervention which has shown that she is making accelerated progress. The child will now be integrated back into her class over the next two terms.

The success of the programme at Harbour is down to it being driven by an ethos very similar to that adopted by the school, Ms Terrey continued. “All children matter – that’s the most important thing of all. We want our children and their parents to aspire and achieve to their full potential.”

  • Nick Bannister is a freelance education consultant and writer.

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