New book by specialist at a Sussex charity is having a national impact

A Sussex charity that supports children and young adults with complex physical disabilities is leading the way nationally with its teaching

Groundbeaking work at Chailey Heritage School in Mid Sussex is being put into practice following the publication of a new book by Julie Tilbury - the charity’s Lead for Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities.

It is entitled ‘Enhancing Wellbeing and Independence for Young People with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities’ and explains in detail how Chailey Heritage School enhances the wellbeing and independence for young people with its personal curriculum, now more than six years in the making.

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Julie said “When given an opportunity to co-author the book with university colleague, Andrew Colley, Chailey Heritage head Simon Yates and I jumped at the chance. It is based on Andrew’s successful research into how teachers enhance the well-being and independence of students with PMLD across the world.”

Julie Tilbury from Chailey Heritage SUS-211115-150358001

Simon said: “Back in 2014, after an OFSTED inspection, which was largely based on providing nonsensical comparative data, we decided to throw all that out and work on a curriculum designed around each child.

“Something amazing and incredibly effective emerged from that challenge - so much so that we have been recognised for the different way we approach what we do.

“And when OFSTED returned in 2019, it said our Curriculum was ‘Outstanding’, but, much more importantly, we knew that our new curriculum was fundamental in supporting these pupils and their families to live their best lives. Now - with the new book - we can help other specialist schools achieve the same.

“Not all the young people at Chailey Heritage School have profound and multiple learning difficulties and the challenge was to find a curriculum that would encompass the learning needs of everyone.

Chailey Heritage book SUS-211115-150347001

“What our children have in common is that they have a physical disability and complex medical needs and a large number also have sensory difficulties. However, their cognitive abilities range from those with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) to those whose other difficulties make it more difficult to learn but do not have a learning difficulty.”

Julie has taught at Chailey Heritage School for 14 years and says teaching the National Curriculum is simply not an option for its children and young people, all who have complex physical disabilities.

She says it does not take into account the individual challenges each of the young people have and the fact that they have to spend time doing things their mainstream peers do not have to do. However, they still have a right to a first-class education which support them to live their best lives. They also have the right to teachers and support staff who can understand and support them to learn.

Julie said: “Our approach involves developing a personal curriculum around each individual pupil, taking into account their motivations, challenges and learning needs. “We take time to understand what excites each of our pupils and what will stimulate. We get to know them first and then we personalise what they are taught.

“Each of our classes has between six and eight pupils, and it is the teacher’s role to get to know and understand each young person and to devise activities through which the young people can work on their own ‘next steps’ in learning. We also work closely with the families and residential teams so that work can continue at home.”

Key aspects are sensory, engagement and concentration, communication, social wellbeing, access to technology, physical activities and powered mobility. From those key areas, individual learning profiles are created which incorporates next steps of learning, this is their own curriculum.

The teachers’ own learning is also a focus and they are encouraged to develop their expertise through study and research. That pedagogical knowledge gained underpins the effectiveness of the school’s curriculum.

One of the pupils to benefit from the approach is seven year old Bertie, who has complex physical disabilities.

Julie says Bertie is an example of how this approach benefits pupils at Chailey Heritage. “He is seven. He can’t talk or move. He remains still in his wheelchair and has a visual impairment, yet he is funny, cheeky, caring and loves being in charge, he expresses himself effectively in a sophisticated and inventive manner by eye pointing and using an auditory CCS (Chailey Communication System) book.

“We explored his interests which motivate him and improve his quality of life. He loves Harry Potter and David Attenborough, so some of our learning for Bertie revolves around them both. We know that by having a Space Day or a Harry Potter day, he will enjoy it, be motivated and, most importantly learn.

“He absolutely loves to be useful and helpful, and we do whatever we can to make sure that he can feel that way. When I leave the classroom, I put him in charge. Small specific personal steps are vital to people like Bertie.”

Julie added: “OFSTED invited us to be innovative, and that is exactly what we have done. I relish a robust OFSTED inspection and we proved ourselves and we are all really proud.

“Over the years, we have shared this approach with many other special schools, some who were still teaching the National Curriculum.

“Everything we do centres on politeness, dignity and respect. We need - when possible - to give our young people the opportunity to do things other young children can do. They have a right to be able to communicate in whichever way they can and be physically active, as well as much, much more.

“Pushing boundaries is really important. Being very proactive is key as well. Teachers have a real impact on all children and we must never forget that.”

The book launched on 9 November at Chailey Heritage School with many professionals attending virually from all around the world. The book can now be purchased via Routledge or from Amazon.