Leading Engagement – Brandon Mills, Head Teacher, Brookfields School, Reading.

 

“Engagement is the single best predictor of successful learning for children with learning disabilities” (Iovannone et al., 2003).

 

Without engagement, there is no deep learning (Hargreaves, 2006), effective teaching, meaningful outcome, real attainment or quality progress” (Carpenter, 2010).

 

The curriculum of any school needs to be ‘fit for purpose’ and rooted in the vision and values of that school. Developing a meaningful, broad, balanced and relevant curriculum for young people with a range of learning difficulties can provide challenges but, more importantly, opportunities.

 

Curriculum development and associated assessment needs to be led with vision and a deep understanding of what is important for the education of pupils with learning difficulties so that they can achieve their dreams and ambitions and are able to make safe and informed choices as young adults.

 

The debate about the relevance of the National Curriculum and P Levels, together with the new freedoms to design our own curriculum, brings many opportunities. It also forces the leader of the school to make brave decisions based on informed judgments about what to ‘keep’ and what to change and develop.

 

Brookfields School played a role in the development of the Engagement Profile and Scale (Carpenter et al 2011) and, since that time, has continued to develop its use across the school. The team at Brookfields School is creative in their thinking – thinking which is based in sound research and practice. We have developed a flexible and personalised curriculum and use a range of assessment tools which focuses on holistic development and emphasises ‘Deep Learning’ by responding to each pupil’s starting point and style of engagement.

 

An example of this is our approach and curriculum that is based on ‘The DIR (Developmental, Individual- Difference, Relationship-Based) Approach to Assessment and Intervention Planning’ (Wieder and Greenspan, 2001) and REACh (Relationship Education for the Autistic Child), developed by Catherine Bernie at Brookfields School.

 

The child centred REACh approach and curriculum is based on the fundamental principle of engagement with the child. It starts with careful observation and assessment of the child, where time is taken to share space with them, engaging them at their level. Through engagement and the subsequent development of a relationship within which the child feels a confident participant, learning begins.

 

Our Early Years team have been working with the Engagement Profile and Scale for a number of years now. The team led by the creator of REACh, Catherine Bernie, and our Head of Early Years, Josh Connick, have developed a curriculum and assessment scheme which incorporates the Engagement Profile and Scale and REACh. Built on the fundamental principle of engagement, the curriculum is focused on developing the skills needed to engage, learn, communicate and be independent. It is designed around the seven areas of engagement whilst incorporating the key areas of development within the Early Years Foundation Stage. The team have created content with which to more effectively engage pupils and address their needs. Our curriculum is delivered through nine themed modules and a variety of personalised approaches, primarily: play, exploration, REACh and Intensive Interaction.

 

All pupils have a Personalised Learning Plan, linking their outcomes identified in their Education, Care and Health Plans by them, their family and Educational Team, and their supporting IEPs, which forms a ‘golden thread’ that runs through all their learning experiences. The planning cycle is designed to:

 

  • Identify barriers to learning
  • Provide a targeted intervention
  • Measure and review impact.

 

Pupils will develop and demonstrate competency across these areas by progressing through ‘five layers’. These layers of competency are based on the application of skills in relation to:

 

  • Self
  • Environment
  • Adults
  • Peers
  • Interpersonal.

 

Our vision is that the curriculum will nurture and develop true engagement and thus facilitate the development of a deeper experience of the early fundamentals of communication and interaction – in a nutshell, ‘engagement with ambition’.