As schools prepare to wind down for the much-deserved Christmas break, we caught up with The Mendip School to hear how the curriculum has been tailored to meet the needs of pupils.

Part of The Bath and Mendip Partnership Trust, The Mendip School is an all-through special school catering for pupils aged 4-19 with a primary diagnosis of autism (ASD) and speech language and communication needs. The school works with a range of external professionals to identify the needs of each child, and adapts support accordingly. In 2018, Ofsted reported that the school’s ‘rich curriculum provides a relevant, interesting learning diet that weaves in therapy and real-life experiences’.

The school’s Head, Natalie Hanna, kicked-off the Spotlight by outlining the journey of the school so far. After opening in 2015 with 18 pupils and 11 teaching staff, the school took full advantage of developing a curriculum from scratch. To do this, four areas were prioritised:

  1. An adaptable framework to identify gaps in learning and next steps.
  2. Holistic elements – material to make children feel happy in school.
  3. Core skills.
  4. Non-negotiables – structures, predictability, visuals, staff knowledge and skills.

The gradual growth of pupil numbers has helped to embed the curriculum into the school. Learning profiles, which factor in the circumstances of pupils, ensure that every lesson is catered to the needs of the individual. Natalie encourages the use of computer software to support education, as she believes programmes lead to evidence based learning where teachers can continually assess, review and plan how to deliver an education which aligns to the needs of pupils. She mentioned ‘Class Notebook’ as an essential app the school uses to plan and develop tasks for each child.

As the Spotlight progressed, Natalie discussed adopting schemes of work to enable teachers to look at learning objectives and work successfully towards achieving them. Models from Sweden inspire coaching and learning, within a schemes of work blueprint. Relationships with organisations such as Thrive, Autism Education Trust, and Sounds-Write Phonic, have given the school access to expert advice on how to promote creativity.

Five years since the school was established, there have been some fantastic ideas to promote pupil development at The Mendip School.

  • The school has adopted four dogs and pupils have responded well to animals in school.
  • Reward time, in which most pupils choose to play together, has been an initiative pupils are keen to continue as they progress through the school.
  • Devices have been key! Pupils use their own laptops to support learning.
  • Speech and language are integral to everything that is done, including social skills and developing vocabulary specific to autism or individual needs.

The close-knit atmosphere of the school was evident during this virtual Spotlight visit – it is clear why the school reached full capacity just three years after opening. NSN extends its gratitude to The Mendip School for opening its (virtual) doors and sharing the school’s experience.

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The Mendip School dogs from left to right Chica, Heidi, Millie and Luna

NSN is always on the lookout for fantastic free schools to share their journey with others. If you have been open for more than three years, have a Good or Outstanding Ofsted and are interested in sharing best practice, then our Events Team would love to hear from you – contact events@newschoolsnetwork.org. Keep an eye on our events page for details of more virtual Spotlight events in the future. 

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