As the academic year draws to a close, we caught up with Venturers’ Academy to hear about their school journey. Part of the Venturers’ Trust, the Venturers’ Academy is a special free school in Bristol, which caters for pupils aged 4-19 who have a primary diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition. The school opened in September 2016 and has been rated Good by Ofsted.
Since opening, the school has been shortlisted for The Times Education Alternative Provision of the Year award, has been recognised as a centre of expertise by the National Autistic Society and has received multiple awards on mental health and wellbeing.
School mission and pedagogy
The school’s Executive Lead, Trystan Williams, spoke to us about the school’s personalised curriculum, tailored approach and use of student and parent/carer feedback to adapt practices. When the school opened in 2016, a Five Year Plan was developed to meet the mission statement of the school: ‘Where Everything’s Possible’. The purpose of this plan has been to provide an ambitious and achievable framework which ensures that all pupils achieved more than they ever thought possible.
Trystan also highlighted the multi-disciplinary approach of the school. He recognised that, as an educationalist, he would not always know all the answers and this is why he champions co-construction with colleagues and disciplines. As such, the school employs specialist teachers, specialist support staff, clinical leads in speech and language, occupational therapy, psychotherapy and mental health. Additionally, the school also utilises:
- Theme days, trips and opportunities;
- Therapy animals – the school has chickens and a therapy dog with his own school “uniform”;
- Staff members - ensuring staff ratios allow every child’s voice to be heard;
- Visible leadership – during the COVID-19 outbreak, Trystan has made regular appearances in virtual lessons to remain visible to pupils.
Trystan shared his strategic priorities, from a leadership perspective, for the school. They include:
- Improving outcomes for pupils and ensuring all schools are rated at least Good by Ofsted;
- Building a financially sustainable model. The school has a healthy budget and has grown to three sites across the City of Bristol, with further expansion being planned;
- Ensuring that the ‘Heads of Schools’ can focus on school improvement;
- Continuing to be an excellent employer. The school utilises surveys, regular feedback, and capturing the voice of colleagues to ensure that all needs are being met;
- Developing their Teaching Hub and observing best practice.
Trystan emphasised that education is a profession built on relationships and educators must focus on those relationships. Research shows that through positive relationships, adults can have an influence on how the neurological pathways develop in a child’s brain, making it even more important to engage in this work.
Finally, Trystan highlighted that the school needs a maturing culture of inclusivity which depends on consistent improvement. He stated that if an education system is to work, it should be based on what that system is doing for the most complex, vulnerable and deprived pupils.
He closed the session with some questions: The medical world has changed enormously in the last 100 years but how much has education changed? What will be your legacy and what are you doing now to address inequality?
A massive thank you to Trystan for his time – if you would like to watch the spotlight, you can find it on our Youtube channel.
NSN is always on the lookout for free schools to share their journey with others. If you have been open for more than three years, have a Good or Outstanding Ofsted rating and are interested in sharing best practice, then we would love to hear from you – please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep an eye on our events page for details of more virtual Spotlight events in the future.