Please also read the article from the local press Plymouth Herald
Almond Vocational Link had a pleasure of organising one week training course in the area of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. Our group of teachers and professionals from Lithuania were interested in finding out more about the SEND provision and support here in Plymouth. The training was funded by European Union’s Erasmus Plus programme under Key Action 1 Mobility Training for Teachers and Professionals. We are delighted to have been able to involve some of Plymouth’s top education providers and speak to many professionals to gain understanding of the support available for young people with Additional Needs and Disabilities . We looked at mainstream and specialist settings and focused on learners aged 15 -18+ and their transition from Secondary School education into Further Education and University.
The teachers were greeted in Plymouth by Almond Vocational Link staff and escorted to their Bed and Breakfast which was arranged by us prior to arrival. We invited the group to an organisational meeting on the following day to officially welcome them in Plymouth, discuss the proposed program and treat to a tour of the waterfront, historic Barbican and city centre.
Disability Awareness Training
We had a great pleasure of working together with a Plymouth awareness group – Campaign For Disability Awareness Lessons ( CFDAL ) who delivered an exceptional Disability Awareness training for our group. The group founder- Sharon Tiday strongly believes that educating students and professionals in the field of disabilities and additional needs is the best method to spread awareness and create healthy environments for students to thrive in, free from unnecessary judgement, bullying and discrimination. The 2 hour training session was delivered by Sharon herself, Mrs Mandy Jones – project manager and Mr Gary Jones – charity secretary. During the training, our project partners had a chance to hear the moving story of a young girl’s battle with ME and listen to a truly inspirational talk about how various disabilities affect young people and their families. The second part of training was a hands on experience. CFDAL provided the group with a vast range of props, from specialised glasses to wrist blocks, all to simulate as closely as possible what can it physically feel like to have a disability. The teachers were encouraged try the equipment on and join in with simple tasks like completing a puzzle, writing their name, reading text, engaging in play and social activities. This was a truly eye-opening experience and it was particularly interesting to see the support workers trying to replicate the difficulties of the students they deal with personally, to gain more understanding of their student’s struggles.
Understanding British Educational System and SEND provision
In the afternoon, the Lithuanian teachers listened to a 2 hour presentation on British educational system and SEND provision in Plymouth delivered by Almond Vocational Link’s Kamila Bielawska. Kamila presented a comprehensive overview of British schooling system from Key Stage 0 to Further Education and University. The group learnt about organisations that can support schools with their SEN provision, role of SENCO and Educational Psychologist, heard about Education Health and Care Plan and advice provided by Local Authorities, support for SEND students and their families. We explored the differences and similarities in both Lithuanian and British systems with view to establish best practice at the end of the one week’s training. This session’s purpose was to lay a foundation to scheduled visits, explain some of the terminology and abbreviations used, and give an overall idea of the educational journey of pupil with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
Visit to Cornwall College
On day three we arranged a visit at the Cornwall College in Saltash, the first FE College to have Autism Champions programme. ‘Autism Champions’ is a new intervention that the Autism Spectrum Team (AST) from Cornwall County Council have developed. Cornwall College provide excellent facilities to support learners with various disabilities such as physical or sensory impairments, dyslexia,medical conditions, mental health difficulties, learning difficulties. Upon arrival we were greeted with traditional Cornish Cream Tea. The scones were made fresh by the students in Cornwall College’s training kitchen, and may I add they were absolutely delicious! Once sat down, the students served our tea and talked to the guests. Mr Chris Penk spoke to us about the facilities and the way Cornwall College supports their students through various strategies and use of a Foundation Unit for those who need a little extra time and preparation before they then join the mainstream course in chosen vocation.
We started our tour with a visit to their state-of-the-art training kitchen where some of the students were completing their final all day exam with end result being a delicious 5 course meal. Once a week on Tuesdays, students transform the canteen into a restaurant and wow their guests by providing an exciting culinary experience under a watchful eye of the staff. This is a wonderful opportunity, especially for SEND students, who can prepare themselves for future careers and the challenges they might face when working in a busy kitchen. Afterwards we were shown to the above Foundation Unit, where learners with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities can spend up to 3 years preparing to join the mainstream course. Mr Penk explained to us that during their time there, they continue to practice their Maths and English skills, learn valuable life skills, increase their employability potential and work on any challenges they might face when starting a mainstream course. We had a chance to speak to some of the students who were very keen to tell us about their plans for future. Later, Mr Penk showed us to the Foundation kitchen which is set up as a regular domestic kitchen, complete with washing machines and typical domestic equipment and appliances. This space is used to practice life skills and to prepare catering students before going into a professional kitchen downstairs. We also had a chance to see the space fully equipped to train students in Hair and Beauty and other facilities provided to the students here. We would like to thank Cornwall College for their amazing hospitality and for giving up their precious time to speak to our partners about the way they adapt their courses for students with additional needs.
Visit to University of Saint Mark and Saint John (Marjon)
In the afternoon, we arrived at University of St Mark and St John to meet with members of their student support team. Marjon’s student support have been awarded the highly coveted Matrix Accreditation: a national quality standard for groups delivering help, support and guidance. And they’re the only team of this kind in the whole of Devon to gain Matrix-accredited status.
We met with Disability Adviser – Anne Lewis and Learning Mentor – Tory Adams who delivered a very comprehensive speech about the structure of Marjon’s student support, roles of individual staff within the team and how they all work together to provide a student centered approach and enable SEND learners to complete their dreams of gaining a degree and starting a professional career. We were told about the financial support available to SEND students and what sort of adaptations has the University provided in the past. We can confirm that the whole site is fully wheelchair accessible, there is disabled toilet access on every floor, fully adjustable desks are available, and students with hearing impairment are also very well supported. The University also makes suitable adjustments in the student halls should any learner with mobility issues or any medical needs choose to live on campus. SEND students have access to support from learning mentors, advisers, counselors and they can request a buddy to help them in day to day tasks and activities. All learning materials are available in a variety of formats to support all types of learners. After a very informative meeting and a busy questions and answer session, Anne kindly offered to also take us on a tour for the campus. We all felt incredibly inspired by some of their student’s success stories and felt that the support offered by Marjon is absolutely exceptional.
Visit to Brook Green Centre for Learning
On day four we visited Brook Green Centre for Learning which provides special provision for learners with moderate learning difficulties, autism, behavioral social and emotional difficulties. We met with Deputy Headteacher Sarah Holt and Head of Key Stage 3 Saskia Marchand-Smith who kindly allowed us to visit and learn about their approach towards SEND students. This Ofsted’s ‘Outstanding’ special school is set in a beautiful location close to woodlands. It offers a vast amount of
flexible outdoor space, which the school makes the most of by organising schemes such as Empty Classroom Week when all classes were completed outdoors. The professionals working at Brook Green are great believers of outdoor learning being highly effective as well as enjoyable and soothing. The students take care of their own fruit and vegetable garden, they also keep chickens and have fantastic outdoor cooking facilities. We were all extremely impressed when touring the school, the facilities at Brook Green are truly exceptional. We also had a chance to see a room purposely set up as a flat, which is used for teaching students life skills. A variety of very well equipped classrooms is available to teach students Science, IT, Arts and Cookery as well as other regular subjects. The tasks given to students interlink and create a sense of purpose with results clearly on display. The school also has 4 fully trained therapy dogs, which has a very positive effect on learners.
After the tour we had a chance to listen to a presentation about the school’s structure, staff and their roles, procedures in place to ensure safeguarding and more. It is clear that this school has a very much person centered approach and they take great care in getting to know each of their student. The teachers put an enormous amount of effort in finding out about the learner’s needs, abilities, things they struggle with, things they like, what makes them happy, what makes for a good or bad day for them and best ways of helping them in tricky situations. Each person is treated as an individual and a state-of-the-art behaviour monitoring system is in place to understand each pupil better and tackle any difficulties. We also received advice on excellent learning resources and tips on systems our teachers could try upon return to Lithuania. We also met some of the year 11 students who talked to us about their time at Brook Green and very impressive plans for the future. We would like to say a big thank you to Brook Green Centre for Learning for their precious time, openness and for sharing their knowledge with us.
The teachers were also treated to a tour around Plymouth Museum where they could see the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds as well as other temporary and permanent displays. This visit was chosen by the group as part of their cultural package. On the last day of training – Friday, our project partners took part in an evaluation meeting during which they provided Almond Vocational Link with feedback. We were overwhelmed by all their positive comments and can’t wait for our next project together.
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