How a school serves its most vulnerable pupils is telling of the level of care it provides. When a school makes inclusion a focus, it should be mindful of features that vulnerable learners have in common, should either be children eligible for pupil premium or children with additional needs. Listen to Helena sharing insights on the approach to inclusion at David Ross Education Trust (DRET).
📎 Promoting Inclusion across a MAT
- How can wave 1 interventions in the classroom be standardised across a MAT, ensuring that our most vulnerable students can access the curriculum?
- When does consistent practice become a super power for unlocking potential for children with SEND or who are PP?
- What do your leaders in schools need to be asked to ensure that they are fulfilling their brief in supporting our most vulnerable pupils?
💡 Helena Brothwell, Regional Director of Secondary, David Ross Education Trust (DRET)
Hello everyone. My name is Helena Brothwell. I work for the David Ross Education Trust (DRET) and I joined DRET in July. We are tasked with driving school improvement rapidly across 11 of our secondary schools. One of the main reasons why we need to focus really carefully on inclusion is because it's a passion of ours, we firmly believe that you can you can really tell what a school is like, if you look at how it serves its most vulnerable pupils. So we're looking at school culture and we're looking at how to make sure that systems and processes within school, drive school improvement, support our teachers, but really importantly, support our most vulnerable pupils. It is those children that we should be thinking about when we're designing systems and processes in our schools and we're talking about school culture.
So the questions we have to ask ourselves, if we're going to attend to what we value and we really passionately believe in inclusion, and we believe that we should serve the absolute best possible educational experience for those vulnerable students, then it is really important that we give that our attention. We've consciously tried to do so at David Ross Education Trust, and we've given it real attention and time. If we think about our most vulnerable pupils, and I'm talking students eligible for pupil premium students who have additional needs, we know that there can be some common features for those students that we need to be mindful of. We believe that these are some of the key features that we need to be mindful of when we're planning our school culture. If we assume that some of our children have some of these challenges that they walk through the doors with, then we must attend to that and we must give our attention to that.
Students who've experienced a lack of boundaries, whether at primary or a previous school setting or at home, students who experience sensory difficulties or differences, trouble understanding social cues, you will know children in your schools that have some of these challenges. It's been a really key focus of all of the systems that we've driven through our trust and our secondary schools as a whole, that we pay attention to these children. So we have those children in mind when we're planning our whole school interventions and our whole school improvement strategy, you might have heard concepts such as warm, strict, knowledge rich curriculum. Those things have been taken and these connotations that don't embody inclusion automatically. I think what I'd like to do this morning is just a challenge that really, because some of the things that I've just spoken about some of the challenges that our students face, and our most vulnerable children struggle with. When you talk about instilling routines in a school culture, it's these children that we're doing it for, we need to consider what corridors look like for our most vulnerable children.
If you've ever done a pupil pursuit, and you've ever followed a child around the school day, and you know what it feels like to walk in Mrs. Jones's class, Mrs. Jones likes you to walk straight in stand behind your chair in silence. Then next lesson, it's science and you go to Mr. Blogs, and he likes you to stand in line up outside in silence. And then you go to third lesson and it's drama and it's I don't know, somebody's really cool Mr. Smith, and he's dead cool and you can go in, you can sit where you're like, that's quite a lot of cognitive load for children to have to cope with. Particularly think about your transition students, whether that's new into school from another school, or new in from key stage two. That is quite a lot of challenge. We wonder why our year sevens have a huge dip when they join us at secondary? Well, actually, it's not that difficult to work out because there's such a lot of challenges that you have to overcome. So what we try to do in some of our school improvement strategies have been to try and reduce some of this cognitive load for children. So for example, across our schools, we ask school leaders to design for their school, a structure, an entry and exit protocol. So that everyone teacher expects their children to enter the classroom in the same way and that's the simple thing. I know some people might think that's taking away teacher autonomy but actually, we need to remember who we're doing it for. It's not not for the teachers benefit, this is for our most vulnerable children's benefit. Actually, there's a whole story around how it supports your most vulnerable least experienced teachers also.
We've asked school leaders to design protocols and routines within schools that support our most vulnerable children. We also get right behind explicit instruction as a teaching pedagogy strategy. We believe that assuming children walk through the door with lots of cultural capital, and lots of foundational knowledge is a mistake in some cases. It's a mistake for our most vulnerable children. Because assuming that they have that they don't have any knowledge deficit, and that they're getting a really rich experience outside of us. Whether it be primary or at home can be an assumption that's an assumption too far, and it usually most affects these children that we're talking about today.
So explicit instructions. We really believe in that it's really important that we are very clear with our students. We're very thorough, and we're very clear with what we mean. Consistent expectations, so the behaviour system is the same across the school, the reward system is the same across the school. Children won't be told off for turning around in one classroom, but not in another or wear ear phones in one lesson, not in another, you know, the rules are very clear and consistent. Because actually, if we go back to the children that we're talking about, these are some of the things that they really struggle with. A lack of boundaries is very, very challenging for some of our most vulnerable children. What does that mean? What is it you want from me? All I want to do is please you but I don't understand what you want.
Okay, so we have a strong investments at DRET in cultural capital investments, so sports arts, and lots and lots of performance. That's a real drive for us and actually, that's something that we believe passionately about that we can offer almost as good as a private school sector. Because it's really important for our children, and it strongly supports most vulnerable children, because we know actually that, you know, academic performance is really important. But what's also important is what wraps around that having experience of music, art, drama, performance is really important and of course, sport. So DRET is a you know, is a bit of a leader in this in my view, I've worked in other Multi Academy Trusts where there isn't that investment, and it's really lovely to have students who can, you know, learn an instrument, just as an assumption that is something that they can just do. We talk about our knowledge rich curriculum, which we're developing at the moment and all that means really is that as I say, we invest in making sure that we don't make assumptions about what children already know. We treat them as if they have walked through the door and everybody has a blank canvas and we can go from there. Then actually what we don't do is we don't advantage some children and disadvantage others we just advantage everybody. And depending on their starting point, obviously we go from there.
Daisy Christodoulou, if you've not heard of her, she's brilliant. Look this up just google minding the knowledge gap. But she wrote a book called The Seven Myths of Education and it was a bit of a turning point for us as a trust. She talked about the fact that when we're talking about and thinking about children who are eligible for pupil premium, we can make assumptions that actually they are also low mobility. And they might be low attaining when they arrive but that can often be simply because they have that knowledge deficit, that it is our responsibility and our imperative that we feel so rather than treating our pupil premium children like they are low ability by, you know, by proxy. Actually, we need to understand why that might be the case and there are things that we can do. So it's about consistency, and being a superpower. But actually, if you design your school culture around calm, we know, you know, whatb do we need in place to feel calm, we need to know what's about to happen, we need to know what's expected of us, we need to be really feeling safe. If we want our children to feel calm in school, and there are things that we need to, you know, backtrack from that what needs to be in place, how do we make days predictable? How do we make expectations really explicit for all of our children, so there is no confusion or ambiguity about what you want versus what the teacher next door wants. We've tried to do that as a Multi Academy Trust without taking away the you know, individuality of schools. So we ask school leaders to be very clear with you unison staff, what is it that you want children to do? How do you want them to behave in the corridor? What does that look like? Tell me, you know, write it down? What does it look like in the dining hall? What does it look like? If you challenge your child? What should that look like? So we're pretty explicit. We talk to school leaders, and our school leaders deliver training and support for our students. Things like we expect students to say sorry, so if we challenge a child in a classroom, their only response should be sorry, Miss, sorry, Sir and we all move on. There may be a consequence, and there may be that that child wants to actually fight his corner or her corner later on and have a word and say actually, I don't think that was fair, but it isn't appropriate at the time. So it's really important that we, we explained children, that's the expectation, and then you walk around our schools and if we have to challenge a child about their shirt being out, sorry, Miss, put it straight in Everybody, you know, it's a bit calmer, children find it very comforting that they know what you're going to say, and they know what you expect of them back and that can be really important for creating a calm environment. We want it to be predictable. We want them to feel safe. We want them to know that nobody's going to shout, no one's gonna have expectations, they don't quite understand. That's really important.
So what questions should we be asking school leaders to make sure that we are considering and attending to our most vulnerable pupils? I think these are where I would start down the bottom talk care about social norms. If you're going to see Tom Bennett later you'll you'll hear lots about this. There are social norms in every school and if we don't design them, then they get designed for us by the school community. That can be a brilliant thing or it can be a not so brilliant thing, so for example, we imagine a child in year seven walking into the dining hall on the first day of school, what are the social norms that occur in your dining halls? So for example, do they go in, put the bag down at a chair, then go and queue up? Is there an expectation that everybody sits down? Is there an expectation that people are quieter? Because it's a dining space? What are the social norms that your children assume and experience when they walk in? Because we might not always have designed these and and I think part of Tom's talk later, is that he talks about consciously crafting all of these social norms and taking time over it. I think about our children with ASD, our children who are, you know, coming with challenges. I look at our dining halls across our schools, and I consider actually whether I want that child's going to feel safe in that environment. It's really, really important that we do that. So we are quite strict about things like sitting down, because actually children need to know what expected off them and then it feels calmer and children can you know, chat we have a no phones, phones or, you know, real issue for me in schools. I think that you know, it's not supportive and it certainly doesn't support these children. How does your curriculum take account of the knowledge deficit that we can assume they walk in with some of these children are walking with for a variety of reasons? Are we making sure that we are filling in the gaps and that we've really consciously considered how our curriculum is sequenced, to make sure that we catch up anybody that's got you know, those gaps in there, and the foundational knowledge that we know they're going to need have have our heads of department really considered what's important that children know by the end of year seven by the end of year eight, and how what they know in year seven builds them in year eight, and nine.
Just want to come to point three do your teachers spend time appeasing poor behaviour in classrooms and if they do If your school system is designed around the boisterous, noisier child, we must consider you know for so for example, if a school system is designed around that child, you've all got one in your mind right now I'm sure if your school system is designed around them, then you've probably got heavy duty on call systems. You've got a curriculum where or pedagogical style where teachers are encouraged to make things really engaging with games and real life application, and let's make it relevant for this child. Actually, I think for us at David Ross and for you know, if we're considering inclusion, and we're thinking about our most vulnerable children, it's those that we should be considering when we design our systems, clarity, really, really clear expectations and the same everywhere they go. But also, we don't have our staff, appeasing naughty behaviour and tolerating that in a classroom because we know that the children who are vulnerable in that classroom cannot access that education with lots and lots of noise and disruption and people chatting. I sat at a conference recently, and I was listening to Oliver Caviglioli, if you've never heard him is really, really difficult, really challenging complex ideas, and two people behind me were having a conversation. I was absolutely furious, because I couldn't, it was such a cognitive strain for me to have to listen to that and and try and concentrate on him. And we expect our most vulnerable children to put up with that a lot, I think, and we must consider that. So our behaviour systems are very, very clear, but children are, you know, removed from a classroom on the third warning, because it's really important that our children who are vulnerable are protected and that their learning time is protected and it cannot be taken up by so much of the other focus.
How do students know how they should behave in your school? I'll show you how we try and do that. So our approach is we do use the warm strict. Because we believe that at the same time as your warm, you are also strict and by that we mean you have really high expectations for children. But the warm is extremely important. We don't need to be shouting or telling people off or looking really cross we can just do that through no, this is the expectation we have of you because we care. And because we you really matter, your education matters. We do go overboard probably on routines. We don't think it's overboard, but some people do. For example, desk layout in a classroom. That's that's the same everywhere, exercise book, knowledge organiser planner, pencil case. children know what to do. They know what's expected of them and that means that everybody's prepared, and the classroom entry is really brisk, really sharp and no times. wasted, but also, our most vulnerable children know exactly what to do when they walk in a room in our schools, any of our schools, it's clear protocol in the dining hall seating plans are really important, and classroom consequences and rewards and classroom removal is really clear. So children know what's okay and what's not okay and that's really important. We've taken a lot of time to deliberately craft our culture. This is one of the schools that we we have in David Ross Education Trust and we have a handbook for staff, which goes through all this. So each school has their own because now, you know, the schools aren't just the same. Each school has their own handbook, but it talks to staff about what's really important, being really thorough and challenging the little things so that we are really attaining attending to our most vulnerable children. And we're not letting things slide that will that will damage their educational experience, like the culture in the dining hall, for example, do you have children who have to go to the library at dinner time to eat their dinner? Because it's too too chaotic in the dining hall? You know, I would say that's, that's not supporting our most vulnerable children, we need to work harder on that. So this is our vision. And this goes across the Trust for the secondary schools. But it's really important. I think, you know, for me, it is challenging that perception that having high standards and inclusion can't match together, they can't be in the same embodied in the same vision. I absolutely challenge that whole perception. Because if we don't have really high expectations of even our most vulnerable children, and expect the most from them, then you know that we actually really let them down. I think, you know, for us, we've done a lot of soul searching about how we're supporting our children, and we want to put them at the forefront of what we do.
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