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Hampton Hill School - successful inclusion into mainstream school

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Introduction

“I’m so proud that John (not child's real name) is in a mainstream school – that is he happy to be there, is learning and becoming an ever more confident child who believes he can succeed. Hampton Hill Junior School doesn’t treat John as though he is autistic, it treats him as a child with particular needs. And I think, in many ways, that’s what made such a difference.” John’s mother.

Hampton Hill Junior School is a mainstream school based in the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. It has 330 pupils aged 7 to 11, with a number of children on the autism spectrum and a history of the successful inclusion of these children into mainstream education.

John has Asperger syndrome and a Statement of Special Educational Needs. His first school was a very negative experience for him and this contributed to his behavioural difficulties within a school setting, and a phobia of school.

This case study looks at the successful inclusion of John into Hampton Hill Junior School. It discusses how a school, family and child can work together to achieve success; the support, planning and strategy that is required to realise these results; and offers downloadable learning resources and suggested reading.

John (not child's real name) is a bright, happy boy who has Asperger syndrome. He has a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN). John’s first school struggled to cope with his needs – in Year 1 he only went to school part time, in Year 2 he went home each day at lunchtime, and in Year 3 he was in school mostly full time, but was usually left alone to read in a corner. Despite his Statement of SEN, John had been labelled as naughty and the school was unable to cope with him. When John was nine, his mother removed him from the school.

John’s mother had heard that Hampton Hill Junior School was a nurturing school that had had success with another child with Asperger syndrome and approached the school to consider taking John.

Hampton Hill Junior School is a mainstream junior school based in the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. It is a three form entry school with 330 pupils aged 7 to 11. The school has a strong ethos that children should develop through their junior years into young independent people with a responsible and caring attitude towards each other, their community and their environment.

“We aim to do the simple things well. We provide a carefully differentiated curriculum taught through a variety of effective methods that ensures all the children have every opportunity to achieve the very best of which they are capable, combining high standards and exciting learning.” Alan Went, Deputy Headteacher (SENCO)

John joined Hampton Hill Junior School in the last term of Year 3. His previous experience of school meant that he had developed very challenging behaviour in school and was also school phobic. He behaved well in many environments, but school is what disabled him most.

Hampton Hill Junior School’s aim for John, and for any child with special needs, was to successfully include him in a mainstream school without any negative impact on him or the other children in the school.

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For an inclusion such as John’s to be successful, it is critical that there is not only quality staff and committed leadership, but also detailed planning with staff, parents and any other support networks that may be involved in the process.

It is also important that a school has as much notice as possible of a child joining to ensure that they have enough time to put the necessary resources in place, and if possible is given a detailed profile of the child. Parents should not assume that this is automatically passed on between schools as this is not always the case. John’s profile was not forwarded to Hampton Hill Junior School, which may have slowed initial progress while the school built their own understanding of John and his needs without the knowledge of previous agencies.

The Local Authority gave John funding for a significant amount of Learning Support Assistant (LSA) time, so it was important to find the right person for him.

It was not felt appropriate to take an existing LSA away from a child with whom they had built up a successful relationship, so it was necessary to recruit for the position, which can take time. It is also worth noting that recruiting and working with a new member of staff that doesn’t know the school and doesn’t know the child can be an additional challenge for a school. In John’s case, Hampton Hill Junior School fortunately found a skilled LSA who was able to start straight away.

Once John’s support team was in place, they met with John and his mother to work out how best they could help him. It was then necessary to plan for his needs. Which class would John go into? Was the class ready for him? Where would he sit? Who should he be paired up with to develop friendships? And so on.

When making support plans, it is really important that staff are aware that a day at school for a child who has been out of school, for whatever reason – a day that includes maths, English, listening, reading, running about – can be a really long day for both the student and staff. As such, it is crucial that carefully laid plans are also organic and are able to constantly evolve.

“We never think we’ve cracked it. It’s always ongoing.” Alan Went, Deputy Headteacher (SENCO)

It is also important to plan around the impact that a child on the autism spectrum may have on other children and parents. When a new child arrives at school, who for whatever reason has a reputation or displays behaviour that is different (as children on the autism spectrum often do), parents may not always be as forgiving as they could be. When John first started at Hampton Hill Junior School, there were some parents who were negative about him joining the school due to anxieties that their child’s education would be affected. However, any concerns were quickly overcome by the actual experience. It is these potential anxieties that staff need to be aware of to be able to plan the balance of the individual child’s needs alongside the actual, rather than perceived, impact on others.

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There were ups and downs, but by continually re-evaluating what worked and what didn’t, we’ve achieved so much. Everyone involved in working with a child needs to want the same things, and to be clear on what is working and what needs doing differently.” John’s mother

There were significant difficulties engaging John in a mainstream setting when he first started at Hampton Hill Junior School. It was very difficult for him to be there and also for the school to accommodate him for more than a few hours a day. As such, it was important that he was brought in at a pace that would work for everyone.

John started by attending Hampton Hill Junior School for three hours each day, which meant that his family needed to be flexible to accommodate the hours that the school was able to have him. John’s tolerance gradually increased along with his capability to behave appropriately – not getting angry, not throwing books to get himself removed, but communicating in words ‘this is too much for me please can I go out now’. It took a full academic year for John to move from three hours a day to full time school.

While initially the goal was to successfully include John in the school, it also became about him succeeding in that environment and making progress against his emotional and learning targets. And this required and continues to call for a considerable team effort.

The staff at Hampton Hill Junior School are enormously enthusiastic about providing the necessary support for each child. When John started at Hampton Hill Junior School he had a dedicated Learning Support Assistant (LSA) who had all the necessary skills to support him. However, it quickly became clear that John would benefit from a wider support team and it was decided that three different LSAs would work with John, with a new LSA for each lesson. The primary carer remained the class teacher, while the LSAs worked as a team to achieve consistency in all areas of the support that they gave John. Two and a half years on, John still has the same LSAs to support him, but they now try to give him more freedom and space to be independent in his learning. All three LSAs have very different personalities and their relationships with John have been able to grow organically, enabling them to offer John academic and pastoral support based on their individual strengths and John’s needs.

The school’s Wellbeing Coordinators also play a key role in the development of children such as John, who find school challenging. They meet with each of these children on a weekly basis, acting as a mentor, a senior adult to trust, and somebody to help guide their expectations and encourage positive behaviour and learning at all times. They also consider the opinions of members of the school staff including dinner ladies and playground supervisors to monitor a child’s performance and behaviour throughout the school day. John is a particularly bright child, but when he joined Hampton Hill Junior School his behaviour did hinder his academic achievements. John’s Wellbeing Coordinator focused on helping him to excel academically, giving him achievable goals to work towards. By the end of Year 4 John was able to make real progress against curriculum targets.

The school’s leadership team work hard to ensure that the staff feel valued, supported and listened to and that their input is essential in planning ways forward. Time is made for them to share their thoughts about how a placement is progressing and they do not feel personally judged when a child is demonstrating particularly difficult behaviour. They are able to discuss strategies and solutions in a professional and mutually respectful atmosphere. This enthusiasm and ‘no blame’ culture enables the school to successfully review and look at what is and isn’t working, why that may be, and resolve any difficulties.

“The staff at Hampton Hill Junior School took responsibility for my son’s education. They didn’t take it away from me - but accepted their own role in educating him, making him happy in their school environment and making sure everyone was happy to have him there.” John’s mother

Good teachers and LSAs are a vital part of successful inclusion, but it is also essential that they work in close partnership with a child’s parents. Clear and open communication channels between the school and parents about what has happened during a school day are really important. This not only contributes towards a positive culture where the focus is on developing effective strategies rather than passing blame, but also reinforces the parents’ knowledge that the school is doing their very best to help their child. There is no formal reporting system in place for this communication, but initially John’s mother met informally with the class teacher once a week and talked to one of John’s LSAs at the end of each day. As of autumn 2010, communication with staff is as needed, when needed, and so less frequent.

The school also works alongside other services, liaising with outside agencies and looking to use available external support to help work through difficulties. One such organisation is thebridge, a local parent-led charity that specialises in social and communication difficulties. It is through this link that John receives additional funding from the local authority, through his statement, for the provision of a specialist speech and language therapist. This support is in addition to John’s speech and language therapy received though the PCT.

Communication, especially via email, has been an important part of John’s support network. Daily, immediate and less formal communication has enabled the triangle of communication between parents, school and the Local Authority to establish strong relationships, resources and an overall objective to succeed. Initially intense, communication has become less frequent as John has developed, but the communication channels always remain open.

“You need more than ‘training and reasonable adjustments’. You need a holistic approach with the parents, school and associated professionals working together ¬– equally the school needs an open-minded approach that focuses on the individuality of the child. We found that at Hampton Hill Junior School.” John’s mother

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“What was evident from the beginning is that Hampton Hill Junior School is very interested and supportive of all the children in the school. When faced with challenges, there is no sense of ‘oh my god what do we do?’ it’s ‘how do we do this?’ The staff are open minded and want to enable all of the children to achieve.” John's mother

When a school welcomes an initially challenging child like John it has to ensure that other children feel safe and that learning is not disrupted. But it also has to be flexible, to support the individual child in the ways that they need.

Hampton Hill Junior School has a creative approach to the support that is offered and staff are very willing to participate in additional activities. For example, the playground can be an intimidating place to be, so any child who needs support at playtime has it. Staff find ways of providing play opportunities whilst ensuring that this doesn’t impact negatively on other children.

When John first joined, he was able to stay in the school hall at playtimes with children who had elected to be with him. Over time and as his play skills have developed, he’s needed this support less and he now plays happily in a quieter part of the playground more or less full time. The children are also able to take a book into the playground if they want to read, and the school is developing an outdoor reading area for those children who want to sit quietly and read during playtime. The playground does sometimes still get too much for John, and at these times the staff are able to support him.

The school is also flexible with the timetable, and prioritises emotional needs alongside the curriculum. If a child doesn’t have enough emotional stability then they will struggle to operate and this will have a negative impact on their learning.

It may be that the child needs more than one LSA for a while, or a circle of friends or pastoral PHSE support to develop friendships. Occasionally a child might need to go home early if the day has been too much for them, or want to bring in a cuddly toy or an emotional prop from home.

When John started at Hampton Hill Junior School, his sensory processing needs meant he would hug other children very tightly. John asked if Fluffy, a very large cuddly penguin could come to school with him. Fluffy met his sensory needs. Fluffy now stays at home as John is able to manage his needs with much greater control.

The classroom can be a difficult place for children with additional needs and they may get agitated or frustrated. But, if removed from the situation for a short period of time and given some encouragement they can often get back on track and go on to have a good day. Staff at Hampton Hill Junior School work hard to ensure that one child doesn’t disrupt the learning of other children, and whilst John didn’t set out to disrupt the learning of others, there were occasions when he became upset or distressed. John’s funding through his Statement of SEN enabled the school to provide a room for him to go to with his LSA for some time out, and having this is just as important for John as for the other children. John doesn’t actually use the room very often as just knowing that it is there as an option if he needs it is often enough to help him control his behaviour.

Funding is critical for these resources. If a school doesn’t have the resources to provide time out for a child and a member of staff to be with them, that child may get sent home or have to work in a corner of the classroom. This in turn sends a negative message to the child and the class, which neither supports their difficulties nor challenges them to learn. And the likelihood is that their day will continue to deteriorate.

General opinion is that consistency is crucial for children with autism, but in John’s case a new LSA for each lesson often means a new start. If he gets frustrated and feels that the day is against him, a new LSA coming in and saying ‘good morning John, let’s get started’ prompts him to see that he has a new chance to succeed. Every lesson for John is a new lesson and a new chance to achieve something, and a change in his support can help that happen.

Hampton Hill Junior School acknowledges and provides for a child’s individual needs as best it can. Frustration is common among children on the autism spectrum, and if a child has emotional difficulties, they may also get angry with other students. However, unacceptable behaviour or responses are not excused and staff work hard to ensure children know that they won’t accept any physical behaviour such as kicking or pushing someone over when it all gets too much for them.

Importantly, staff also make sure that the child understands that they’ll always help them to look at what is behind their behaviour. They will then give them an acceptable alternative for those times when they get frustrated such as working in another area, or they might provide opportunities to talk and role play the situation through. Staff separate the child from their behaviour and try to understand why they were frustrated or angry. They then help them to understand that that is OK, but the way they tried to resolve it was wrong.

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Hampton Hill Junior School’s philosophy is not about defining a child by their difficulties, but about being human, responsive and having a sense of humour.

The school has clear structures and processes, and uses strategies like behaviour charts and reward systems to encourage children to learn and have fun.

“Earlier on this morning John came down to see me with his reward chart, he’s had green ticks all week so he gets a head teacher sticker. That’s great! He’s done the work required from him, in a positive manner and he’s had fun with peers and adults.” Alan Went, Deputy Headteacher (SENCO)

John was involved in designing his own reward system. When he first started at Hampton Hill Junior School he used a traffic light system that broke the day into small chunks, with achievable target sheets for each hour so that the day was not judged on one incident alone. It was important to have a system that was fair, clear and consistent, with expectations of John that were understood, and a way for him to recover the rest of the day if a session didn’t go as planned. This system encouraged John’s learning and good behaviour, whilst acknowledging difficulties and not accepting any bad behaviour. It provided a balanced assessment of John’s time at school, and everyone worked really hard to turn lessons that started negatively into positive experiences for which John could be praised. John’s reward system developed with him – as he progressed the time lapse over which he was assessed increased, and the focus gradually shifted to only his successes rather than the negatives as well.

DOWNLOAD: John’s Daily Target Sheet

Other strategies used by the school to encourage learning include a ‘Success Book’, which identifies a child’s successes creatively. Children are encouraged to fill in their book with pictures, notes and creative ideas as a reminder of what they have achieved. The book highlights a child’s successes in their own pictures and words and is something that they can be really proud of.

“Marking the successes and building on those to achieve even more successes is a really positive experience for everyone. John has had various reward schemes, including a Success Book and he now has a sticker galaxy. We all applaud his achievements and this really helps to build his confidence and grow his success.” John’s mother

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What I wanted to achieve was an education that worked for my son. Success in the mainstream will help him achieve success as an adult – it will help John to cope in an environment where he has to work with other people. I can’t reproduce a similar environment at home and it’s an experience that will help him throughout his life. John is doing fine academically, and is now keen to develop his skills and learning himself. He wants to learn! That is wonderful.” John’s mother.

John has made huge strides since starting at Hampton Hill Junior School at the end of Year 3 in the summer of 2008. Not only is he now at school full time and keen to learn, but he no longer needs the kinds of exceptions that were originally made for him. A year ago he was still going into school through the school reception area – now he walks through the noisy bustle of the playground. He can now also ask for help in an acceptable way and can often manage any internal panic that he may be feeling.

“John is so much calmer and more confident now – he has got his old ‘joie de vivre’ back. He was always a very happy baby and young child and now that has returned (his early school experiences took their toll). As a parent, that is a wonderful thing to see. I told the school they’d given me my child back.” John’s mother

John’s increased confidence can be clearly observed. He is calmer, is able to concentrate and focus on things that aren’t on his agenda, is now immeasurably better at following instructions, is comfortable making eye contact, and is able to trust people outside of his family.

He now looks forward to going to school and like all children has lessons that he doesn’t like, but will also say: “Friday is my favourite day because we do this, this and this.”

Perhaps more importantly, John’s perception of himself has also changed. He now sees himself as a child who can succeed and who wants to succeed. He approaches the school day with interest, effort and humour. Initially he was unhappy with expectations that he would complete a piece of work, but by pursuing that expectation, he has gradually understood that Hampton Hill Junior School is a place where he needs to participate to succeed – a place where he’ll learn and have fun.

The children at Hampton Hill Junior School who are on the autism spectrum want to be included – they want to be on the school council, or to be a lunchtime monitor. There is a range of opportunities on offer to the children and they positively and enthusiastically look to join in and take advantage of them. They are no longer someone who has a label that defines them and the staff work incredibly hard to make sure that they are included as much as they can be.

John is now very happy and settled in the school and continues to make huge progress. There isn’t a perfect model of inclusion that works for every child – it’s about creating an organic system of support for each individual, meeting his or her needs as they arise, and having a fundamental willingness to succeed.

Hampton Hill Junior School has an above average number of children with special educational needs and due to the successful inclusion of children like John, the Local Authority asked the school to consider opening an enhanced provision learning area for children with behavioural, social and emotional difficulties. The Hampton Hill Junior School Inclusion Suite opened in December 2010 and offers full time LSA and teacher support to three children, including John.

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For more information about Hampton Hill Junior School, please contact:

Contact    Alan Went, Deputy Headteacher (SENCO)
Address   Hampton Hill Junior School, Saint James’s Avenue, Hampton Hill,
               Hampton, Middlesex TW12 1HW
Email       a.went@hamptonhill.richmond.sch.uk
Telephone  020 8979 3019

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