A Blackfriars education – what does it really mean?
Who is the curriculum for?
Planning a curriculum for a special school like Blackfriars is complex because each child is different and therefore the curriculum needs to be personalised. At the heart of the process is the child – her developmental needs, her health needs and well-being, prerequisites of personalised learning and captured in the EHCP. For students with the most complex needs, this involves stripping away the irrelevant and focussing on the important and relevant. For our most able students, this involves preparing them for life beyond Blackfriars by equipping them with life skills and success in national accreditation. No matter what ability level the students are working at, our pedagogical approach is based upon the Didactic Triangle.
What is in the curriculum?
All students are introduced to our termly ‘anchor’ and this provides the lynchpin to everything else that we do in the curriculum. The content of the curriculum for the individual classes very much depends upon what pathway and class they are in.
Why do we have anchors?
Our ‘anchors’ underpin and weigh down all elements of our curriculum. They have been very carefully chosen to ensure that every term, no matter what is being taught in school, there is an underpinning of fundamental ideas and knowledge.
When deciding what anchors we wanted to develop as a team of staff working in a school for young people with varying needs and abilities, our starting point was ‘What is the point?’ – why would we choose ‘this’ as an anchor? In order to answer this question, we went back to our core moral purpose as a school which we believe is to educate our students because education has the power to transform lives. By educating our young people, we can help them to be more independent, for some it may mean helping them to use their ‘Voice’ to ensure that their views, needs and wants are heard and for others that they can become critical consumers of information.
This rationale drove our choice of themes, the first of which is ‘IDENTITY’ No matter what pathway our students are working in, exploring the notion of identity is vital to all of them. There is a clear link between knowing one’s identity and developing positive self-esteem. Our thinking led us to question what does it mean to have an identity? What are the different aspects of Identity? What is civic identity? & What is a collective or group identity? But at the very least, we want the majority of our students to at least be able to leave school knowing what their name is, how old they are, where they live, who with, what country thgey are from etc. The themes are based upon a three year rolling programme:
When do students learn what?
Students in Blackfriars are not taught in year groups, but in classes that are most appropriate for their cognitive and social and emotional needs, we particularly prioritise whether they will have a peer group. This means that we organise our curriculum on a three year rolling programme within each pathway and class. Students can swap between pathways (on a personalised basis – for a certain lesson / week / completely)
Where does the learning take place?
We are lucky that we have a range of classrooms and learning spaces (inside and outside) – a science lab,a huge Sports Hall and most exciting, a 4D learning space where all the walls and even the floor are interactive!!
How is it organised?
Working with feeder schools and parents and carers, students are placed in a form tutor group (class sizes vary upon needs of students but are typically 15/16 for the Questioning Pathway and 8 in the Immersive Pathway. The TAs stay with the class for every lesson. Dependent upon pathway, lessons are taught primarily by the class teacher (Immersive), mostly by the class teacher (Exploratory) and taught by specialist teachers (Questioning)