All students admitted to Blackfriars have an Education, Health Care Plan (EHCP). See how a Blackfriars’ education is organised to meet the students’ Communication and Interaction targets; their Cognitive and Learning targets, their Social, Mental and Emotional targets and their Physical and sensory targets.

Communication & Interaction

At Blackfriars we have a holistic approach to communication and provide a language and symbol-rich environment where pupils can use a variety of approaches to develop their communication skills and have a powerful ‘voice’ in and out of school.

All students need a voice and a way of communicating their needs, thoughts and feelings. The development of skills in communicating and interacting with others are developed in various ways across the Pathways at Blackfriars. The development of these areas leads to less anxiety, a positive change in behaviour and improvements in relationships.

AAC Approaches at Blackfriars
The term ‘AAC’, an abbreviation of Augmentative and Alternative Communication, refers to any intervention which enhances a pupil’s ability to express his or her needs and desires. As such it can encompass no-tech strategies such as the use of Makaton signing, low-tech approaches such as the use of symbols and simple switches and high-tech equipment which has a voice output.

Children whose verbal communication has not progressed sufficiently that they can convey their thoughts in a timely and effective manner require consideration for an AAC intervention. Such difficulties can come about for a wide variety of reasons including physical challenges impacting the clear production of speech, learning difficulties resulting in language not being acquired in the typical fashion or a sensory loss such as hearing impairment. Blackfriars has a number of children with these challenges and sometimes where several factors coexist in the same child.

At Blackfriars we have a holistic approach to communication and provide a language and symbol-rich environment where pupils can use a variety of approaches to develop their communication skills and have a powerful ‘voice’ in and out of school.

Approaches to communication include:

  • Facial gestures
  • Vocalisations
  • Eye pointing – etran – eye gaze technology
  • Fist pointing
  • Objects of reference
  • Symbols and photos
  • PECs – Picture Exchange Communication System
  • Communication books
  • Personal Passports
  • PODD
  • Manual Auditory Scanning
  • Makaton and BSL
  • Electronic communication aids and use of iPads
  • Grid 3

We are always excited when a student attends our school with a new communication system for us to explore with them. We really are committed to a total communication approach. No type of communication is used in isolation and staff receive regular training and updates to ensure can support our students to actively use their communication devices both in school and in the wider world.

SCERTS at Blackfriars
SCERTS is an overarching approach to autism education created by a multidisciplinary team of experts. The letters in the name stand for Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support—the critical elements of the SCERTS program. It is also appropriate to use with other students not on the spectrum.

SCERTS is not a therapeutic technique; rather, it is a model for engaging children which, when properly applied, “provides specific guidelines for helping a child become a competent and confident social communicator while preventing problem behaviours that interfere with learning and the development of relationships.”

Staff have had training in SCERTS and are starting to baseline students and use targets to focus on small steps in progression towards the Outcomes in their EHCP.

Intensive Interaction
his process is recommended for people who are hard to reach and are not motivated to be with others.

Intensive interaction is a teaching and learning approach to develop communication between two people. The method works by progressively shared moments or sequences of enjoyable interaction that will often be frequent and short in duration increasing as time goes by. The process is led by the individual with the supporter responding to behaviour and using this behaviour to encourage interaction.

Intensive interaction develops the fundamentals of communication prior to speech, the skills that are generally learnt at the very early stages of a babies development.

This includes using and understanding eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body language as well as the learning the importance of turn-taking and enjoying being with others. The fundamentals of communication form an important part of communications development as without some of these skills it is very difficult to engage in communication.

AAC Approaches

Makaton is a type of sign language that is now used by over 100,000 children and adults. We use Makaton in school as an enhancement of communication to all students. Due to its increasing popularity we feel it is important for all students whether dependant on AAC or not, to have an awareness of Makaton and at least know some basic signs. This will enable them to venture out and speak to people in the community as well as their peers who are reliant on using sign language in school.

Makaton are very active on social media and promote a ‘sign of the week’. Why don’t you take a look and try giving the sign of the week a go at home?

PODD is a symbol-based language presented in a book format. The letters PODD stand for Pragmatic, Organisation, Dynamic Display and refer to how the symbols and language within the book are laid out. PODD books can include any symbol language but are usually formed by PCS symbols.

PODD books come in all shapes and sizes and when we identify that a student requires one, they are made, personalised and given to the student. This is an exciting process that we like parents/carers and wider families to get involved in. Have you seen a PODD book in action before? If not, try heading over to YouTube to see lots of people interacting using PODD books.

Another communication system accessed widely and regularly at Blackfriars is Grid player. This system is normally accessed via an iPad and depending on the user they access different symbol sets such as ‘Symbol talker’ and ‘Super core’. Students are often highly motivated to interact with grid player because it’s on their favourite things – the iPad! Students touch the symbols on the screen and a voice (which they can choose from plenty of options) speaks the word out loud for them.

This is fantastic for those students who are unable to use their voice or to assist those with limited language. We have a close working relationship with Smartbox (who own grid player) and staff access regular training and assistance.

PECs is one of the most widely known methods of AAC. It stands for picture exchange communication and students are able to obtain their wants and wishes by exchanging a photograph, picture or symbols for the object of their choice. PECs has many levels and users start off by using to get one object at a time to potentially build up their knowledge to use symbols to create a whole sentence.

It was first designed and created back in the 1980s more specifically for children and adults who had been diagnosed with autism. It is now well known across the world and students with various diagnoses have access and have fantastic success!

Cognition & Learning

At Blackfriars Academy we understand the value of learning outside the classroom as a way of enhancing the social, personal and emotional development of our pupils. Our trips out and residentials only serve to put the classroom learning into context but also help teach life skills, build on social skills while improving the independence and self-confidence of our young people.

Recent trips include:

  • Stafford Castle
  • Black Country Museum
  • Stockport Air Raid Shelters
  • Royal Air Force Museum Cosford
  • London House of Parliament.
  • The Chill Factor Manchester
  • The Snow Dome, Telford
  • Drayton Manor Park, Staffordshire

We also organise regular trips to the theatre, both local and national theatres, to enhance our Performing Arts, Drama and English curriculum offer.

  • Shakespeare ‘The Tempest’, Garrick Theatre, Lichfield
  • ‘The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips’ Michael Morpurgo, Birmingham Rep
  • ‘Gangster Granny’, David Walliams The Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent
  • ‘Lion King’, Lyceum Theatre, London
  • ‘The Ice Queen’ The New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme
  • ‘Blood Brothers’ The Lowry, Manchester

Theatre companies, artists and musicians have also visited the school to entertain and teach the pupils.

We have also worked closely with Keele University taking part in the Slaters Festival of Chemistry and White Water Writers programme – our pupils wrote and published a book in a week selling it on Amazon. Through their Star Dome project our pupils have also travelled in space.

The School Council plays an active role in compiling our trips programme with staff throughout the academic year, ensuring our students’ voice are heard. We work in partnership with parents/carers views which are vital in the planning phase, with structured communication systems in place during the duration of the residential to keep parents fully briefed.


Social, Mental & Emotional Health

At Blackfriars, we understand that it is difficult for students to learn effectively if they are struggling with mental health issues. This can encompass a very wide scale including stress caused by a single event such as exams; obsessive-compulsive disorder; eating disorders; depression or issues around low self-esteem and anxiety to name but a few.

There is a very nurturing approach at Blackfriars. Every pupil has a class team who builds relationships with them and parents – know and understand needs and work together to put the correct support in place. Teaching Assistants stay with the pupils all day and in the Questioning Pathway move to every lesson with them. Blackfriars works closely with other professionals who can support, including Dr. Juliet Shand Clinical Psychologist, DOVE and CAMHS.


The NHS’s “five ways to wellbeing” are encouraged. These themes are:

Connect – with family/ friends, colleagues and neighbours. With our pupils developing positive relationships.

Be Active – take a walk, go cycling, play a game of football or an activity you enjoy.

Keep Learning – learn a new skill to gain confidence and a sense of achievement.

Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you or a kind word.  Larger acts such as volunteering can open your social network and improve mental health.

Be Mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. It can change the way you feel and approach challenges.

(NHS 2017)

Mental Health Support at Blackfriars

Students at Blackfriars can have regular access to:

  • 1:1 sessions with our Clinical Psychologist, Dr Juliet Shand.
  • 1:1 sessions with our school mentor, Mrs Emmens.
  • 1:1 sessions with Nurse Tina.
  • Key staff with Mental Health First Aider Training.
  • Group sessions concentrating on issues such as self-esteem, friendship issues etc.
  • Mind, body and spirit’ sessions in the build up to exams to ensure that students are in the best shape to take external exams (where appropriate).
  • Wellbeing is covered in the PSHE curriculum.
  • Some of the older pupils are selected to be ‘Peer Mentors’ and offer support to other pupils working alongside Dr Juliet Shand.

Sensory & Physical Needs

Many pupils have the area of Sensory and Physical Need on their EHCP. Across all the Pathways Sensory needs are considered whether this be adaptations to the classroom area for those who don’t like too much noise, to sensory programmes in place for pupils who need to have their sensory processing skills developing or need opportunities for self-regulation through sensory diets. Opportunities are provided for the development of fine and gross motor skills and appropriate supportive equipment provided for those that need it.

Physical needs are met by the Physio therapy team over seeing and working closely with the Teaching Assistants who carry out any physical management needs of the pupils.  Blackfriars has staff with a wide range of knowledge and experience from Teachers with Conductive Education backgrounds and staff who were part of the Local Authority’s Physically Disabled Support Service (PDSS) who for many years went out to mainstream schools to advise on inclusion and physical needs from fine motor to gross motor skills, positioning, seating and specialist equipment.  Blackfriars PE teacher was part of this team and works close with the physio team in including and meeting physical management needs in the sessions.

There is close working with the Multi-Sensory Impairment, Hearing Impairment and Visual Impairment team, who are in weekly, to make sure pupil’s needs are met appropriately.

Sensory Diets / Circuits
Key staff have had training from an Occupational Therapist in ways to deliver Sensory diets for the pupils who need to regulate themselves in order to engage fully in the school day.  The majority of pupils access some form of physical activity first thing in the morning on arrival, sensory walks, sensory circuits, Calm Brain, Body Blast and bespoke videos containing Gross motor skills to follow in class.

Rebound Therapy

Rebound Therapy is the therapeutic use of a Trampoline to promote and develop motor skills, body awareness, balance, co-ordination and communication. Rebound Therapy should be seen as an integrated part of your child’s movement programme. Rebound Therapy has a unique effect on the body organs, systems and muscles.

The sessions will involve the child being on the trampoline and a qualified member of staff applying a gentle rocking or bouncing of the trampoline. This movement will improve health and fitness and greater independence, whilst fun, enjoyment and the opportunity to succeed are of paramount importance. During Rebound Therapy the cardio-respiratory system works harder so heart rate and respiratory rate increase. Muscle tone can be increased and decreased by activating the muscle spindles and stimulating the sensory system.

4D Room

Students across the Pathways all benefit from accessing the 4D room to enhance their learning. For the Immersive and Exploratory Pathway in is used to immersive pupils in a sensory experience with interactive images on the walls and floors and enhanced with music and props and change in temperature to stimulate sessions.  Pupils will be using their tracking skills, listening skills, reaching, pressing and controlling skills. Students will often have a change of position in this room to support their physical management needs.

The Questioning Pathway use it to enhance understanding for example of topics in History where images of the trenches can be displayed and the sound of people walking through mud. It is used alongside role play.  It is also a room where yoga and relaxation sessions take place.

Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor activities provide pupils, who are able, with the opportunity to hold, manipulate and play to promote and develop their Fine Motor skills. The maintenance and promotion of these skills will help the pupils in all that they do in school and at home as FMS are a very valuable part of everyday life

‘Fine motor skills are those that involve a refined use of the small muscles which control the hand, fingers and thumb. With the development of these skills, a child is able to complete important tasks such as writing, feeding oneself, buttoning and zippering. ‘Little hands need to develop dexterity and strength ‘