At Northern Counties School we have a distinct population of children and young people who have varying types and degrees of visual impairment in conjunction with other specific needs including autism, hearing loss and additional complex learning and communication difficulties. These pupils require a very specialist, highly structured educational and therapeutic provision which is delivered within a Total Communication approach. This service is staffed by an experienced and dedicated team of teachers, therapists and learning support workers who provide an integrated teaching approach to education, therapy and care.
Our children are unlikely to be able to cope in other services. Some may be susceptible to exhibiting high levels of anxiety if routines cannot be maintained and these pupils will require an individualised approach that recognises and responds to their specific sensory differences. Pupils may demonstrate challenging behaviours associated with their visual impairment and additional needs. These pupils are not able to function in group situations, as may be found in other services.
Rationale for the curriculum for the Visually Impaired
All pupils with a visual impairment work within a flexible teaching environment whereby pupils follow individual programmes which are based on our detailed knowledge of each child. We use a variety of innovative approaches such as Intensive Interaction and Sensory Processing Programmes, whilst at the same time ensuring that each child has access to a broad, balanced and relevant sighted/non sighted age appropriate but developmentally matched curriculum, which fully meets their needs. An emphasis on functional skills, independence and communication is at the heart of our curriculum which ensures that all children and young people are provided with learning opportunities that recognise and celebrate their uniqueness, develop their full potential and allow them to fulfil their aspirations.
High aspirations and ambition for all of our visually impaired pupils at individual levels is encouraged and attainment, achievement and participation throughout the whole curriculum is recognised and celebrated. Individual pupil progress is continually monitored via marking, dialogue between pupils and staff, annotating work and planning and photographic evidence.
Curriculum topics covered are selected according to the individual needs of the pupils. For some pupils these will be taken from the curriculum maps for our hearing impaired pupils or the ASD scheme of work and for those pupils with additional complex needs they will follow the PMLD scheme of work. The rolling programmes provide teachers with a framework for planning regarding what is to be taught within their class group. An element of flexibility of implementing the programme exists whereby what is taught can be modified in order to meet the individual needs of the children. This may include covering a specific age related topic but differentiating the topic content, engaging in explicit language teaching linked to subject matter and the pace in which it is delivered in order that it is appropriate for individual pupils.
What do we provide?
We provide a multi-disciplinary approach to the education of children and young adults (aged 3-19 years) with visual impairment and additional needs/sensory loss. We can offer a functional curriculum which is based around key areas of development incorporating:
- Cognitive development which will include structured learning experiences to enable pupils to develop their anticipation skills via the use of structured routines and cues. Development of individual understanding of specific concepts (for example, on, under, right and left) and where appropriate gaining full understanding of a pupil’s responses to sound, touch, smell and taste via a range of multisensory experiences.
Some pupils may participate in pre-Braille activities daily focussing on tactual awareness and discrimination, developing left to right orientation leading to Braille letter/word recognition and Braille letter/word formation. Others may use large print with the use of optical devices, regular print, tactile symbols, on body signing and/or recorded materials.
- Structured individualised sessions to develop speech, language and communication skills.
- Creative development
- Sensory awareness
- Body awareness (including motor skills)
- Life skills/independence
- Mobility and orientation
- Social awareness
- Sensory Efficiency Skills (use of residual vision, hearing and other senses).
The curriculum is topic based to provide a vehicle through which children can develop skills through repetition, practice in different settings to generalise their skills. Communication skills are taught and reinforced throughout the curriculum and we strive to support children to develop skills in expressing their needs effectively. We recognise that many behaviours can be a child’s way of communicating their needs and wants, their feelings or frustrations and we try to respond to these while addressing the child’s ability to communicate effectively.
Each child’s timetable is individualised, highly structured and if appropriate includes significant levels of physical activities to address their sensory processing needs. We have high expectations of behaviour, helping children to develop, where appropriate, strategies to self-regulate their behaviour using a range of resources and techniques.
We are able to support children in accessing the curriculum, achieving accreditation and promoting maximum independence and inclusion into the community.
- Teaching programmes co-ordinated by the Teacher for the Visually Impaired
The Teacher for the Visually Impaired has significant expertise in designing programmes based on initial assessment processes which will be carried out either in a school based assessment week or alongside colleagues from another setting who know the child well. A very experienced team of staff support the delivery of these programmes with most children requiring at least one to one support.
Vision can be monitored an assessed as appropriate with pertinent strategies then being implemented.
- Specialist Speech and Language Therapy
- The importance of a multidisciplinary approach and close collaboration with our speech and language therapists is essential for the overall development of speech, language and communication. Each pupil is able to access individualised programmes offered that are designed to support early communication skills and language development. Approaches offered include Intensive Interaction in which children are supported to engage with adults in activities which maximise communication skills.
- Access to a suitably challenging curriculum, modified to meet the individual needs of children within a Total Communication approach.
- We make sure that our children have full access to an inclusive functional curriculum that provides stimulating programmes that are challenging whilst at the same time ensuring they are relevant and appropriately differentiated so it can meet their very individual needs. We use a range of communication methods including speech, non-sighted means such as Braille as well as sign/on body signing, symbols, PECS, SCERTS, low and high tech aids such as Voice Output Communication Aids.
- Specialist occupational therapy as an integral part of their education programme.
- Our occupational therapists (OTs) provide sensory processing programmes to support attention levels or any difficulties a child may experience with regard to developmental and/or physical learning challenges. The OTs use a range of child centred approaches to enable a child to develop skills, increase their performance and thus enhance their independence. Innovative ways for children to access the curriculum using technology are employed whilst children are provided with specialist equipment and furniture such as seating in order to encourage good posture, increase levels of alertness and thus engage better with learning. Developmental pathways are also planned to increase independence and life skills which include community based learning experiences.
- Specialist Physiotherapy
- All of our visually impaired children have access to facilities such as our on site hydrotherapy pool, swimming pool, exercise equipment and activities such as rebound therapy. The physiotherapy team are available to support children’s gross motor development and plan programmes to complement our PE curriculum.
- A specialist range of facilities and learning opportunities :
- A creative teaching environment to maximise concentration levels with some children requiring a low stimulus approach to their working environment.
- Individual programmes throughout the whole curriculum ensuring a child centred approach which takes into account a child’s interests or key motivators.
- Respite care and short break services which include tea-time visits, overnight stays, weekends and a summer holiday programme for two weeks.
- Sensory room/exploration room to encourage positive behaviour and to maximise communication skills.
- Access to a vestibular swing
- Partnership working with parents/carers to ensure consistency between home and school thus greater success in managing behaviour and reducing anxiety
- Opportunities for off site learning including educational visits, health and fitness programmes, social skills and learning opportunities within the community.
- A functional lifeskills programme which is developmental and includes key areas of learning such as personal care skills, travel skills, household management.
- Light stimulation programmes to maximise the use of residual vision and develop visual skills for example tracking.
- Orientation and mobility training
- Development of tactual skills including pre-Braille/Braille skills as appropriate.
- Access to a 24 hour curriculum (for some children)
- Flexible residential provision is made to enable children who cannot commute daily due to the distance between the school and their homes, or for whom education support outside school day is required for them to become independent. The residential unit provides a warm, safe, supportive environment where the children can continue to learn through increased opportunities to develop their independence, personal and social skills, build self-esteem, value others and promote positive attitudes.
- Family support
- We work in partnership with parents to offer additional support including home visits, behaviour intervention, and staff to advise on additional services and benefits.
- On site clinics
- Medical and psychological services including ENT, CAMHS and regional psychology and psychiatric teams who work with us in a multi-disciplinary approach.