The ethos of a school is its characteristic spirit, the vision it embodies and communicates in practice. Whatever ethos a school may claim, it is important to recognise that it is people’s practical experience of that school that will create their perception of its ethos.
Philosophy and Ethos
Westfield School is a Primary aged special school which caters for children experiencing Communication and Interaction difficulties within a moderate learning difficulty / mild learning disability range. It is expected that the vast majority of our pupils have a diagnosis of ASD alongside other difficulties such as Global Developmental Delay, anxiety, sensory processing, ADHD and dyspraxia for example and / or a severe speech, language and communication difficulty.
For these reasons, we aim to provide our pupils with a needs-relevant learning environment and curriculum which addresses their complex learning, social communication and behavioural needs so that real, long lasting and positive changes can be made and enable them to make progress towards being independent individuals who can organise and manage themselves as learners and members of a community.
Providing children with a realistic and positive self-image is fundamental to the work of Westfield. This is best served by:-
· Creating a positive, supportive ethos that celebrates the strengths and interests of pupils and staff.
· Starting from where the child is, not from where we would like them to be.
· Recognising that behaviours are indicators of underlying difficulties and communicate that the child needs support. · Explicit teaching and positive reinforcement of pro-social behaviour.
· Prioritising particular learning and communication needs to be addressed at any one time rather than overload the child with unrealistic expectations.
· Presenting academic work and tasks in a way that it is structured so as to make sense to the child, to ensure success.
· Providing effective, meaningful, targeted feedback of direct use to the child in developing understanding of their social communication and their consequences.
· Improving basic skills, knowledge and understanding as building blocks to progress from.
These building blocks are not just related to academic learning and the national curriculum. In order to be able to access the academic curriculum children must have a sound understanding of themselves as people and as learners in a social world. Underpinning barriers to learning to learn (academic or behavioural) experienced by our pupils include a range of difficulties such as:
· Attentional deficits
· Working memory
· Goal oriented behaviours, such as planning, categorising and evaluating
· Social communication
· Speech, language and communication
· Sensory processing.
In order to enact our ethos we must therefore support our pupils’ access to the National Curriculum and effective progress in attainment, via learning opportunities and teaching styles in a way which both takes account of, and addresses, their individual needs. That personalisation of approach is evidenced in other ways our ethos informs the principles which underpin our practice. The following provides an outline of the principles and beliefs which guide how Westfield School Staff work with children. They are the products of experience, but also reflect information available from research.
Positive social and learning behaviours must be taught.
‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are meaningless terms. Children with Communication and Interaction difficulties are rarely able to understand or define what ‘being good’ means. Pro-social behaviour (i.e. desirable, socially appropriate behaviour resulting in constructive social and personal outcomes and consequences) has to be taught.
Punishment does not replace inappropriate behaviour, but represses it.
Punishment and sanctions do not work, except for children who habitually present pro-social behaviours due to a depth of understanding of social communication. Children can be made to conform to rules and to change their behaviour through fear and/or a wish to avoid punishment. The motivation to change under these circumstances is the desire to avoid punishment. Remove the threat and the child will almost certainly revert to the previous behaviour.
Positive reinforcement is far more likely to achieve long-term change.
By reinforcing desirable social behaviours through meaningful consequences, the child associates the new behaviours with good feelings/outcomes. Usually, as the adult involvement becomes less overt and the feedback/assessment process becomes internalised, the behaviour continues to be associated with those good feelings/outcomes, becomes valued and is consequently learned. This must be coupled with explicit teaching of social skills and the building blocks of successful social interactions.
Children need structure, order and routine, both to foster a feeling of security and confidence. There exists a minimum expectation in terms of behaviour for all children in school, which we expect to support each child in learning before specific social behaviours relevant to that particular child are targeted. Such basic behaviours would include, coming when called by name and to complete set realistic classroom tasks. This also allows the child and staff to know each other before moving into areas of social and learning behaviour particular to that child.
A positive and supportive ethos is reinforced by staff through actions including:
· The greeting and acknowledgement of the child’s arrival and departure from school.
· Being with the children throughout the school day at social times and places as well as in class. Seeking to establish positive relationships with children through starting with the child’s interests and enjoyment.
· Chatting with and listening to children. Acknowledging their presence and being available to them and approachable in demeanour.
· Acknowledgement and celebration of events and special times, e.g. beginnings, endings, birthdays, family events. · Staff functioning as a consistent team, showing mutual respect.
· A well organised and ordered school where change is pre-warned and planned for with the children wherever possible.
· A warm, friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Furnishing and decoration must reflect both the staff’s respect for children’s ability to recognise quality of materials and their trust in the children.
· Displays which show that children’s work is respected and valued.
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