Vic Goddard, principal of Passmores Academy – the setting for Educating Essex – writes:
We have reached the end of our peek into Frederick Bremer School. Each of the previous episodes has left me in laughter, in tears, frustrated and inspired. And, in true Educating... style, this week was no different.
The whole episode reminded me just how wonderfully life affirming being part of a truly inclusive school is. How could anyone not see how much Christopher, the undoubted hero of tonight, brought to the school? When he was positive Christopher, everyone he met felt better after the encounter; all you could see were smiles and warm glances. Positive Christopher is definitely one of life's radiators. However, we also got to see the overwhelmed, insecure and frightened versions of Christopher that made me fearful that there is no place in the society we have created for the wide-eyed innocence that so often accompanies young people with similar challenges.
Tonight made me think of our own version of Educating and the moment that the cameras captured our Ryan's heartfelt monologue to his peers at his leavers' assembly (can you believe that a ridiculous journalist asked me whether I'd set that up! Really! I guess they had never had the pleasure of spending any time with a young person with the challenges of Aspergers). I often say that the biggest gift I received when watching our series was being able to see Ryan's journey through our school. To see our young people laughing WITH Ryan. To see his differences accepted and cherished by staff and young people alike. That was such a treat; we, between all of us, had created that environment of acceptance.
Inclusive schooling enables young people to develop an understanding of what challenges other people have to face and empathy is one of the most vital characteristics that we can help our young people develop. It is not simply about children with disabilities or learning difficulties. It goes much deeper than that. It is about a commitment to do what is needed to support any adult or young person that the school has contact with. Not hiding differences but learning, together, what needs to be done to ensure we all succeed. This is just as important for an high-achieving young person as it is for the Ryans and Christophers of the world.
To see the highly skilled conversations that Ms Ayesha had with Christopher when he was getting anxious was yet another insight into the amazing work of support staff. It also made me even more fearful of what life after school is going to be like for him. The need to support while enabling Christopher to become a more robust and resilient character is an incredibly difficult balance to strike; one that schools step up to on a daily basis.
Makeda showed us that NAF personalities are just as likely in young women as they are in young men. The best part of Makeda's story was seeing the utter joy on Mr Bispham's face when Ms Kelly was able to get her to engage with poetry. There was no professional jealousy or resentment, just a relief that at last she had engaged with her learning. Well done Joe: a true demonstration that educating our students is definitely a team effort – and well done Ms Kelly for being that trusted inspiration.
I will miss seeing Ms Smith dressed up as a lion and the pragmatic honesty of Ms Hillman. I will miss seeing Mr Bispham show how teachers develop and grow just like the students. However, the undoubted stars of this Educating experience, apart from the young people of course, was the variety of non-teaching staff, who were shown dealing with many of the most challenging and vulnerable students.
For any school to be as inclusive as Frederick Bremer, the work of support staff is vital – especially as budgets get tighter. Inclusion should be the first thing on the agenda of every school, but even more so for those deemed to be 'outstanding' from Ofsted. Our most vulnerable young people bring the biggest challenges, but also the greatest opportunity to make a difference. The pressure on schools to maintain a certain status is driving some schools to view some young people as a burden and this is outrageous. How could anyone feel that this is right? Maybe Progress 8 will alter that, but that's a whole different blog.
Thank you to the community of Frederick Bremer for letting us in. If I lived in Walthamstow, I'd trust you to help my child become the man I want him to be – I have no bigger compliment to give you.
If you are interested in catching up with Ryan and some of the others from Educating Essex you can do so at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/educating-what-i-wish-id-known/on-demand/59864-005/
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