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Integration takes social acceptance

Banff Academy has a number of inclusion success stories, thanks to its new curriculum and personal support bases. Bill Mackie reports

Colourful banners in the new special educational needs unit at Banff Academy all bear the same epigram: "No one can do everything, but everyone can do something."

Headteacher George Sinclair says: "This is what we believe: everyone can be a success. By trying to address the continuum of pupil needs, we aim to make this success a reality for our pupils."

Maureen Forsyth, principal teacher for special educational needs, is in charge of what the academy prefers to call the curriculum support unit. "To us inclusion means getting it right for every individual child. They all have different needs," she says.

The unit is one of 62 such bases in Aberdeenshire, catering for 500-600 children. The authority's four remaining special schools are being reorganised.

Jim Banks, Aberdeenshire's head of educational services, says the pattern is shifting. "The overall numbers are much the same but the services people are looking for are changing. Well over half of our SEN population is now mainstream and that is increasing."

Banff Academy's newly opened suites of bright, spacious, well-furnished and equipped curriculum support rooms were built by private sector finance but handed over to the authority. The provision for SEN pupils began four years ago when the town's special school closed temporarily and the secondary age pupils were gradually assimilated into the academy. There are 30 pupils at the new base with numbers likely to increase.

"The difference here is that we cater for the full range of learning difficulties," explains Ms Forsyth, "from mild to profound and complex. I have children from S1-S6. S1 and S2 are following a basic 5-14 curriculum adapted to their abilities. S3-S6 pupils are undertaking a programme of Higher Still units delivered by both the unit staff and subject specialists from the rest of the school. This allows a range of Access 1 and Access 2 units to be followed."

Where it is appropriate, the pupils join mainstream classes.

Assistant headteacher Janice Sherrington says: "The other pupils have been very welcoming. In fact they provide support for the children who join their classes."

Ms Forsyth adds that "for some pupils it is the social inclusion which is the most important aspect of meeting their needs".

The academy also has a unit for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural needs, which they prefer to call the personal support base. A group of staff, chaired by Janice Sherrington, reviews pupil needs on a weekly basis and then allocates support across the school.

An important feature of both units is the involvement of senior pupils as part of the school's senior responsibilities programme. This session some of the seniors will, through this work, gain certification for Working With Others, which is a core skill in the National Qualifications.

Banff Academy has a number of inclusion success stories and Ms Sherrington thinks she knows why. "It has to do with the ethos of the academy. It is very much a happy, friendly school."

Another special educational needs unit will open at the new Meldrum Academy later this year.

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