At Swansea PRU we teach a range of learners from Foundation Phase through to KS4, all of whom have social, emotional, mental health or behavioural difficulties. The impact of Covid-19 has led to some of the greatest and fastest changes in what and how we teach our pupils that I have ever experienced, and probably the most challenging 6 months of my career.
As we start the 20/21 school year, we need to assess how the events of recent months have impacted on the well-being of our pupils, and to plan for how we can support their well-being, resilience and mental health as we move forward into the unpredictable year ahead.
We’ve tried our best to engage all learners, and whilst we may not have succeeded with every pupil every time, we’ve learned so much along the way. The creative strategies that teachers and associate staff developed during lock down have been inspirational. Necessity has driven a focus on engagement, well-being and shaping learning to meet our pupils’ individual needs and circumstances.
The new academic year will see us work together to implement the ‘new new’ learning environment in response to Covid. But alongside that we’re also planning to move into our new purpose-designed building at the start of 2021. Concerns and feelings of anxiety are counterbalanced by a sense of excitement and opportunity.
Before I tell you more about that, let’s look at how the new curriculum will help pupils at Swansea PRU.
For us, supporting learners to realise Curriculum for Wales’ four purposes has always made perfect sense. However, the focus on developing all our children and young people to be:
- ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
- enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
- ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
- healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.
…has never seemed as relevant as it does now:
The ability to shape the learning for our pupils in a way that is tailored to their individual needs, interests and experiences is greatly welcomed. And as we move further towards the roll-out of the new Curriculum for Wales, it is clear that we can’t wait until 2022.
With Health and Well-being as one of the six areas of learning and experience in the new curriculum, the recognition of its integral link to all learning ensures that it is central to the planning for all of our learners. It gives us in the PRU a clear starting point to genuinely plan our curriculum around matters which act as barriers to many of our pupils; that way we can start to overcome the issues that prevent them from engaging positively – with others, with learning, with society, and tragically for some pupils, with life itself.
The new curriculum also offers our teachers an opportunity to shape learning opportunities in an even more meaningful way, and to engage those learners who are most disengaged. The creative flair our staff have shown over the last 6 months needs to be nurtured and further developed to support the planning of a braver, more exciting and engaging curriculum. The focus on progression enables us to use assessment more honestly and more realistically – to accurately measure where pupils are in their learning, to inform planning and pedagogy to enable them to reach the next steps; also to observe and celebrate their progress in all aspects of their learning rather than focusing on difficulties and shortcomings linked to the acquisition of narrow fields of knowledge.
Digital learning has also evolved as we have changed the ways we work to manage Covid-19 issues, and the power of digital competence and confidence has been highlighted more than ever before. This year we will fully and bravely embrace digitally enhanced learning because we see the importance it holds for our pupils and their futures. It supports greater independence and connectivity in learning, as well as communication with friends, families, teachers, future employers and the wider world. To do this, we will work to ensure that all our staff have the skills and knowledge to meaningfully plan for its use across the curriculum and to support our children and young people in their mastery of digital skills. We will also need to review access to devices, software and learning platforms so they can be used safely to support learning outside of the school building as well as in lessons.
Alongside this, next year our new tailor-made building will help us build better futures. Hopefully we will move in by early 2021, using facilities which will help us further support learners and enhanced learning experiences.
Our learners need to understand the impact of their decision-making on the quality of their lives, and the lives of others, something we have always worked to develop. Our new building has been designed to help us with this, so that we can more effectively shape their learning and tailor it to individual needs, interests and experiences. It will also help with learning about health and well-being, such as understanding the importance of developing good physical health with food technology teaching rooms, good access to outdoor spaces and eco areas. We will have a large hall, with carefully designed sensory rooms, therapy rooms and quiet areas which will help us deliver a therapeutic curriculum, developing and nurturing good mental health.
So with a new term underway, a new cohort of pupils and a new building around the corner, could there be a better time to develop our new curriculum? A curriculum that is purpose driven and based on what actually does matter? Well for us it’s the right time, and that’s regardless of a pandemic! At Swansea PRU we embrace the new, and for us this certainly is not the end of ‘the news’.
Headteacher, Swansea PRU and Behaviour Support Unit.
Amanda is one of the practitioners currently developing Curriculum for Wales guidance for PRUs and Education Other Than At School (EOTAS).