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|Learning Opportunities Centre Secondary
|Mr Simon Graydon
|Ringwould Road, Ringwould, Deal, CT14 8DW
|Other independent special school
|Number of Pupils
What is it like to attend this school?
Learning Opportunities Centre, Secondary is for pupils who have had difficult experiences of school in the past. Some might not otherwise have a school place; others have refused to attend their previous school. Together, staff and leaders have created a school that their pupils actively want to attend.
From the moment that a pupil joins the school, staff work to get to know each one as an individual. Collectively, adults and pupils build positive relationships based on trust and respect. Pupils learn to see themselves as valued members of the school community.
Pupils learn in small classes, and sometimes in one-to-one teaching sessions. Classrooms have a calm and purposeful feel. When pupils need extra support, or are struggling, exactly the right help is quietly provided. Sometimes, this might be some additional emotional support from Peanut, the school dog. At other times, pupils need a high level of specialist support from staff.
Over time, all pupils participate in school council, as well as a very broad range of wider opportunities, including horse riding and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. The education that pupils receive at Learning Opportunities Centre, Secondary has, at every level, been designed to give them the very best chance of future success.
What does the school do well and what does it need to do better?
The school was initially set up to provide an enriching education for children who were looked after and who did not have a school place. While the school now serves a broad range of pupils with additional needs, including social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, the underlying moral purpose of senior leaders has remained consistent.
Led by the headteacher, work to support pupils with their behaviour and attitudes is exceptional. Almost all pupils at the school have struggled to regulate their behaviour, either now or in the past. They often join having reached a ‘crisis point’ in their previous school. Staff are trained to quickly become expert in recognising the small signs that something is starting to go wrong for a pupil. This enables staff to intervene at the earliest possible stage and provide careful and effective support.
Over time, pupils are taught and supported to understand and manage their own feelings and behaviours. Pupils who have been at the school for longer are able to describe how their self-regulation has improved, and the impact that this has had on their lives. The strength of the school’s approach to behaviour has enabled senior leaders to move away from a system of rewards and consequences to a system underpinned by relationships, trust and personal responsibility.
Alongside developing a sense of ownership and responsibility in relation to their own behaviour, the school’s personal development programme has been designed to give pupils their sense of agency back in a range of ways. Pupils are encouraged to be active participants in school life, as well as in their own lives. For example, pupils are encouraged and supported to participate in any reviews of their education, health and care (EHC) plans, their progress and the provision that is made for them.
Through the school’s outdoor learning programme, pupils learn to develop their resilience. They are then supported to transfer this resilience into the classroom setting. Pupils could be seen working through increasingly challenging learning, overcoming barriers to learning that would previously have stood in their way. Leaders have introduced a highly effective personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum for pupils that includes relationships and sex education. Pupils learn about a wide range of cultures. They are confident to discuss the protected characteristics. Pupils feel it is safe to be themselves at Learning Opportunities Centre, Secondary. They know they will be respected.
Leaders are determined that pupils will study a broad and balanced academic curriculum that enables them to engage with the wider world. At the time of the last inspection, the curriculum for mathematics was well designed and taught, but the curriculum in many other areas, including English, was not well sequenced. In addition, reading did not have a high enough profile in the school and too many pupils had negative views of reading. Senior leaders recognise that at that time, the academic ambition for pupils was not consistently high enough. There is now a common understanding, shared by all staff, that an enriching and therapeutic provision can go hand in hand with a high-quality academic curriculum.
Senior leaders have carried out a full review of the curriculum in all subjects. Their work to redesign the curriculum in several subjects is well underway. However, leaders are aware that this work is more developed in some subjects.
Leaders are acutely aware that pupils arrive at the school with varied starting points, undiagnosed learning difficulties, and sometimes significant gaps in their knowledge and understanding because of missed schooling. This picture has been further complicated by the pandemic. Pupils often need time to settle in the school before they can be properly assessed. Leaders are carefully taking account of this in their approach to curriculum design by clearly setting out the key knowledge and concepts that pupils need to retain over time, and ensuring that pupils regularly re-encounter these core aspects of the curriculum as they progress through the curriculum in each subject.
As the curriculum has developed, leaders have been proactive in their approach to monitoring and developing the quality of teaching in the school. Leaders recognise that as they refine and fully embed the new curriculum, they also need to further develop their assessment approach so that it enables them to identify the gaps that pupils have in their learning, and how well they are learning the school’s intended curriculum.
Reading now has a higher profile within the school. The school library has been redesigned, and pupils and staff have worked with a local independent book shop to stock the library with engaging books. Every pupil in the school has weekly one-to-one reading sessions with an adult. There is, however, more work to do to ensure that pupils at an earlier stage of reading get exactly the right support.
The headteacher and his senior leadership team are dedicated to ensuring that every pupil gets the help they need to access education and to develop a sense of belonging and purpose within the school and also within society more widely. The proprietor has an in-depth knowledge of the school, its pupils and their families. She provides effective governance, and together with the senior leadership team, ensures that the independent school standards are consistently met.
The arrangements for safeguarding are effective.
Senior leaders ensure that they follow safer recruitment procedures and make the right checks in relation to all staff. Allegations about adults are managed appropriately, and in consultation with the local authority designated officer. There is a clear culture of safeguarding within the school. Leaders and staff know each individual extremely well. This enables them to quickly pick up if something is wrong. Pupils have high levels of trust in staff, and say that because they are not preoccupied with ‘getting into trouble’, they can go to staff with any worries, including when something has gone wrong online. Safeguarding records are clear and detailed. Leaders refer to external agencies in a timely way. Senior leaders are particularly knowledgeable about the needs of children who are looked after. Leaders are very clear about what they believe all pupils need in order to be safe and to be well supported, and they are quick to advocate and challenge on their behalf.
What does the school need to do to improve?
(Information for the school and proprietor)
? Since the last inspection, senior leaders have focused on setting out clear and well-sequenced curriculums, and on how well teachers teach. They have not yet focused with sufficient precision on whether this work has had the intended impact on pupils’ learning. They need to ensure that they establish systems to carefully measure the impact of their curriculum development work, and to ensure that pupils are achieving the best possible outcomes. ? The curriculum is at an earlier stage of development in a small number of subjects. In these subjects, it is not clear precisely what pupils will learn and in what order. This makes it harder for teachers to focus their teaching, and harder for leaders to assess how well pupils are learning the intended the curriculum. Leaders need to continue their work to develop the curriculum in these subjects, ensuring that teachers know precisely what they are teaching and when to teach it. Leaders need to ensure that their approach to assessment is adapted in line with the new curriculum so that they can accurately measure what pupils have learned of the school’s intended curriculum. ? While reading now has a raised profile within the school and pupils do read regularly with staff, there is not a clear approach to ensuring that pupils who are not able to decode well learn to do so with accuracy. Leaders need to ensure that there are systems in place to identify when a pupil has gaps in their knowledge of the alphabetic code, that these pupils are supported by staff with the necessary expertise and that they have sufficient opportunity to practise reading books that align with the letters and sounds they have learned.