Over the past six years, Headlands School in the Vale of Glamorgan has extended pupils’ opportunities and increased overall attainment. Through nurturing social and emotional skills in the classroom, strong partnerships with local schools and engaging with pupils’ aspirations a positive culture has been established in the school. Academic achievement is celebrated and is powerful motivator which has led to positive outcomes for the school.
Number of pupils: 52
Age range: 8 - 19 years
Date of Estyn inspection: October 2012
Context and background to sector-leading practice
Headlands School is an independent special school, situated in a residential area of Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan. It is part of the ‘Action for Children’ charity. The school provides day and residential placements for pupils with very challenging behaviour and emotional, social, and behavioural difficulties (ESBD). At the time of the last inspection in October 2012, the school had 48 pupils, aged between 8 and 19, of whom there were 42 boys and 6 girls. Five pupils were in key stage 2, 19 in key stage 3, 10 in key stage 4 and 14 in post-16.
Pupils are placed at the school by local authorities in Wales and England. Twelve pupils have termly residential places. Forty-seven pupils have a statement of special educational needs (SEN) and 15 pupils are looked after by their placing authority. All pupils have additional learning needs, which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). English is the predominant language of nearly all pupils. One pupil speaks Welsh as his first language at home.
The school aims to provide a nurturing environment and a broad and balanced curriculum to meet pupils’ individual learning and behavioural needs.
The school’s overall objective is to help pupils achieve their maximum potential and prepare them effectively to move on to the next stage in their lives.
Pupils enter Headlands School having previously experienced failure as learners. Due to the social and emotional skills required to cope with the pressures and demands of examination courses, pupils in this sector generally find it difficult to complete and achieve qualifications in line with their potential. Headlands staff believe that, given enough support, the pupils can achieve well and are entitled to do so. Over the last six years the school has placed particular emphasis on extending the opportunities for pupils to achieve appropriate qualifications. As a result, the school has created a culture where pupils expect to complete examination courses and gain awards. By creating a safe and secure base which values academic achievement, Headlands pupils become more effective learners. Pupils now know how, and expect to, succeed rather than how to fail.
Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice
We believe that for the pupils to be successful adults and lead fulfilled lives they will need to access further education, training or employment when they leave the school. In today’s world, this will mean they have to compete for places on courses and jobs against others who have been to schools that offer wide opportunities to gain qualifications. It is important that Headlands pupils receive at least a similar or better opportunities to gain the qualifications that they require to access the jobs, training and further education to which they aspire. To support this vision, the school has initiated a range of strategies.
• Nurturing the social and emotional skills that learners require in the classroom. This approach helps pupils to cope with the pressures and demands related to achieving qualifications.
• Providing a comprehensive range of opportunities and qualifications on the school site. The school expects all teachers to deliver external examination courses, and provides staff with the required support to achieve this aim.
• Establishing strong partnerships with local schools, colleges and education providers to extend the range of qualifications available. Through these partnerships, pupils achieve qualifications at A-level, on work-based learning programmes and vocational qualifications.
• Creating a positive culture around learning with a strong emphasis on celebrating examination success. The positive examination results many pupils achieve help to motivate and inspire other pupils to achieve similar success. This approach also reinforces teachers’ expectations for pupils to work hard and show commitment to their studies.
• Engaging pupils in discussions about their future aspirations. These discussions and teachers’ support and encouragement help motivate pupils to achieve the qualifications they need to access the next phase of learning or work.
• Continuing to modify and develop the examination courses available to pupils. The school provides staff with the support and resources they require to develop new courses and invest time in establishing new partnerships with external providers. This ensures our qualification framework remains flexible and can be adapted to meet the learning pathways of each particular cohort of pupils.
Impact on provision and learners’ standards
Pupils now have the opportunity to leave Headlands School with a wide range of qualifications relevant to their future aspirations. As a result, they are developing the skills to learn independently, are better prepared to move on to further education and training, and have the best possible opportunities to succeed in life.
In recent years, pupils have gained a wide range of qualifications and awards including AS level, GCSE, entry level, OCN, BTEC, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, WJEC Projects and Essential Skills Wales certificates.
Six years ago, pupils had access to only three GCSE and six entry level courses. In 2012, pupils at Headlands School achieved:
• a total of 61 GCSE passes in 10 subject areas, with around a third of these passes at grades B-D;
• four Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Awards;
• four Essential Skills Wales qualifications at level 2 in the application of number;
• ten WJEC project passes (2 at extended grade C and E, one at higher grade B, and seven at foundation grades A and B);
• two BTEC qualifications in hair and beauty at level 1, and a BTEC extended certificate in construction at level 2; and
• an NVQ in performing engineering operations at level 1.
These outcomes indicate clearly how improvements in the culture of learning and achieving culture at Headlands School have had a significant benefit on pupils.