Giving pupils, staff and stakeholders an equal voice in the formation of a new school

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When Ysgol Y Deri was formed from the amalgamation of three special schools, the new leadership team ensured that staff and pupils were brought together with a shared vision and sense of ownership.


Number of learners: 246
Age range: 3 - 19
Date of inspection: October 2016

Information about the school

Ysgol Y Deri is a residential special school maintained by the Vale of Glamorgan local authority.  The school opened in November 2014 following the amalgamation of Ysgol Erw’r Delyn, Ysgol Maes Dyfan and Ashgrove School.  The school shares a site and facilities with a mainstream secondary school.  Currently there are 246 pupils on roll aged between three and nineteen years.  All pupils have statements of special educational needs for severe learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning difficulties, moderate learning difficulties or autistic spectrum disorders.  Pupils are drawn from the Vale of Glamorgan as well as from the neighbouring local authorities of Cardiff, Newport, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Swansea.  Nearly all pupils have English as their home language. Thirty-five per cent of the pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The headteacher has been in place since the school opened.

The school caters for a range of ability from ‘Routes for Learning’ to ‘A’ level, making it unique in Wales.  It has 240 staff on site.  The school is a new build that opened in November 2014, less than two years before its inspection.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

In 2009, the local authority formulated a plan to amalgamate its three special schools into one, co-locating the school on a shared site with a mainstream secondary school next door.  When the decision to amalgamate was made, there were three headteachers in place and, once the shadow governing body was established, four governing bodies. 

Two of the headteachers decided to retire and the governing bodies agreed to federate.  The remaining headteacher was appointed to the new school and took up post initially as the Executive Headteacher of all four schools.  A leadership team was then established for the new school comprised of members of the existing teams.  In total, it took five years to plan and build the school.  

The three schools had very individual and distinctive cultures.  The challenge for the leadership team was to bring the staff together and to do this with a shared vision and a shared sense of ownership, thus ensuring that the new school became one school with its own distinct identity. 

Description of nature of strategy or activity

The leadership team were clear about the challenges ahead and were well versed in the research behind successful change management, including work by Professor Michael Fullan amongst others.  The team’s key priority was to put in place suitable strategies to ensure that pupils, staff and other stakeholders had equal voices in the design of the new school: its facilities, curriculum, vison and ethos.

Four key areas were identified:
1. The management of change for the staff
2. The design and provision within the new school
3. The curriculum for the new school
4. The understanding and management of the pupils by the staff and how they would come together

It was decided that the staffing and pupils would be ‘mixed up’ from day one of the new school.  The first task was therefore to enable the staff teams to meet each other.  Team building exercises were organised on joint INSET days to enable the staff from each of the three schools to get to know each other.

Specialist teams were set up with representatives from all schools and across support and teaching staff to design and advise on all aspects of the new build, the provision, the curriculum, and to identify training needs.  Everyone who wanted a role was engaged and several media for circulating the outcomes were used, including email and Yammer.

The teams involved in the building design worked with pupils and architects to ensure that the building would meet the needs of staff and learners.  These teams were encouraged to think imaginatively so that the school did not simply re-create what already existed.  The project also initiated the concept of ‘Construction Ambassadors’.  These were two pupils from each of the four schools involved with the project (including the mainstream school).  They visited the site regularly and reported back to their peers in the schools through verbal reports, presentations and video.

As the curriculum was designed, it was trialled in the three schools, and pupils were consulted on its suitability.  A process of feedback then ensured that the curriculum developed according to the needs of all pupils.  Qualification routes for 14-19 learners were established and assessment and recording procedures were standardised.  New staff uniforms were purchased, with the new uniforms for the pupils designed by pupils and parents.

A planned series of staff exchanges took place over the two years of the build.  This involved pairs of staff working for two week periods in the schools they had no experience of.  Every member of staff spent at least two weeks in one of the other three schools.  This helped to identify training needs and provided opportunities for staff to share experiences.

The senior leadership team also exchanged across the schools, although their ‘swaps’ were of a much longer duration to ensure that they had a firm understanding of the needs of pupils and staff.  It was also important to get to know the staff in each school and establish a rapport early on.  Pupils in the 14-19 age group also went to different schools to take part in an options day every week.  Great care was taken to ensure that no one school led the others and that everyone had an equal stake in the new school.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

Staff and pupils were well prepared for the new school.  They were familiar with the building and had met new teachers and school friends.  There was a shared understanding of the needs of the pupils, and staff were well prepared to meet their physical, emotional and educational needs.

The school could deliver a cohesive curriculum, qualifications and assessment framework to ensure that achievement and standards were high from the beginning.  All pupils in the first year of opening met their targets and all leavers left with at least one recognised qualification.  Nearly all pupils’ wellbeing was assessed as good or excellent.

The building supports a highly effective, extensive and varied curriculum.  It has a wide range of provision, including a television studio and a professional kitchen, to ensure that the wide range of needs of learners are fully met.  Provision for ICT is a particular strength.  Pupils make extensive use of information and communication technology across the curriculum and nearly all pupils across the school make strong progress in their ICT skills.

The Construction Ambassadors spoke widely beyond the school, including to politicians and the building industry, and received awards for their work.  The Ysgol Y Deri ambassadors won the Speaker’s Award for School Councils and went to the Houses of Parliament to address MPs.  The impact on their confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing cannot be overstated.

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has hosted visits from across the UK and internationally.  Frameworks for the 14-19 curriculum are used in other schools.  Other schools are supported in their ICT development journey in provision, learning and teaching.  The school is also working alongside the Welsh Government, supporting and advising local authorities on new school buildings and sharing ‘lessons learned’.

Links: www.yyd.org.uk