Ysgol Pen Coch use a range of interventions including a virtual reality room that have had a significant impact on pupils’ wellbeing, engagement and readiness to learn.
Age range: 2 - 11
Date of inspection: May 2017
Information about the setting/school/provider
Ysgol Pen Coch is a day special school that provides education for pupils with a wide range of learning needs. These include profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD), autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and complex learning needs. There are currently 94 pupils at the school, aged two to eleven.
Context and background to sector-leading practice
As a pioneer school for the Welsh Government, Ysgol Pen Coch is involved in developing and piloting a new curriculum for Wales. At Ysgol Pen Coch, this includes the development of personalised learning to meet the complex needs of pupils through focused interventions and individually tailored support.
Description of nature of strategy or activity
The school uses a wide range of activities to address individual pupils’ specific needs, and to make sure that pupils develop the skills they need to make progress and succeed in line with their needs. This includes a strong focus on pupils’ emotional and behavioural development and their communication skills.
The school website provides up-to-date information on the therapies and interventions used at the school. One very successful intervention is the virtual reality room.
The school uses its virtual reality room to reduce anxieties and prepare pupils for the world outside. The room allows pupils to experience and play out difficult situations that they often meet during their daily life and routine.
Handheld controllers and sensors give a whole new feel to the artificial reality experience. There are transmitters and receivers on the walls and the immersive experience is very real. This allows a pupil to explore and experience situations as if they were actually present in that environment or place.
When choosing the most appropriate experiential situations, the school liaised closely with parents about situations that caused them the greatest concern. One of these was crossing the road. One of the teaching staff visited the local pedestrian crossing, took photographs and made a recording of all the sounds experienced there. She then transferred these onto a programme on the computer, which is connected to the virtual reality equipment, creating a 3D version of the crossing. Sounds were projected onto three walls in the room, giving pupils a 360 degree experience.
Pupils participate in individual weekly sessions of between 10 and 15 minutes for a period of eight weeks. Sessions consist of three stages. During the first stage, pupils have to look for and listen to all the sights and sounds associated with crossing the road using a pedestrian crossing. They learn how to press the button to activate the red and green man and they learn to be patient and look and listen continually for the red and green man. Once they are confident with the first stage of the experience, pupils move onto the second stage in the virtual reality room. This involves actual pedestrian traffic lights, which have a timer built into the workings. Using the timer, pupils have to stand still at the crossing until the lights change and the green man appears.
At the third stage, pupils go outside to a pedestrian crossing. All of the 30 pupils who took part in this intervention recently were able to arrive at the crossing, press the button to activate the red and green man, and wait patiently until it was time to cross without becoming agitated or stressed. Each pupil was able to cross the road with confidence.
Recently, the virtual reality room was made into the secondary school that the Year 6 pupils will be transferring to in September. Some pupils were not previously able to take part in the school’s usual transition projects, due to the high anxiety levels they encountered. Through the virtual reality room, pupils are able to practise ‘going to’ the secondary school in preparation for their actual transition at the end of the summer term.
What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?
Pupils who experience the virtual reality room are able to carry out specific activities with significantly increased confidence. This has had a significant impact on pupils’ readiness to learn, wellbeing and engagement.
Estyn’s recent inspection report noted: “The innovative approach to the curriculum is a strength of the school. Staff focus relentlessly on understanding pupils’ individual needs and providing an appropriate range of enrichment activities to motivate and engage them”
How have you shared your good practice?
The school has written and contributed to a broad range of research and publications in which it has shared its good practice. A list of publications is available on the school website: http://ysgolpencoch.org/course/view.php?id=376
The school has also shared this work with other pioneer schools.