Tŷ Gwyn Special School, Cardiff, has invested in new information and communication technology to help improve pupils’ communication skills and break down barriers to learning.
Number of pupils: 120
Age range: 3-19 years
Date of Estyn inspection: May 2012
Context and background to sector-leading practice
Tŷ Gwyn School is a local authority day special school located in the Ely area of Cardiff. The school caters for up to 150 children and young people aged 3–19 years who have profound and multiple learning difficulties. Many pupils are also on the autistic spectrum and present severe challenging behaviour.
The school’s catchment area comprises the City & County of Cardiff and the surrounding local authorities in South East Wales. The pupils come from a wide range of backgrounds.
Currently there are 120 pupils on roll. All pupils have a Statement of Special Educational Needs or are in the process of having their needs assessed. Thirty-two per cent of pupils are eligible to receive free school meals. This is below the Wales average for special schools of 42.8%. About half of the pupils come from homes where English is not the predominant language. There are no pupils from a Welsh speaking home.
There are just over 100 staff including a large health professional presence. Multi-disciplinary team working is a significant aspect of the work of the school.
The school teaches all the National Curriculum subjects. The school’s curriculum aims to provide pupils with meaningful, relevant and motivating learning experiences that meet their specific needs and further their all-round development. Key stage 4 and post-16 pupils have access to accredited courses together with work experience and college link courses.
The school was relocated into new purpose-built accommodation in September 2010. It has sensory and touch therapy rooms, a soft play area, indoor and outdoor sensory gardens, as well as specialist rooms for art and ceramics, food technology and music.
Pupils at Tŷ Gwyn have profound and multiple learning difficulties. Many are also on the autistic spectrum and present severe challenging behaviour. Approximately 88% of pupils access the curriculum at P-Level 6 and below. This includes 42% of pupils who access Routes for Learning.
Since moving to new premises in 2010, Tŷ Gwyn has invested significantly in the use of information and communication technology to improve pupils’ communication skills and to break down barriers to learning.
The school believes that each pupil should have the opportunity to learn and achieve their potential in an environment where they are happy, well-supported and challenged to achieve as much as possible, whatever their abilities.
Assistive Technology has a significant role to play in realising this vision.
Description of nature of strategy or activity
The school opened its Assistive Technology Centre in September 2010. The Advisory Centre for Education describes Assistive Technology as ‘any equipment or system that is used to increase or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities’. Four members of staff achieved professional qualifications in Assistive Technology accredited by Manchester Metropolitan University.
Teaching and Monitoring
The Assistive Technology Centre works across the domains of:
- pupil voice;
- independence; and
- parental / family support.
All pupils have an Assistive Technology profile that includes their individual curriculum, health and play targets and suitable access methods. These methods include:
- high and low-technology communication aids;
- powered wheelchairs;
- switch-adapted games such as Scalextric and Playstation;
- literacy software such as iPads and Clicker; and
- the use of multimedia technology to undertake assessment for learning activities.
What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?
Assistive Technology has had a significant impact on pupil outcomes as illustrated by the increased number of pupils now using a high-technology communication aid.
Our assessments confirm that these systems contribute directly to the significant increase in the average P-Level per pupil.
Curriculum - Literacy Outcomes
The Assistive Technology Centre has improved pupils’ access and facilitated greater engagement with the curriculum. It has worked with the literacy co-ordinator to develop an accessible approach to the Programme of Phoneme Awareness Training (POPAT) reading scheme. The average P-Level increase per pupil, demonstrates that these approaches have been particularly effective.
The Assistive Technology Centre has developed strategies to give pupils with profound learning needs wider opportunities to make decisions about their life in the school. Tŷ Gwyn now has a vibrant student council. All members of the council use a specific communication system to express their views on behalf of the entire student body. In addition, an increasing number of pupils use technology to contribute to their annual review meetings.
The Assistive Technology Centre launched the ‘iDrive’ driving school last year with the aim of teaching pupils how to operate an electrically-powered wheelchair. Initial assessment sessions and a rigorous teaching programme have enabled eight students to secure their own electrically-powered chairs.
Parental and Family Support
In addition to working with individual pupils, the Assistive Technology Centre secured funds from local businesses to develop an Access Play Project. This initiative helps parents and carers obtain specialist items of equipment to support pupils’ learning.