Creating employability for all learners

Creating employability
Diana Whistance-Smith reviews SSAT’s summit for special schools

Did you know that creativity is one of the top skills employers look for in students entering the workforce? So said Chris McFall, national education development manager of Apple, in kicking off this year’s Special Schools Summit. Students’ preparation for creative-oriented careers seems to have been overlooked by schools, especially for their students with SEND, he observed.

The meeting on May 14 involved delegates from several special schools and organisations gathered at Apple headquarters to network, exhibit their projects and share their aspirations and curriculum implementations that are aimed at helping students, particularly those with SEND, to succeed in future careers.

Teaching ‘creativity’ is not easy, but a number of projects were presented to highlight methods that are changing the learning landscape. McFall began the day by discussing one of such innovative programmes, Everyone Can Code, which can be used from primary school onwards. The programme is aligned to the national curriculum, contains informative teaching materials and can be a useful additional resource for students.

Following this discussion, Tom Middlehurst, head of policy and public affairs at SSAT, addressed the importance of personalising students’ needs now more than ever before. The context of curriculum has been evolving since Ralph Tyler’s four key questions in 1949, he said. Seventy years ago, these questions addressed what we want to do with students, what experiences will help attain outcomes, how to best achieve this and how we know that it has been achieved. Now, these traditional views are still valid, but we aim to reflect students’ individuality to a much greater extent, as some aspects of the newly revised Ofsted framework illustrates.

Provisions in the new framework include requirements for assessment strategies addressing students’ behaviour and learning on a broader scale, how to tackle bullying in school and sharing information with school staff and governors to a greater extent than before. Reading will be a focus in Key Stage 1-2, and maths a focus in all Key Stages. Providing for SEND students in mainstream schooling will also need to focus on identification, assessment and provision. The four main judgements on schools (outstanding to inadequate) will remain, as will the “substance of education” with a “strong academic core of Ebacc”, which Middlehurst deemed disappointing.

Taking a step back, he thought it essential to consider why we educate young people, listing transmission of culture, preparation for work, personal empowerment and preparation for citizenship as the important factors. He noted how this is supported by Wiliam’s principles of curriculum design, whereby a ‘good’ curriculum is:

  • balanced
  • rigorous
  • coherent
  • vertically integrated
  • appropriate
  • focused
  • relevant.

Maintaining a traditional curriculum model, which does not allow for exploration of creative opportunities, is widely recognised as the root of the problem with the restrictive curriculum in England.

Building on Wiliam’s work, SSAT’s four pillars of principled curriculum design are: intent, content, delivery and experience. By contrast to the restrictive national approach, Middlehurst cited London Nautical School, which has been exemplary in an innovative path towards developmental educational possibilities. Teachers’ curriculum planning allows students to choose many elements of their classroom experience, which can have motivational benefits as well as enabling the teaching to focus on students’ own values.

Middlehurst followed up with an approach to determine how one’s curriculum intent is achieved in students’ daily experiences, asking: what needs to be found out? How will it be found out? And how can you measure success?

Among the other presentations, Charlotte Thurston, head of schools engagement at the charity Education and Employers, explored how to work effectively with employers to help redesign schooling in a more appropriate way. She highlighted the differences in engagement between schools and gave advice on how to maximise engagement. She also saw a need to address potential clashes between aspirations and the realities of the labour market.

Kay Charles, head of The Village School, concluded the presentations with her experience of the new Ofsted framework, highlighting safeguarding still being a key area and the impact that language has on curriculum, especially for young people with SEND. She also emphasised the need for learning to be well-sequenced and for all colleagues working with the student to understand what they are learning and what the next step is.

Each presentation illustrated the importance of creative strategies to improve not only future employability but culture, empowerment and citizenship for every type of learner.

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