‘Each child is special: each child has needs: each child has special needs. These are truths as old as time, carried in the heart of any parent and any good teacher.’
As set out in the school’s Ethos and Aims, we aim ‘to meet the individual needs, foster the aptitudes and nurture the growth of each child.’ In this sense, the school’s Individual Needs provision is part of a wider commitment to helping any child to discover his or her ability. The provisions of Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Disability aside, we do not view learning difficulties as disabling but rather as obstacles to fulfilling potential which, with appropriate support, can in many cases be overcome.
This difference of emphasis has significant consequences. It is by no means the case that learning difficulties are experienced only by the less able. Indeed, the problems encountered by the most gifted children can require considerable specialist attention. We are therefore committed to meeting the needs of children who have an identified learning difficulty, whatever their innate ability.
The Prep School has specialist staff, trained and qualified to recognize, assess and deal with learning problems throughout the age and ability range. We do not have a separate Individual Needs ‘unit’ because the close relationship and constant communication between Individual Needs and mainstream teachers (many wear both hats) is an essential factor in the early identification and the continuing management of any difficulty. As a consequence, ‘internal’ assessment of children is commonplace when a difficulty has been observed and has been discussed with parents.
In a similar vein, the ‘threshold’ of intervention is much lower than in most schools. The vast majority of children in receipt of support will have very mild or mild specific learning difficulties. For many of these, the provision will be relatively short term, addressing a particular concern at a particular time. For others, support may be needed throughout their time at the school and beyond.
The level of awareness of all staff is very high. There is an ‘Action Plan’ for every child in the school which is constantly updated and formally reviewed and attention to the individual child is a part of the culture. For children with learning difficulties, through specific training and through involvement in framing each child’s Individual Targets, the mainstream teachers are made fully aware of any child’s difficulties and can therefore plan their teaching accordingly. In this respect, all children benefit greatly from the teachers’ awareness of different learning styles, irrespective of whether they have a learning difficulty.
The level of communication with home is, likewise, very high. Parents are informed of any concern, give their permission for any assessment, discuss the outcomes of such assessment in detail with the staff concerned and are fully involved thereafter in the creation and regular updating of a child’s Individual Needs Targets. They meet formally and informally with a child’s Individual Needs teacher to discuss progress and agree action.
The effect of a learning difficulty on a child’s self-esteem is of paramount concern. While the identification of a difficulty is naturally a cause for concern to parents, it is almost always a source of comfort to the child. To know that there is a difficulty and that you will be helped to overcome it is a reassuring process and, while children’s self-esteem is very closely monitored and carefully nurtured by the department and by the staff as a whole, being given Individual Needs support is felt as positive by the vast majority of children concerned. It is a matter of pride, in this respect, that our children will talk openly and without embarrassment to prospective parents about their difficulties.