As an extended school, Chesnut Lodge School in Halton provides inclusive after-school and holiday provision for children with additional needs and mainstream children. Heather Austin, their deputy head, explores why it has been a success

Chesnut Lodge is Halton’s special school catering for pupils with complex needs arising from physical, sensory or medical difficulties. The school, which received specialist status for SEN in 2007, caters principally for pupils in Widnes and Runcorn, but also accommodates pupils from neighbouring Warrington when placements are requested. Pupils can be admitted into the nursery at the age of two or as soon as they are identified by health and education professionals as requiring specialist input. All pupils from the reception class onwards have statements of special educational needs and can be educated at Chesnut Lodge until they are 16 if the provision continues to meet their needs.

In 2003, Chesnut Lodge was nominated as the full service extended school for the borough and in April 2004 we appointed an extended schools manager. The new managerial appointment meant that a great deal of the good work already going on could now be set up on a much more formal and sustainable basis and many new initiatives could now be explored.

Inclusion at the core
As a special school we have a duty to provide equality of access to services for children and young people with special educational needs and physical disabilities. When planning extended school provision it was important to ensure it was accessible to pupils and families of the school and special educational needs (SEN) and disabled children and adults living in Halton, and their families. To make further progress on inclusion it was necessary also to consider, and provide opportunities for, the school’s local community. For this to become a reality, communication with our community was, and remains, essential. Our school has an open-door policy where all visitors are offered a guided tour and a brief résumé on what the school is about. Offering a variety of opportunities for people to come and visit on an informal basis, such as summer fairs and other fundraisers, helps people who know nothing about special needs to make that first step over the threshold and get to know you and your facilities. When inclusive clubs and groups are then offered, people are much more willing to give things a go. The inclusive nursery, offering 12 mainstream places for children who do not have additional needs, is a huge help as we already have links with mainstream children and their families who are ready and willing to come and join in.

The school has always been a firm believer in inclusion and community involvement and has a history of offering inclusive extended provision which reflects the needs of our community. We incorporate this ethos into all of our work to deliver the full extended schools core offer (in partnership with other agencies and schools) and we have many success stories that have stood the test of time – key worker support for families, extensive community use of facilities by a wide range of services and groups, a rich and varied menu of activities for students outside of the taught curriculum, our UK Online Centre for lifelong learning – to name a few. This case study, however, will focus on two examples – our out-of-school-hours activities and holiday provision – to give insight into some of the student-focused inclusive provision on offer at Chesnut Lodge, the factors which have facilitated their development and the outcomes generated for service users and for the school. 

Out-of-school-hours activities
Offering clubs to both children at Chesnut Lodge and children attending mainstream schools was something we wanted to do from the offset. We recognised that if we were going to be as inclusive as possible in our approach it was essential to do so. Back in 2002, we set up ‘Busy Bees’ which caters for youngsters from school age to seven (mainstream) or eight years (special needs). The club was initially funded by grants received from BBC Children in Need but now has a much more secure future funded through the extended school. The club’s main objective is ‘social interaction and fun, fun, fun’. Activities include painting, dressing up, playing board games and outdoor play often centred around a specific theme and always requiring some form of food and drink at snack time! Pupils from Chesnut Lodge and the neighbouring primary school attend along with some ex-nursery pupils who come back to be with their friends.

We have found that opportunities such as this are invaluable in enhancing friendship circles and networks of mutual support for all involved. A positive by-product of the after-school clubs has been that parents who do not usually pick their children up at home time (transport is always provided at home time) are able to meet other parents and chat while waiting for their children. A number of friendship groups have been established as a result of this. A drawback has been that pupils whose parents cannot pick them up are limited in how many sessions they can access. There have been many discussions with the authority around providing transport, but at present no funding has been offered. The extended school, when asked, therefore offers transport funding for six sessions, but at £16 per taxi this is a costly process.

We also offer a fortnightly youth club, in partnership with Barnardo’s, which is open to all secondary pupils in the borough at no charge. This well-used resource, set up seven years ago, provides the opportunity for pupils to chill out with their friends in a safe environment. Again, this club enables ex-pupils and mainstream friends to meet regularly and keep friendships alive. Brothers and sisters of pupils with special needs also attend providing respite for parents and an opportunity for siblings to spend time together and to get to know one another’s friends. This club, as with all our clubs, are a success today because they reflect the needs and desires of children, young people and their families and have outcomes for them at the centre of our developments.

More recently, we have set up an inclusive multi-sports club (involving a range of sports and games including kurling, boccia, cricket and wheelchair football) which meets every Wednesday after school. Another inclusive club is football training and for each of these clubs we have encouraged young people in Halton with physical disabilities to come along and join in. Indeed, the football coaching, run by Everton Football Club, takes place at a local high school which is an example of inclusive extended school practice within a setting other than our school. We recognise, and embrace the fact that, as a special school, we can help make accessible activities in mainstream school to pupils with SEN and disabilities.

With the complex needs of some of our pupils, all clubs offered at Chesnut Lodge are staffed internally to ensure quality of care. This is costly with high pupil/staffing ratios but is necessary. Employing school staff in these new roles has meant that many staff have been able to extend their interests and skills, enhancing their continuing professional development and increase their pay at the same time. The facility is also in place through our outreach service for our specialist staff to provide training and support for staff delivering the 8am to 6pm childcare offer at Ditton Nursery (and other childcare providers), a partner school in the children’s centre campus of which we are a part. This helps our childcare providers to offer inclusive provision if any of our families, or other local families, require this service.

Holiday provision
Chesnut Lodge facilitates summer holiday provision for young people across the borough. Summer play schemes had been undertaken at school for a number of years before we became a full-service extended school. These schemes, funded by the authority through different strategies, included mainstream and special needs children and were successful in their own right, but were tied to specific themes following National targets.

Following the appointment of the extended school manager, the provision of our Inclusive Summer Play Schemes has evolved year on year. In 2004, 15 young people between the ages of seven and 14 attended with the major focus being the arts. The project was coordinated by the extended school manager who, through the arts development team, was able to arrange for three artists to work with the children – a visual artist who led puppet making, a dance artist and an artist who specialised in new media and used digital photography and animation to bring the work together. This scheme was financed solely by the school and run by Chesnut Lodge employees alongside staff from other local schools.

In 2005 the project was extended through partnerships entered into with the local Barnardo’s Wider Horizons Team (who have a remit to promote inclusive play) and Halton Play Council, who arrange other holiday play schemes in the area. Together, we aimed to provide a safe, stimulating and friendly play scheme for children; to give children equal access to quality inclusive play; to create a happy and caring environment by showing respect for and appreciation of individuals; and to develop children’s confidence and self-esteem through promoting independent play.

This new partnership meant that, for the provision in the summer of 2005, qualified experienced staff were provided and paid for by the two partner organisations and the scheme was able to incorporate pupils with more complex needs. Barnardo’s staff had the time and skills to carry out home visits prior to the scheme ensuring appropriate staff and resources were made available. Places were pre-booked for children with additional needs and admission was on a first come first served basis for mainstream children. More than 50 children attended the three weeks of provision during August from 22 different schools. Ofsted registration was also obtained by the school as children under the age of eight were invited to attend. Activities were wide ranging and we were able to benefit from the support of a staff member from a local high school who provided some sessions of cricket, football and athletics. We also had some trips and the whole scheme finished with a circus skills workshop which was enjoyed by all. As you would expect, the scheme was fully inclusive so children with disabilities played with their non-disabled peers.

The following year, the play scheme was run on the same principles, with the addition of a new partnership with Shaping Services, the team within the local authority’s Children and Young People’s Division who provide for children with complex needs and disabilities. This meant that the play scheme was commissioned to provide for individual children on the autistic spectrum as well as others with disabilities. This year (2006) the scheme ran for three weeks of the summer holidays on a sessional basis. Eighty-seven children, aged between five and 12 years attended the play scheme from 20 different schools with 31 having pre-booked places due to special educational needs or disabilities. Four children with autistic spectrum disorders attended the provision as a result of our partnership with Shaping Services and each child was given individual support throughout their time at the play scheme. Children from the local area were able to attend on an open-access basis.

Activities during the session are wide ranging and child-led. These included tabletop activities, arts and craft, sports, cookery and fruit tasting. We also had two trips, organised by Halton Play Council, to a fun day at the local scout hut and to Chester Zoo. For all of the activities, including the trips, we were able to provide one-to-one support for individuals who needed that support.

In addition to the summer provision, we also offer inclusive holiday provision during other holiday periods. Like the summer provision, these are well advertised, and well attended. We do make the play schemes as inclusive as we can possibly make them, given staffing and other resources. However, places for children with additional needs are limited and do have to be pre-booked. We have found that having a reserve list is essential and request that parents inform us as early on the day as possible if they are not bringing their child so that either another child with SEN can come, or more mainstream children can be admitted.

Feedback from parents and children has been incredibly positive with many saying they value the opportunity for mainstream and special needs children to mix on an equal level. One parent said she liked the idea of integration and chose our scheme rather than one nearer to home. All children requiring additional support received it and, again parents’ comments are testament to this. There are benefits for our partner organisations also. For instance, Barnardo’s Wider Horizons now receive more referrals for their provision from other special schools. Positive outcomes for children and young people were wide ranging – with enjoyment being a main outcome – and we were successful in meeting the core aims of the scheme. This was down to the inclusive approach that partners took – one which involved having high expectations of what all children can achieve; being positive and respectful of children of all backgrounds and abilities; valuing each child and what they have to offer; and encouraging children to try new activities, in a safe and supportive environment. Moreover, we ensured that access was for all and that children learned to share and mix with other children in a relaxed play environment through a wide range of programmed activities. 

Partnership working
With four main organisations now being involved in this fully inclusive scheme, policies had to be developed reflecting the ethos of all partners. Although this meant a lot more paperwork initially, working as a team and being able to share the expertise of each organisation improved the quality and impact of the scheme. My advice to other schools looking to develop similar provision would be to start by writing a service level agreement so it is clear what each partner is bringing, and what they are responsible for. Remember to include in-kind provision and management charges. I would also say refrain from underestimating the impact that a different working culture and ethos can have on day-to-day working. Agencies can agree to share targets but this does not guarantee that the agencies’ values are the same as yours. Good communication can help with this as it broadens understanding. Team-building is an integral part of day-to-day work, to ensure effective partnership working and communication.

There are other things that it is important to remain attentive to when it comes to effective team work – things that may not occur to you immediately but can impact on the day-to-day running of provision. For instance, it is important to be sensitive to the fact that staff will have different pay, conditions and job descriptions. Furthermore, it is paramount to ensure that everyone involved in a play scheme is working to the same procedures. Ofsted expects all staff on play schemes to follow the same procedures in the event of a child protection issue despite the fact that there may be different sets of management procedures. All this requires careful consideration.

So, what has the extended school experience, in particular the clubs and holiday provision, provided for Chesnut Lodge? It has certainly provided an opportunity to rethink the role of the school in relation to its pupils and community and we have found that by working in partnership, we’ve been able to increase our client base. Special schools that do not yet do this may struggle to reach mainstream children. As a special school we have always had very good relationships with health, social care and other services, and have experience of making referrals to these services, but have found that through our development as an extended school, we have been able to achieve a higher level of multi-agency working and increase the status of the school and its partners locally, regionally and nationally. Moreover, Chesnut Lodge and the local authority have been able to develop a much more inclusive and innovative approach to the delivery of out-of-hours clubs and holiday provision for pupils at this school and mainstream schools.