End of Term Headteacher Report to Parents

July 2022

Dear Parents and Carers,

As I write to you for one of the last times this academic year, I cannot help but reflect on what an exceptional year it has been again. I hoped that this year would signal a movement to getting ‘back to normal’ after the pandemic, and in many ways that aspiration has come to fruition. However, I also think it has been a complex year as we have needed to continue to do things in a different way because of the obstacles laid in our mist. The resilience, talent, professionalism and hard work of our school community has meant we have come through the school year with so much to be proud of. Our incredible students continue to inspire us and show us we are right to be ambitious without limits for them and in doing things differently we have been able to adapt and develop as a school to continuously improve.

It was only in April that facemasks became optional for staff and that students have been able to mix a lot more freely. More freedoms within the community have also seen the return of community activity and experiences for our young people such as the Community Café, a residential, excursions and events for families in school to name but a few. We plan to continue to grow all these things next year to provide students with more enriching opportunities and more in person events for parents and carers, which allow us to come together as a community.

Sports Days and School Games Mark- Gold!

We have had two exceptional sports days with one more still to come next week. So far these events have been super successful and gave our young people many opportunities to participate in a variety of activities with their peers, working on their communication, creativity, resilience and exposing them to competition. 

Firstly, I want to thank Alison Nix- PE Teacher and Joe Knowles- Assistant Head, who planned, co-ordinated and led the events across both days. This takes a lot of work, and they did an amazing job. 

Also, thank you to each class team who worked hard to adapt activities that allowed as many young people to access the event as possible. It was also great to see such great relationships between staff and the young people, particularly on the Astro turf, which would have been a new experience for many.

I also want to thank Alison Nix for her incredible contribution and efforts this year to promote an active lifestyle for all our young people. Not only does Alison oversee our PE curriculum she has also been instrumental in ensuring Duke of Edinburgh is built in to our curriculum offer, providing our young people with this widely recognised award, as well as an exciting and challenging expedition experience. All her hard work has paid off and been recognised through us gaining our School Games Mark- Gold! The School Games Mark is a Government-led award scheme launched in 2012, facilitated by the Youth Sport Trust to reward and recognise school’s engagement (provision and uptake) in the School Games against a national benchmark and to celebrate keeping young people active, and we are delighted to have been recognised for our success. As part of our application, we were asked to fulfil criteria in the areas linked to the five School Games outcomes and we are pleased that the hard work of everyone at our school has been rewarded this year.

On Tuesday 4th July, we will be holding our MATP sports day. MATP (Motor Activity Training Programme) was created by the Special Olympics and is a unique programme specifically designed for athletes of all ages with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) or complex needs.

MATP provides genuine opportunities for training and competition for individuals with PMLD and complex needs. Opportunities are realistic and tailored to the individual. It focuses on the abilities and enables athletes to work and demonstrate motor skills and sporting achievements that are relevant to them.

There will be a carousel of motor activities, as well as opportunities for our young people to showcase the skills they have been working so hard on this year. The event will be recorded for parents, thank you so much to Hannah O’Mara – Assistant Head- Engagements and Independence pathway for planning and organising this.

Site Development and new EYFS Provision

We have some very exciting site developments which will occur over the school holidays which are set to improve facilities at school. Possibly the most significant site development is that of our early years foundation stage (EYFS) provision. Demand for EYFS specialist school places has been very high this year in Leicestershire and in the Melton area. As a school that cares deeply about our community, we are committed to helping as many children with SEND as possible. Therefore, along with the other special schools we have been working with the Local Authority who have agreed a total of an additional 95 specialist places across Leicestershire, which is significantly more places than ordinarily available. Additional spaces are being created in the five area special schools including ourselves, Ashmount, Birkett House, Dorothy Goodman and Forest Way. Birch Wood will have 20 EYFS children starting in September on a phased transition.

For each school, how these facilities have been provided looks slightly different, in the case of Dorothy Goodman and Forest Way they have developed satellite provision which is located in a different building to the main school. At Birch Wood we have been able to tie this development in with other much needed site development at our Grange Drive School to improve facilities for all our students.

  • We will be constructing a larger, more accessible soft play and sensory modular build, which will be positioned near the hydro pool, with a planned completion by October half term 2022. 
  • Rooms surrounding the quad will be repurposed and renovated to create an EYFS department with a free flow play area into the quad. This will be completely re-landscaped to create an amazing accessible play area.
  • We will be enclosing the alcove near reception (extending out into the corridor slightly) to create an air-conditioned family meeting room 
  • Move the staffroom to the current conference room area and upgrade the space to provide more workstations with PCs for staff PPA. Upgrade furniture. 
  • Repurpose a small classroom as a therapy base
  • Improve outdoor play equipment and areas for all phases.

Tom Bradley Hewell- Head of School Grange Drive, Hannah O’Mara- Assistant Head and Becky Spence- Class Teacher have been working hard and have been fantastic at planning this project and assessing the additional EYFS EHCPs as they have come through. Additionally, we also look forward to our wonderful EYFS expert Natalie Stathakis returning from maternity leave next academic year! 

We have also appointed another very experienced SEND teacher to lead in one of the EYFS classes- Kate Hallam Jones, who has already been in to school to meet staff and new parents. Kate is a music specialist, so we also plan to use these skills to further develop this offer across Birch Wood.

The changes to the building have also allowed us to provide Key Stage 2 with a much-needed bigger classroom and a specific Key Stage 1 class base. The total numbers on site at Grange Drive are not significantly impacted as the children from some of our other classes have made such amazing progress over their time at Grange Drive, which has meant that more are moving up to Birch Wood Vale and Ashton House to start their secondary based curriculums next term.

We will share photos of all the projects that will be taking place over the summer with you on Facebook.

Birch Wood College

It is my pleasure to be able to inform you of another new project for Birch Wood. The launch of our new Satellite Provision classroom, based at Brooksby Melton College, is an exciting development for the Birch Wood community. In August 2022, Birch Wood College will open to students in Post 16 at Birch Wood Vale and Ashton House to provide those who are ready, access to some aspects of college life. Julie Peattie will be leading this provision as Birch Wood College Lead and has been working hard with Amy Dunstan – Deputy Head- Behaviour and Culture and Joe Knowles- Assistant Head- Ashton House, to plan the curriculum and physical environment.

Birch Wood College will enable us to provide a blended approach, with some time spent at Birch Wood and some time spent at Brooksby Melton College supported by Birch Wood staff. This approach avoids the typical ‘cliff edge’ experience that many young people have expressed feeling in the past. Through our partnership with Brooksby we will be better placed to effectively prepare our students for the opportunities and challenges that the future will bring. We will also continue to work with students and families to identify and explore the variety of colleges or employment routes available, that best supports their future needs and aspirations.

The intentions that sit at the heart of this project have been a long time in creation and we are genuinely excited to see how our partnership with Brooksby College will improve outcomes for the young people at Birch Wood School.

Our existing Post 16 facilities at Birch Wood Grange Drive and Birch Wood Vale will also continue to provide a meaningful curriculum for those at 16 who are not quite ready to explore what FE has to offer. Having these 3 routes for our students allows us to ensure all students are able to achieve their personal best.

Staff Leavers and New Starters

It is with sadness that I inform you that Robbie Hesketh- Acting Assistant Head will be leaving us to pursue an exciting teaching opportunity in Dubai. Robbie has been a teacher at Birch Wood since January 2013, in his years here he has made significant contribution to school life, positively impacting the lives of many children with SEND. Over the last 5 years Robbie has played an instrumental part in helping to develop our specialist autism provision and positive behaviour approaches.  We all wish Robbie well on his travels, and are holding him to the promise that when he comes back to England, Birch Wood will be his first choice of school.

We are also sadly saying goodbye to Elaine Ratcliffe who is retiring after a whole DECADE of fantastic service to Birch Wood. We will undoubtedly miss Elaine’s skills and fantastic sense of humour greatly and hope she takes time to pop in when she has a moment. Good luck and enjoy more time with your family and loved ones Elaine.

Class teacher’s Pia Delucchi and Kirsty Beeken are also both moving on to new careers within the local authority. Pia has been at Birch Wood for 7 years and taught across the age range at Grange Drive. I will never forget her brilliant ‘Senseology’ lesson which had such an amazing impact on our complex learners. Kirsty joined us mid pandemic and quickly made her mark at both Grange Drive and Birch Wood Vale more recently, forming lovely relationships with families, staff and students. We wish them both well on their new pathways and hope they will stay in touch with their Birch Wood family.

Finally, we are also saying farewell to Anne Cowan, who has worked with Birch Wood in recent years with ‘Eye Gaze’ and also helped to raise funds for this amazing equipment. Anne will be retiring at the end of this year and I would like to thank Anne for her contribution to supporting our children with the most complex communication needs. Her diligence, passion and commitment to children with SEND is something we have all been able to learn from over the years.

Along with Kate Hallam Jones, (see above) Jordan Meads will be joining our teaching team this year. Jordan will be working at Birch Wood Vale as the Nurture Class Teacher. Jordan developed his passion for teaching special needs as an LSA at Birch Wood at Grange Drive site and we are excited to see his career grow here at Birch Wood.

School Leavers

We have a number of young people leaving Birch Wood this year to move on to various colleges in Leicestershire, including Sense, Brooksby, Leicester, Loughborough and Homefield. We are incredibly proud of all their achievements and are sorry to see them go. However, this is matched with equal pride in the amazing young people they have become. Good luck to Savvy Davis, Tyler Radford, Josh Kennedy, George Gibson, Eathan Markland Read, Chenise Barrow-Littler, Bryan Spong, Joshua Coultas, Jess Gillespie, Harley Alner, Freddie Metcalfe, Alfie Coleman, Marcus Hardingham and Kishan Lad.

GSCE Exams and BTECs

We have had a number of young people take their GCSE’s this half term and are so very proud of how they have applied themselves to this challenge with the support of staff and families. Students sat GCSEs in Science, Maths, English, Fine Art, 3D Design and completed BTEC’s Level 1 in Hospitality and Tourism, Sports, Art and Design and Construction, BTEC Level 1 and Level 2 Home Cooking Skills and Arts Award Bronze and Silver. Well done everyone!

 Parent Survey

Thank you to all parents who took part in the parent survey, it has really helped further form our direction for next year. We are a school that is always looking to improve and also build on the things we are getting right. We are excited to take things forward next year making Birch Wood the best it has ever been! Overall parent feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, but we have paid careful attention where suggestions and concerns have been raised.

Over the next week you will receive your child’s school report which will have more detailed information about their progress than previous years, we hope this will help parents consolidate the information that is on Kinteract and know more about how their child is progressing. Michelle Walker and Hannah O’Mara– Assistant Heads have led on this project and worked incredibly hard to follow up on parent’s feedback from previous years to help parents know more about how their child is progressing. As you will be aware as a Special School we have different curriculum pathways as well as individualised approaches, so formulating an approach that lets all parents feel they know how their child is doing at school is really important to us. We will also do further work next term to help all parents access Kinteract and align the regularity of updates on there so parents know when to expect information. There will be a short parent survey that will go out when reports do, to help us capture your feedback on them.

School life has been disrupted this year and at times we have suffered with staffing due to Covid related absence, occasionally this has meant we have felt on ‘catch up’ as a school and the flow of some communication hasn’t gone as smoothly as we would like, this is something I plan to improve next term in response to some parents feedback.

Birch Wood- Our role supporting SEND in Leicestershire Schools

Birch Wood plays an important part in supporting and developing SEND provision across Leicestershire. We’re really proud of the work we do with the wider education sector as well as schools and young people in our locality. Below is a list of some of the work we’ve done this year: 

  • Rosalind Hopkins (Executive Headteacher) and Philip Leaney (Deputy Headteacher) have been Visiting Fellows with the Ambition Institute and Leicestershire and Rutland Teaching School Hub leading National Professional Qualifications for school leaders across the county. 
  • We have supported 22 young people in mainstream schools through outreach requests.  
  • We have created 6 webinars that have been viewed over 700 times: https://birchwoodschool.co.uk/webinars  
  • The school have been asked to create a further series of webinars for the Local Authority’s SEND training offer.  
  • Amy Dunstan (Deputy Headteacher) presented to staff at Melton Mowbray Building Society on Autism and enabling the autistic individual in a professional environment. 
  • Rebecca Spence (EYFS Teacher) was asked to lead a lecture to trainee teachers and psychology students at the University of Derby. 
  • Senior Leaders at Birch Wood have been involved in leading a comprehensive programme of SEND Reviews. This has involved 6 days of support and challenge for 3 schools which will continue into the new academic year. 
  • Poppy Marriott (Teacher) has supported a new local SEMH provision in developing their curriculum. 
  • Senior leaders have supported a local primary school in reviewing their current provision. 
  • Senior leaders have supported other special schools in development of an RSE curriculum.  

Birch Wood 10!

We are delighted to announce that on the 25th of September, Birch Wood School will be hosting the inaugural “Birch Wood 10”; a scenic ten-mile race that will raise money for our school. Participants are invited to walk or run the ten-mile course, which is on a mixture of tarmac and gravel paths/roads. The admission fee will go towards raising funds for our school, but we are also hoping that some participants will be interested in collecting sponsorship, by joining our JustGiving crowdfunding page. Details to follow. 

On the day of the race, we will also have a “Family Fun Day” with inclusive activities for all the family, based at our Grange Drive site. 

For more information or to sign up for the race, please visit www.birchwood10.co.uk

In response to the difficulties we have all faced over the past 2 years, we see this event as an opportunity to come together and celebrate our wonderful school with members of our local community. We’d be really grateful if you could pass this information onto family, friends and local community groups that may be interested in taking part.  

Strava Group: https://www.strava.com/clubs/BirchWood10  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BirchWood10/ 

Enter: https://birchwood10.co.uk/ 

Please do contact us if you have any queries about any aspect of the race or family fun day at this dedicated email address birchwood10@birchwoodschool.co.uk

SEND Green Paper Consultation- Have Your Say!

The government has published a green paper on the future of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) system and is undertaking a public consultation on the green paper’s proposals. There are resources available to help you understand the proposals on GOV.UK, including:

  • A British Sign Language (BSL) version of the green paper 
  • An easy-read version of the green paper summary 
  • A guide to help children and young people with SEND or those in alternative provision

This information can be found from this page SEND review: right support, right place, right time  We encourage you to reflect on the proposals set out in this green paper and respond to the consultation. An online survey on your views can be found here: Online Survey

Things happening in the last week of term:

We have some lovely events planned for next week including the return of the Key Stage 4 and Post 16 Prom! Please see the summary below for your reference.

 Birch Wood Grange Drive Birch Wood Vale Ashton House 
Monday 4th July Treehouse – Pirate Day dress up 5PW to Hunstanton   
Tuesday 5th July Autism Provision Celebration     Sense College Visit 5CA 9.30-1. AC, KL, EMR, JK    1RS Belton House & Park Trip    MATP Sport Day   2DB Pia’s farewell party   
Wednesday 6th July The Nest Park Trip    3JD French culture day    Carrot Productions – Music production for 2DB, 2HOM, 1RS, 1BN, 2MH, 3JD and Treehouse.     4MZ- Grantham Bowl Trip    KS4 and P16 PROMYear’s 10, 11 to Twin Lakes    Year 9 Park trip    5PW Town and Park    7DP –Park Trip – 9.20-10.45    KS4 and P16 PROMTwin Lakes Trip    KS4 and P16 PROM
Thursday 7th July EYFS/KS1 – end of term party (PM)     The Nest End of term celebration– Non-Uniform day    The Burrow End of term celebration – Non Uniform day    2DB end of year class party 8CJ- Twinlakes Trip   5PW BBQ on site    ES Nurture – Baldocks Lane Park Picnic with own packed lunch  

Goodbye for Now

We have so many exciting things planned for next academic year and are looking forward to welcoming the children back to school on Tuesday 30th August. I will be in touch during the holidays with updates and there will be further information and photos on our Facebook Page, Kinteract and end of term events. Thank you for your partnership this academic year and may I wish you a joyful and fun summer break, where some wonderful memories are made with your children.

Yours faithfully,

Rosalind Hopkins

Executive Headteacher