Highfields is a Pupil Referral Unit and is charged with having a higher level of specialism than mainstream counterparts in terms of Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs.
Every student who arrives at Highfields is considered to be at the ‘SEN Support’ (Special Educational Needs Support) stage of need for SEMH – as, by the very act of being referred, they have been identified as requiring a higher and more sustained level of SEMH support to progress through the educational system.
Students are often sent to Highfields because of so-called ‘challenging behaviour’ which is proving difficult to manage in mainstream settings. The SEND Code of Practice 2014 instructs schools to investigate what was behind the challenging behaviour, stating that behaviour is a ‘symptom’ of something else.
Alongside providing general SEMH support, Highfields seeks to identify specific causes of concerning behaviour with each young person and to explore specific methods of supporting them both in the short term (day-to-day, this week) and over the longer-term (over the next six months, over the next 5 years etc.).
As part of this ‘detective work’, we work closely with Healthy Young Minds (formerly known as CAMHS), the school nurse and with other agencies to identify social vulnerability, mental health issues (frequently Anxiety) and lifestyle issues that might contribute to their behaviour in school.
As a school, we have also adopted the ‘Nurturing School’ approach to ‘challenging behaviour’ which looks at how young people relate to adults and one another (their ‘attachment). This is outlined in detail here: Nurturing School Policy – June 2021 or alternatively you can read through our short guide here: A Quick Guide to Attachment-Focused Schooling
As outlined above, it is recognised from the start that students attending Highfields have underlying Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) concerns, but we also believe it is important to investigate for gaps in learning, especially in literacy.
As such, all students who attend Highfields complete the literacy screener Lucid Exact during their first week. What we frequently identify is that young people referred each have their own ‘spiked profiles’ – by this we mean, they have obvious strengths but also underlying weaknesses / difficulty with aspects of learning. Often their difficulties have been ‘masked’ through quietly trying to cope and/or through ‘acting out’.
For example, many of our students can read words and short paragraphs with little difficulty, but struggle with longer reading activities – especially when it comes keeping up with other readers in class and fully understanding what they are reading. Where such difficulties occur, we use the term ‘Specific Learning Difficulties‘ – sometimes known as ‘Dyslexic Tendencies’ or better still, ‘Specific Learning Differences’.
By using these terms we are not saying the student lacks talent or ability, but we are saying they have certain ways of learning – and certain difficulties – which can make the typical classroom harder to access.
Presently 65.2% of our students have specific learning difficulties (SpLD) linked with literacy and 34% have exam access arrangements requiring reader/ electronic reader support and/ or 25% extra time to allow for processing information. This means they are being given the same opportunity as their peers across the country, to succeed in exams. Highfields has heavily invested in electronic readers in order to ensure these needs are being met.
Other SEND issues:
On top of difficulties in literacy, many of our students also require different coloured paper and overlays in order for their eyes to process text more comfortably. This is part of a wider issue of some students experiencing sensitivity to the school environment in terms of noise, light etc.
In addition to learning needs there are diagnoses of conditions such as ASD and ADHD that require a different approach to teaching and discipline. Again, this is not about a lack of ability but about differences in our personalities and the way our brains operate (sometimes called ‘neurodiversity’). Every member of staff at Highfields is supplied with regular updates regarding these differences with suggestions on how to plan for these students to access learning in all their lessons.
ADHD is highlighted in a separate document as we have found that methods that support students with ADHD in their learning, also help the majority of the other students to engage in lessons. We have recently produced the following guide to ADHD which may help parents, students and partner agencies understand the issue better: Highfields Parent Carer Guide to ADHD
Our full policy and offer on SEND can be viewed here:
EHCP Enhanced Placements – Pilot Project:
As of December 2019, Highfields is involved in a pilot project in partnership with the Local Authority with a view to alleviating some of the pressures around allocating specialist setting placements to students with EHC Plans for SEMH needs. This involves a small number of students at Y10 and Y11 remaining at Highfields to complete their education, with personalised packages of support. As this project is reviewed, the above policies may change.
For any further inquiries about any of the above, please contact our SEND Coordinator, Mrs McFadyen, on 0161 406 7922.