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The EBacc 10 years on: should it stay or should it go? Case study two

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The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is this year. GCSE students are deemed to have achieved EBacc if they obtain a good pass in English (Literature or Language), mathematics, a science (individual or combined), a language (ancient or modern) and a humanity (defined rigidly as either history or geography).

Patrick Jones, assistant principal of Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury, give his perspective on appropriate curriculum provision at key stage four.

There remains much discussion regarding the stipulation of the EBacc as being the government’s preferred curriculum model to achieve academic success. This blanket approach has been met with much criticism from those working in many schools where inclusion is the priority. For pupils with SEND and those experiencing other difficulties and disadvantages, a successful curriculum is one that is adapted and individualised to motivate, inspire and provide a pathway to happiness in adult life in the future.

At Severndale Specialist Academy, a special school catering for the needs of more than 400 children and young people aged from two to 19 across the full spectrum of ability, there is an offer of four distinct curricula that flex and develop to meet the needs of all pupils as they grow into adulthood. 

In 1999, Ben arrived at Severndale. He was three years old and he wouldn’t eat his dinner. He has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with associated learning difficulties (moderate learning difficulties or MLD). By definition a learning disability is a neurological condition that alters how someone learns and therefore how they connect with the world around them. 

So, for Ben the challenge was not necessarily learning, it was that he had to learn in a world that predominantly caters for neurotypical learners. Over the past 15 years, Ben has worked in an environment with staff and resources that have been informed by his aspirations, his barriers to learning and an understanding of how Ben can best negotiate these barriers. Along the way, Ben has overcome a series of milestones, and in doing so has developed his independent skills.

One of Ben’s first challenges on this journey was to manage his experience around sensory processing. Through its smell, taste and texture, food proved to be overwhelming for Ben. As a coping mechanism, Ben developed rigidity when dealing with food. This meant he had a very limited diet and would not entertain having a variety of foods on his plate. As we know, ASD alters the way in which the brain operates. For Ben, this means he sees and interacts with the world differently, compared to the majority of society. This makes social interaction a challenging situation for him. Despite these challenges, Ben worked with his parents and teachers to develop strategies that enabled him to regulate his anxieties around food and social interaction. This helped him reach one of his first major milestones: sitting down to Christmas dinner with his family.

Fast forward 15 years, and the boy who would only eat biscuits and found socialising challenging is now described by his teacher as “a polite young man who loves food and likes to tell staff about new things he had tried”. Fast forward another two years, and Ben is near to completing a supported internship at Ludlow Farm Shop, where he has gained experience working in the bakery, the cheese store and the jam and pickles section. Over the past 12 months, Ben has demonstrated that he can effectively contribute to a workforce in the same way as his mainstream counterparts, and has therefore secured a deserved pathway to paid employment through an inclusive apprenticeship.

Unfortunately, paid employment is a rare outcome for the SEND community. This is perhaps because society doesn’t know how to interact with those who possess non-neurotypical brains. Severndale’s answer is the Everyone Festival, where neurotypical and non-neurotypical people learn about each other on an equal footing. The question is how to make the Everyone Festival the Everyone Society? 

Supported internships were introduced to our academy last academic year. Their intention is to provide a young person with a pathway to employment through a progressive, staged approach to an extended work experience balanced with educational provision. In the final year of a young person’s educational career, we work in partnership with job coaches and employers to design the right supportive programme to meet the needs of the individual.  This year we have four students completing their supported internship. However, despite the positive feedback from employers and the genuine independence gained from the experience, there is a sense of uncertainty among employers when it comes down to the crux of directly employing someone with special needs. 

Society is moving in the right direction, and the supportive structures are making a real difference to the life chances and potential outcomes into adulthood. But there is still more that needs to be done to change mindsets and our confidence around working with people with special needs. At Severndale, we focus on internal and external inclusion opportunities to add life to the curriculum and promote a future society that is more inclusive for everyone.

You can read more school leaders' views on the EBacc - see case study one and case study three.

First published 09 December 2019