Field report: FRED at Livity School, Lambeth

9 July 2013

The Livity School is a primary school for children with complex needs, including global learning delay, cerebral palsy, Autism Spectrum Disorder, epilepsy and other medical conditions.

It was created in September 2001 as part of The London Borough of Lambeth’s Special Needs Strategy, and in 2013 the school moved to a beautiful new purpose built premises. The school is for boys and girls aged 2 to 11; it has a separate area for early years.

Livity has a catchment covering the whole borough, with the majority of children being transported into school. The children reflect the cultural make-up of the borough, with a number of single parent families; a few remarried parents; some only children; some children who come from large families with up-to eight children; and some looked-after children.

How FRED works at Livity

A total of 22 children in years 1 and 2 participated in FRED; they were organised into three groups, of five, eight and nine children, with one teacher and three to four teaching assistants in each group.

Resources already developed for the school’s story sacks include:

• Pictorial Exchange Communications System (PECS) resources, typically used as an aid in communication for children with autism and other special needs

• Julia Donaldson ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ – a sound book which has the addition of symbol cards, one for each animal

• Smell books, for example ‘Mouldy Monsters’ by Anna Laura Cantone, again using symbol cards

• ‘Bulls Eye’ by Roderick Hunt and Alex Bychta, from the Oxford Reading Tree scheme

• Recipe cards that have pictorial symbols and words from the ’Writing with Symbols’ software programme by Widgit

• Puppets and musical instruments

• A range of translated titles to meet the needs of families for whom English is not a first language, for example Somali and Portuguese versions of ‘Listen Listen’ by Phillis Gershator.

The challenges

The particular challenges for Livity have been:

• Making resources for the story sacks appropriate and accessible, as many children are not reading; some have short attention spans and some experience visual and hearing impairments

• Responding to the fact that many of the children come from families where English is not the primary language.

• Many children are transported to school, so there is limited opportunity for face-to-face contact with parents in the playground. Communication with adults for FRED included a ‘wanted poster’ from the children, an invitation letter, a newsletter, and text reminders

• There is limited involvement by fathers in their children’s academic development, and limited understanding of the impact and value of their involvement. There is a lack of understanding of what reading ‘looks like’ with children who have complex needs.

Improving communications

Tackling these challenges is a big, and ongoing task, and the school plans to develop more sustained, inclusive communications that focus on:

• Explicit communication with dads

• More support and guidance on reading with children

• Communication about the importance of fathers in their children’s literacy development, and especially about the use of books and other resources that have familiarity for the children; are the child’s favourites; and have the 3 ‘R’s’ (rhythm, rhyme and repetition), which is particularly important for this cohort of children

• Incentivising the children, with stickers for achievement in reading

• Changing the story sacks regularly; story sacks are loaned for one week at a time

• Making it clear that other approaches can also help progress children’s reading and understanding of words and concepts – for example singing, music-making, following recipe cards, looking at photos, symbols etc

• Building on the support and goodwill of the existing cohort of dads.

Natalie Francois, FRED lead at the school, is enthusiastic about the potential of the programme, which will be rolled out to the rest of the school, including the early years department: “FRED is easy to adapt for children with complex needs – we are going to roll the programme out across the school to include all the children – we have created our own story sacks based on what we know about the children”.

 

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