Building Experiences

Special Needs Education

An evaluation of a workshop programme carried out by
Building Experiences in special schools in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Background

During the past three years Building Experiences has worked extensively in primary, secondary, and some special schools in Tower Hamlets, supported by the Education Business Partnership in the borough. Responses to the work, especially the value and impact for children with special educational needs, led to a grant from the Aldgate and Allhallows Barking Exhibition Foundation for a grant to examine this perceived impact further. The grant allowed the delivery of workshops for three days in all of the borough's seven special schools in the Autumn Term of 2000.

The author of this report, an educational psychologist employed part-time in Tower Hamlets, was approached by the Education Business Partnership to provide an independent evaluation of the workshops. This work was carried out in the author's own time.

The Context

Tower Hamlets is an inner city London borough with high levels of poverty and deprivation. For example, in 1998, 61 per cent of households in the borough had an annual income below £9,000, 63 per cent of pupils were eligible for free school meals, and 1 in 8 homes were overcrowded (double the rate for London). Tower Hamlets has the lowest level of literacy and numeracy in the country: 21 per cent of adults have very low numeracy skills (compared with 12 per cent nationally) and 24 per cent of adults have very low literacy skills (compared with 14 per cent nationally). Seventy eight languages, in addition to English, are spoken in Tower Hamlets' schools with the great majority of bilingual pupils speaking Sylheti - a dialect of Bengali (Policy, Research and Statistics, London Borough of Tower Hamlets).

Tower Hamlets has a policy of inclusion (London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 1999), and is moving towards a reduction of the number of pupils with special educational needs receiving their education in special schools. Currently, approximately 440 pupils receive their education in the borough's seven day special schools, and in addition, some Tower Hamlets' children with special educational needs are educated in special schools outside the borough, and a small number are educated in specialist units which are part of mainstream schools.

All pupils in special schools have a statement of special educational needs, or in a few unusual cases, are in the process of undergoing statutory assessment that leads to the issuing of a statement (DFE, 1994b). The LEA will make a statement when they decide that the special help a child needs cannot reasonably be provided within the resources (money, staff time and special equipment) normally available to the school (DFE, 1994b). A statement is a document that, among other things, describes a child's special educational needs and appropriate provision (ACE, 1996). In Tower Hamlets, 4.2 percent of the total school population of 37,160 have statements (Policy, Research and Statistics, London Borough of Tower Hamlets). Only a minority of children with statements, both nationally and in Tower Hamlets, are educated in special schools rather than supported in mainstream schools. Special schools are schools that cater wholly for pupils with special educational needs and cater for different ages and different categories of need (ACE, 1996). The law on special education is contained in the 1996 Education Act, which consolidated Part III of the 1993 Education Act titled `Children with Special Educational Needs' (and also much of the law on education from the 1994 Act onwards). Detailed guidance is provided by the Code of Practice on Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs (DFE, 1994a)

The seven special schools in the borough, all of which had the three day workshops run by Building Experiences, are shown in Table 1 (London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 1998):

Table 1: Special schools in Tower Hamlets

Name of school

Provision

Age range of school

Current numbers on roll (Jan 2001)

Beatrice Tate

SLD/PMLD

Secondary 11-19

49

Bromley Hall

PD

2-19

20

Cherry Trees

EBD

Boys, primary

20

Harpley

MLD (SNC)

Secondary 11-16

109

Phoenix

MLD (SNC)

2-16

140

Stephen Hawking

SLD/PMLD

2-11

72

Ian Mikardo

EBD

Boys, secondary 11-16

28


EBD: Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties

`Emotional and behavioural difficulties may result, for example, from abuse or neglect; physical or mental illness; sensory or physical impairment; or psychological trauma. In some cases, emotional and behavioural difficulties may arise from or be exacerbated by circumstances within the school environment' (DFE, 1994a)

MLD: Moderate Learning Difficulties

(Special schools in Tower Hamlets that cater for MLD pupils are called SNC (Supported National Curriculum) schools).

`Their [pupils] general level of academic attainment will be significantly below that of their peers. In most cases, they will have difficulty acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills and many will have significant speech and language difficulties. Some may also have poor social skills and may show signs of emotional and behavioural difficulties' (DFE, 1994a).

PD: Physical Disabilities

SLD/PMLD: Severe Learning Difficulties/Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties

Children with PMLD are seen as a sub-group of children with severe learning difficulties. Children with PMLD `require a high degree of supervision in their daily life because they are functioning at very early levels of development. Such pupils may have little or no spoken language, be barely ambulant or non-ambulant and have difficulties in manipulating objects, as well as being unable to feed, dress or toilet themselves independently. Many of these pupils will also have additional difficulties in physical, auditory or visual areas' (Norgate, 1997). Children with SLDs have more severe learning difficulties than those with moderate learning difficulties, and are likely to have difficulties in other areas, especially speech and language difficulties.


The workshops

Through prior consultation with the head-teacher of each of the special schools, Building Experiences was able to identify and draw upon its school's workshop programme as the basis for activities in each school. In this way, a suitable curriculum context which fitted with what each school was intending to teach, was identified.

The mixture of workshops provided for this programme were:

Art and the Built Environment - in this workshop, pupils explore their school environment through a variety of spatial and sensory activities. For example, they have to identify parts of the school from taped sounds and also mark on a map the location of unusual photos of places in the school, as well as arriving at ideas of areas of the school that might be improved.

The `Millennium Dome' workshop - during which pupils explore the techniques of building large, free-standing structures, using dowel rods and elastic bands. They build an open structure with a dome shape at the top, topped with a silver metal cap, which looks something like a mosque or temple. They can only erect this structure by working together as a team. They then use the techniques they have learned to design and create their own structures.

Building Structures - this workshop develops skills and techniques of working together and fixing materials, to allow a group to arrive at a large structure of their design and invention.

Model Making - a workshop devised with the support of architects Skidmore, Owings, Merrill Inc., during which participants explore a number of model-making techniques and materials, before making a free standing model of a building. The approach uses a collaborative, group-work approach.

Renovate workshop - based around a disused factory in the borough, pupils worked on a 3D model to show what the building could be used for and how it might be re-designed.

The special schools experienced the following workshops during the Autumn term 2000:

Bromley Hall

 

Art and the Built Environment

 

Phoenix (Secondary)

 

Millennium Dome and Building Structures - for three Year 9 classes

 

Harpley

 

Millennium Dome - for six different groups of pupils

 

Stephen Hawking

 

Millennium Dome and Building Structures

 

Beatrice Tate

 

Millennium Dome, Model Making - and Art and the Built Environment for some pupils

 

Cherry Trees

 

Art and the Built Environment - all pupils

 

Ian Mikardo

 

Model Making and Renovate workshops

 

In all the special schools, the teacher of the class was present and was encouraged to participate and intervene as appropriate. In addition, any Learning Support Assistants who normally worked with the class were also present.

Introduction to the evaluation

I focused on five of the seven special schools: Phoenix, Harpley, Beatrice Tate, Cherry Trees and Ian Mikardo. It was not possible to evaluate workshops in all seven Schools because of constraints of time. However, I made sure that I included a range of types of school (MLD, SLD and EBD), and types of workshop. I observed parts of the sessions where the Director of the Trust was delivering workshops in three of the schools: Phoenix, Beatrice Tate and Ian Mikardo. I interviewed a sample of pupils in each of the schools - apart from Beatrice Tate, where, because of the nature of the pupils' special educational needs (severe learning difficulties), it was not possible or appropriate to conduct interviews. I interviewed pupils in as short a time as possible after they had experienced the workshop - the longest gap between pupils taking part in the workshop and being interviewed was Harpley school where the gap was two weeks (half term week falling between the workshop and my interviews). I showed pupils photographs of the workshop, or looked at samples of work from the workshop, to remind them of what they had done and experienced. This was particularly important for pupils with special educational needs, many of whom will experience difficulties with memory as part of their difficulties with learning.

I also interviewed a sample of teachers in each of the special schools who had taken part in the workshops.

Methodology

I used a semi-structured interview technique (Smith, 1995) with pupils and teachers, to `gain a detailed picture of a respondent's belief about, or perceptions or accounts of a particular topic'. A copy of the interview schedule for pupils is included in Appendix A and the interview schedule for teachers is included in Appendix B. All pupils and teachers were interviewed individually, as this was felt to be the best way to elicit their responses, unbiased by other respondents' views. Apart from four pupils with whom I had had previous involvement as their educational psychologist (some considerable time beforehand), I was unfamiliar to the pupils I interviewed.

With pupils, I was trying to answer the following questions:

  • What did they most enjoy about the workshops?

  • What did they learn from the workshops?

  • Did the workshop have any effect on their behaviour or feelings?

With teachers, the following questions were being addressed:

  • What did they value most about the workshops for their pupils?

  • How did the workshops support the curriculum?

  • How did the workshops support their pupils' social and emotional development?

In total, 26 pupils and seven teachers were interviewed, as shown in Table 2.


Table 2: Details of interviewees

Name of school

Type of school

No. of teachers interviewed

Number of pupils interviewed

School years of pupils

Gender of pupils

Ethnicity of pupils

Phoenix

MLD

3

6

Year 9

5 boys

1 girl

3 ESW (English/Scott-ish/Welsh), 1 Pakistani, 1 mixed-race, 1 Turkish

Harpley

MLD

1

7

4 x Year 8, 3 x Year 9

5 boys 2 girls

1 ESW, 1 Pakistani, 2 Afro-Caribb-ean, 3 Bangla-deshi

Beatrice Tate

SLD/PMLD

1

-

-

-

-

Cherry Trees

EBD (boys)

1

7 (+ 1 discontinued as pupil couldn't remember the workshop)

1xYear1,
1xYear 2,
2xYear 3,
2xYear 5,
1xYear 6

7 boys

4 ESW, 1 Afro-Caribb-ean,1 Bangla-deshi, 1mixed-race

Ian Mikardo

EBD (boys)

1

6

5 x Year 9, 1 x Year 11

6 boys

5 ESW, 1 mixed-race

TOTAL

-

7

26

-

23 boys/3girls

13 ESW, 3 Afro-Caribbean, 4 Bangla-deshi, 6 other ethnic minority

 

Findings

Pupils' responses

1.1 What were pupils' feelings before the workshop?

Clearly, pupils' feelings and expectations before the workshop depended on how much they were told about it beforehand, and whether they had experienced any of the Building Experiences workshops previously, along with their ability to take on new experiences and changes to their normal routine.

The seven pupils at Harpley did not appear to have been told about the workshop beforehand, so obviously did not know what to expect. Four of the pupils at Cherry Trees remembered that they had been involved in a construction workshop with Building Experiences before, and said that they thought the current workshop would be `good' or `fun'. Two of the others said they thought the workshop would be good after their teacher told them about it, but one said `I was a bit confused'. This uncertainty about something new was reflected in the responses of pupils at Phoenix: two said they felt nervous beforehand, and one expressed anxiety about working with someone new - `I act differently with different people, I hadn't met him before.” The other four Phoenix pupils expressed feeling excitement about the workshop beforehand.

Of the six Ian Mikardo pupils, two took part after they had seen other boys taking part in the workshop, so obviously knew what to expect. One said `It looked good, I wanted to know what they were doing, get involved'. Another boy was positive because he was going to miss his normal lessons. Two others felt the workshop would be `OK' or `good' but one again expressed anxiety about having a different experience:

Before, I thought `I ain't going to do this', I don't know what it was about. I was afraid I was going to walk out'.

2.2 What did pupils enjoy about the workshops?

Of the 26 pupils interviewed, only one said they did not particularly enjoy the workshop: `It was a bit boring'. One other pupil said, `It was good', but when asked further couldn't give anything particular that he enjoyed. The other 24 pupils all gave at least one reason as to why they enjoyed the workshop. With the exception of one response, which related to being out of normal lessons, all of the pupils' responses could be grouped into two themes - those that related to the content of the workshop - the physical activities and skills involved, and those that related to the social, psychological, and behavioural aspects of the workshop. Table 3 summarises pupils' responses.


Table 3: What did pupils enjoy about the workshops?

Theme

Name of Workshop

Art & Built Environment

No. of responses

Millennium Dome

No. of responses

Model Making and Renovate

No.of responses

Content Of Workshop

Working out what the pictures were and finding them around the school

5 (CTs)

Making the structure

4 (H)

1 (P)

Building things/making things

4 (IM)

Following the map

1 (CTs)

Taking structure down

1 (H)

1 (P)

Working with other materials
(eg cork)

2 (IM)

Listening to noises around the school & guessing what they were

4 (CTs)

Putting elastic bands round sticks

1 (H)

Doing things by hand (rather than machines as at school)

1 (IM)

Going into playground & drawing

1 (CTs)

Making shapes (with sticks) at beginning)

2 (P)

- -
- -

The pin thing on top of the roof

1 (P)

- -

Social, Psychological

- -

Co-operating in building structure/working together

3 (P)

Opportunities to start again

1 (IM)

Behavioural

-

-

Behaviour of the class -excellent

1 (P)

Choosing what to do

1 (IM)

Other

-

- - -

Being out of lessons

1 (IM)


CTs = Cherry Trees

H = Harpley

P = Phoenix

IM = Ian Mikardo

(NB The responses total more than 24 as some pupils gave more than one response)

3. What didn't pupils enjoy about the workshops?

When asked whether there was anything they didn't enjoy about the workshop, more than half of the pupils (16 out of 26) said they had enjoyed everything.

Of the ten pupils who had a critical comment, three mentioned aspects of the end of the workshop. These three were pupils who had taken part in the Millennium Dome workshop and so had built a large structure out of rods that had to be dismantled. One commented directly on this: `I didn't like taking it down at the end - I wanted it to stay'. The comments of the other two pupils also indicated that this ending was difficult in some way; one said he didn't like `people breaking sticks at the end…people could get hurt and also the sticks cost £2.50' and later said he'd have liked the structure `to stay there for ever and ever', and the other said he didn't enjoy `the end because people kept touching my back for the photo'.

Four other pupils indicated that there was some particular aspect of the (Millennium Dome) workshop they didn't like, but in two cases at least this appeared to relate to their own perceived difficulty with the tasks - for example, one pupil said, `I didn't really enjoy putting the triangles together but Adrian showed me and then I started to enjoy it', and another said, `I didn't enjoy putting wood and elastic bands together, I wasn't good at it'.

Of the other three critical responses, one said she didn't like Adrian, and two others commented on what appeared to be long standing features of working in their particular group - for example one boy at Ian Mikardo said the workshop was `alright apart from the bullying' and another said he didn't enjoy being teased because he couldn't do most of the things.

4. What did pupils feel they learned from the workshops?

Table 4: What do you think you learned from the workshop?

Response

Number of pupils

Don't know

3 (CT & IM)

Nothing

1 (H)

Responses related to content of workshop:

17:

Finding things, following maps, clues

5 (CT)

Need to listen carefully

1 (CT)

Building things

4 (IM & P)

Being careful with blades

1 (IM)

Making shapes & structure with sticks & bands

5 (H)

Science (? -it wasn't clear what this pupil meant)

1 (H)

Responses related to the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of workshop:

6:

Not pressurised, could take your time

1 (IM)

Calm, not aggravated

1 (IM)

Co-operating, team work

4 (P)

TOTAL

27 (NB this is more than the number of pupils as one pupil gave two things he felt he'd learned)

As with pupils' comments about things they had enjoyed about the workshop, pupils' responses (apart from the four who didn't know what they had learned or felt they had not learned anything) to the question `What do you think you learned from the workshop?' fell into the same two themes: related to the content of the workshop, and related to the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of the workshop.

Obviously, the nature of pupils' responses about the content of the workshop depended on which workshop they had experienced, with, for example, pupils at Cherry Trees saying they felt they had learned about different aspects of following maps, finding things and discovering new places in the school. These responses do indicate that for some pupils at least the workshop had heightened their awareness of their school environment. It was interesting that one pupil at Cherry Trees said that he had learned that `you need to listen carefully to find out what the sounds [on the tape] were' - given that many pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties find listening carefully difficult, this was probably a significant discovery for this pupil. Similarly, the response of the pupil at Ian Mikardo who felt he had learned you had to be careful with blades is not a trivial one, given the extremity of pupils' emotional and behavioural difficulties at the school.

It is interesting that six pupils chose to comment on the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of the workshop, without being prompted, when asked what they had learned, rather than focusing on the more obvious content of the workshop. It is particularly significant that four of the six pupils interviewed at Phoenix independently commented on the team work and co-operative aspects of the workshop as being what they had learned - for example, one pupil said she had learned that:

People can really co-operate if they put their minds together, me and other people, and it's really great fun.

Another said that he had learned `how to work together properly'. These four responses indicate that discovering that the large domed structure could only be built by everyone working together had had a significant impact on the pupils involved. As one of the four pupils said later on: `We need to work together, you can't make a building yourself'.

It is also interesting that two of the six pupils interviewed at Ian Mikardo, with significant emotional and behavioural difficulties, felt that what they had learned from the workshop was related to their feelings. One boy said he'd learned that:

In normal lessons you're pressurised, you have to finish it now, but in the workshop you could take your time and finish it to perfection.

This was clearly important to this boy who had said earlier that he had enjoyed being able to start again in the workshop as normally he `mucks things up'. Another boy at the school said:

If I stay in a room too long I get aggravated. But I didn't because I was enjoying myself, I was calm all day. Normally I only stay for 45 minutes in class then I get aggravated.

It is likely to be important to this pupil that he was able to reflect on his own behaviour and see that his behaviour could change.

5. How did the workshop affect pupils' behaviour and/or feelings?

Although six of the 26 pupils commented without being prompted about the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of the workshop when asked what they had learned, all pupils were asked further questions to elicit whether they felt that the workshop had had any effect on their behaviour and/or feelings in any way. Two questions were asked: as a further prompt to the question `What do you think you learned from the workshop?' pupils were asked:

'Did it help with your behaviour or feelings in any way?'

`Was your work or behaviour different in any way during the workshops, to how it is during normal school lessons?'

These two questions elicited predominantly very positive responses. Only two pupils, both at Harpley, felt the workshop had had no effect on their behaviour or feelings. The other 24 pupils all said that the workshop had had a positive effect on their behaviour and/or feelings, and many gave very thoughtful responses about why they thought this was so. Although pupils were asked whether their work or behaviour was different during the workshops, all pupils who responded to this question focused on the way their behaviour was different rather than their work (although the majority of pupils had previously focused on the content of the workshops when asked what they felt they had learned).

Pupils gave a number of ways in which they thought their behaviour or feelings were different, as Table 5 below shows. For example, some just said they behaved better. Others specifically said that they felt calmer, such as the boy at Ian Mikardo who said:

It helped with my behaviour - in normal lessons if I get it wrong I say for f___'s sake. But in the workshop it was beneficial, if you get it wrong you can cut a bit off and put another bit in. I was taking my time and being calm.

Another pupil (at Phoenix) said:

[The workshop] helped me relax and be confident about myself. Sometimes I shout and am tense... I think everything has to be really neat and perfect normally. In the workshop they didn't really mindif it was bad or good.

Some mentioned that they didn't argue during the workshop, or lose their temper, or swear. Other pupils simply said they felt happy. For example, one pupil at Cherry Trees said, 'I was happy. Normally I'm miserable' and when asked why he was happy, said `I enjoyed the work being different'. Particularly for pupils with emotional difficulties, to associate happiness with a learning experience, or to feel that a good learning experience can cause them to experience happiness is very positive.

Table 5: Responses to the question `Did the workshop help you with your behaviour or feelings in any way?' and/or `Was your work or behaviour different in any way during the workshops, to how it is during normal school lessons?'

Response

Number of pupils giving response

No

2

Felt calm

4

My behaviour was better

9

I didn't argue/lose my temper/swear or talk loudly

3

I concentrated better and listened properly

1

I was careful with knives

1

I felt happy/fine

6

TOTAL

26

Those pupils who were able to articulate the reasons why they thought the workshop helped with their behaviour or feelings, gave a number of reasons as Table 6 shows.

Table 6: Reasons given by pupils for the way the workshop helped with their behaviour or feelings

Theme

Reason given for the way the workshop helped with behaviour or feelings

Number of pupils making response

Related to being a new experience, with someone different

Something I'd never done before

3

Working with someone different

1

I wanted to show to [the Director] that our class was good

1

I didn't want to miss out on the work [by messing about]

1

Related to the type of work in the workshop

Doing practical work

3

Chance to make mistakes and it not matter

2

More fun/enjoyable/exciting

3

Felt successful

2

Related to the co-operative aspects of the workshop

Teamwork

1

Pupils shared

1

Reasons given by pupils for the way the workshop helped them with their behaviour and feelings fell into three main themes: related to the workshop being a different experience with a different person leading it, related to the type of work in the workshop, and related to the co-operative aspects of the workshop. Pupils' responses indicated that the first two themes were the most significant. Of pupils who commented on aspects of the new experience, a boy at Ian Mikardo said:

It was something I'd never done before - a good experience. I felt good at the end of the day and proud of myself that I'd gone through a whole day without a tantrum.

Pupils who commented on the type of work in the workshop as being the reason it helped with their behaviour or feelings had some interesting comments. I have already quoted (above) from the two pupils who linked feeling calmer with the chance to make mistakes and it not matter so much as it normally does. As fear of failure can be a significant aspect of pupils with special educational needs' reluctance to attempt different or more challenging work, this was an important experience for these pupils.

These pupils feeling that they could make mistakes is likely to be linked to the practical nature of the workshop, which three other pupils commented on directly. One boy at Ian Mikardo said:

Usually I'm naughty in class and I wasn't naughty all day. I felt alright …because I was doing different work, practical work, using a knife.

Another boy, at Phoenix, said, `the work was different, we were building something, not writing, it was a bit like technology, like being a carpenter'. A girl at Harpley explicitly linked her feeling of success with the practical nature of the workshop:

I'm not good at anything like reading or writing. I felt I was happy because I was doing work with the sticks and bands.

The two other pupils who said they felt successful (`I did good work; better than normal') did not explicitly link feeling more successful with the work being practical but it is possible that that was the reason they felt more successful. This aspect of the workshop will be returned to in the `Discussion' section of this report.

Teachers' responses

1. What did teachers value most about the workshops for their pupils?

Although the seven teachers interviewed were from five different special schools, experiencing four different workshops, their responses to the question `What did you value most about the workshop for your pupils?' can be grouped into the following themes:

  • social benefits, working well as a group

  • contact with an outside person, benefit of working with someone new

  • curricular aspects

  • freedom to move around the school

Teachers' responses are summarised in the following table (Table 7):

Table 7: What did teachers value most about the workshop for their pupils?

Theme

Response

Number of responses

Social benefits, working well as a group

Working as a team/group

4 (P & H)

Pupils and adults working together well

1 (BT)

Coped well, even working in the hall

1 (P)

Spending the day together

1 (P)

Contact with an outside person, benefit of working with Adrian Wills

Contact with an outside person

2 (H & IM)

Director tuned into their needs very quickly

1 (P)

Director was very respectful of their ideas - made them feel great

1 (P)

Curricular aspects

Easy to incorporate pupils' learning targets eg counting to 10

1 (BT)

Good for fine motor skills

1 (BT)

Curriculum related to the world of work

1 (IM)

Freedom to move round the school

Freedom to move round whole school, making tape recordings

1 (CT)

What teachers valued for their pupils obviously depended to some extent on what type of school they taught in, and which workshop their pupils experienced. For example, the teacher at Cherry Trees commented on how well the pupils responded to having the freedom to move around the school, making their tape recordings, which is not something that normally happens. However, despite the diversity of pupils and workshops, seven responses related to the social benefits of the experience and pupils working as a group. For example, a teacher at Phoenix said:

'He put brilliant emphasis on things you can do on your own and things you just can't do on your own. [It was a] very tangible experience of having to work in a team, rather than being told to.'

The teacher at Beatrice Tate commented that adults worked together well, as well as the pupils working together successfully. Teachers also clearly valued their pupils having a chance to work with someone from outside the school. This is likely to be particularly important for pupils in special schools who are not likely to have contact with the same range of adults as pupils in mainstream schools. The teacher at Ian Mikardo said that he valued the chance for pupils to be `more flexible in terms of change and meeting new people'; however he also said that two pupils find outsiders `so threatening' that they wouldn't even go into the workshop. Two teachers, both at Phoenix, commented specifically on the value for their pupils of working with the Workshop Presenter.One said:

`He was very respectful of their ideas, it made them feel great'

and another said:

'He was fantastic with them. Every child is very different and very demanding. For someone who didn't know them, he tuned in very quickly to their needs'

So not only did pupils benefit from working with someone different, they benefited from a very positive experience with that new person.

2. How did teachers feel the workshop supported the curriculum in their school?

Teachers' responses to being asked how the workshop supported the curriculum in their school fell into the following four categories:

  • Language - listening and following instructions

  • Maths - counting, counting sides of shapes, looking at triangles

  • Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) - helping each other, working together co-operatively, valuing each others' ideas, resolving conflict

  • Design and Technology - working on structures, properties of materials

One teacher suggested that an introductory pack with an outline of the workshop and ideas for preparation, would allow the schools to decide whether pupils experienced the workshop `cold' or whether they prepared them by, for example, looking at scale in Maths or art work based on buildings beforehand. This idea is maybe something to be considered.

3. How did teachers feel the workshops supported their pupils' social and emotional development?

All teachers felt the workshop very definitely supported their pupils' social and emotional development. Their responses can be analysed as follows (Table 8):

Table 8: How teachers felt the workshops supported their pupils' social and emotional development

Response

Number of teachers giving response

Working in a group successfully

3

Feeling pride, satisfaction, enhancing self esteem

3

Supporting each other, especially less able

1

Respecting each other, how to say if you don't like someone's work/ideas, asking for things nicely

3

Likely to influence their attitude to other new adults

1

As can be seen from the table, teachers gave a number of ways in which they felt the workshop supported their pupils' social and emotional development. The teacher at Beatrice Tate who said her pupils' self esteem was enhanced, described how the structure (which they called a mosque) was used in a whole school assembly for a muslim teacher to lead traditional muslim prayers, and described how thrilled her pupils were that they had achieved something `that big and important'. The teacher at Ian Mikardo felt that as his pupils had had such a positive experience with Adrian, due to his confidence in them, that they might give other new adults a chance rather than testing them to the limits.

Although of course it is impossible to be sure of any link between the workshop and pupils' subsequent behaviour and social skills, two teachers at Phoenix did suggest this. One gave the example of her pupils playing board games together particularly well, and wondered whether this was because of the influence of the workshop. Another teacher said that she felt that asking for things nicely, which had been stressed in the workshop, had endured and that she had to remind the pupils about this less often.

 

Summary of main findings:

In total, 26 pupils and 7 teachers were interviewed at five special schools in the borough, catering for a range of special educational needs. Pupils ranged in age from six (Year 1) to 15 (Year 11); however most were of secondary age. Pupils were mostly boys, and half were of English/Scottish/Welsh ethnic origin, with the others being Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi and other ethnic minorities. Pupils at different schools experienced different workshops run by Building Experiences.

The main findings from the research are:

  • Nearly all the pupils interviewed enjoyed the workshops. Pupils' reasons for enjoying the workshops could be grouped into two themes - those that related to the content of the workshop, and those that related to the social, psychological and behavioural aspects.

  • More than half of the pupils said they had enjoyed everything about the workshops. Some pupils found aspects of the ending of the Millennium Dome workshop difficult.

  • When pupils were asked what they felt they had learned from the workshop, only four said that they didn't know or nothing. The others gave responses that fell into the same two themes as when they were asked what they had enjoyed: related to the content of the workshop, and related to the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of the workshop. Some of the Phoenix pupils commented on the teamwork and co-operative aspects of the workshop, and some of boys at Ian Mikardo School, with significant emotional and behavioural difficulties, felt that what they had learned from the workshop was related to their feelings.

  • All pupils were asked further questions about whether they felt the workshop had had any effect on their behaviour or feelings. The vast majority of pupils said that the workshop had had a positive effect on their behaviour and feelings.

  • The reasons given by pupils for the way the workshop helped them with their behaviour and/or feelings fell into three main themes: related to the workshop being a different experience with a different person leading it, related to the type of work in the workshop - particularly its practical nature, and related to the co-operative aspects of the workshop.

  • Although the teachers interviewed were from different special schools and had experienced different workshops, there was some commonality in their response as to what they had valued about the workshop for their pupils: the social benefits and working as a group, contact with an outside person. Some also valued curricular aspects of the workshops.

  • Teachers felt the workshops supported the curriculum in the following areas: language skills, maths, personal, social and health education, and design and technology.

  • All teachers felt the workshops supported their pupils' social and emotional development - by working in a group successfully, enhancing self esteem, supporting each other, respecting each other and asking for things nicely, and approaching other unfamiliar adults less suspiciously because of the positive experience. Two teachers felt that there was some link between pupils' behaviour and social skills in the workshop and their subsequent behaviour.


Discussion and conclusions

The findings of the research indicate that both pupils and teachers were almost unanimously positive about the value of the workshops run by Building Experiences in special schools in Tower Hamlets.

Responses to the workshops by both teachers and pupils fall largely into two categories: related to the content of the workshops, and related to the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of the workshop. These will be discussed in turn.

a) The content of the workshops

Teachers certainly felt that the workshops supported the curriculum in their school, in the areas of language, maths, personal, social and health education, and design and technology. The teacher of pupils with severe learning difficulties at Beatrice Tate school valued the way it was possible to incorporate pupils' learning targets, for example, practising counting up to 10 - which needs a great deal of reinforcement and repetition for such pupils - into the workshop activity. She also felt the workshop gave pupils the chance to practise their fine motor skills, by drawing, cutting etc.

Kinaesthetic learning

Although the workshops weren't unique in providing pupils with a practical learning experience, it was probably unusual that pupils spent such a long period of time on a sustained practical activity. As well as enjoying this for its own sake (for example, a boy at Ian Mikardo said he particularly enjoyed doing things by hand, rather than using machines), several pupils cited the practical nature of the workshop as the reason that the workshop helped with their behaviour and feelings. As Rodbard (1989) says:

Children with special educational needs are no different to others:
they enjoy `doing things' in a practical way especially when the academic element appears to take a back seat. The actual craft experience, however, is more important for such children, for whom personal success in one area may be the launch pad for further personal development right across the spectrum.

This is borne out by pupils who said they felt successful in the workshop and also those who felt able to make mistakes.

It is possible that those pupils who felt that the practical nature of the workshop was what helped with their behaviour and feelings are `kinaesthetic learners'. Smith (1998) classifies people as having three distinct communication and learning preferences: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. 37 per cent of learners are kinaesthetic learners - that is, they prefer to engage with the learning experience physically. They learn best by doing - touching, feeling and making, and tend to fidget and need regular breaks. Although the three learning styles are preferences, and pupils can learn outside their preferred style, people learn most effectively when working in their preferred style (Hughes, 1999). As Hughes says:

If [kinaesthetic learners] are not given opportunities to work in their preferred learning style, not only will they fail to learn effectively, they could well become disaffected and misbehave.

It is quite likely that pupils who felt that the practical work of the workshop was what helped with their behaviour were partly experiencing success in an activity that didn't rely on reading and writing, but they could also be kinaesthetic learners who were being given an opportunity to work in their preferred learning style for a sustained period. As Hughes (1999) says, `kinaesthetic learners generally find that opportunities to work in their preferred style significantly decrease as they get older'.

b) The social, psychological and behavioural aspects of the workshops

Both pupils and teachers greatly valued the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of the workshops. It is particularly impressive, given that pupils in special schools often have difficulties - to some extent at least - with communication skills, the extent to which the pupils interviewed were able to reflect so thoughtfully upon the way the workshop had helped them with their feelings and behaviour, and think of the reasons they thought this was so.

Some of the reasons for the impact of the workshop on behaviour and feelings have already been discussed: the opportunity to experience success in a practical activity and the possibility that kinaesthetic learners were being given an opportunity to work in their preferred learning style. In addition, pupils (and teachers) commented on the benefit of having a different (and very positive) experience with an unfamiliar adult. This is not a trivial experience for pupils in special schools who because of the relatively small number of staff may have less opportunity than other pupils to meet and work with a range of adults, but also because their learning and/or behaviour difficulties may make them wary and nervous of contact with unfamiliar adults (as with the pupils at Ian Mikardo who refused to even go in to the workshop) or make it hard for them to behave appropriately. It is to be hoped, as the teacher at Ian Mikardo said, that all the pupils who experienced working successfully with an unfamiliar adult in the workshop will be able to approach similar situations in the future with more confidence.

Some pupils and teachers commented on the benefits of the co-operative aspects of the workshop. 'Physical proximity alone does not necessarily foster constructive co-operation' (Reason, 1991) and sometimes what is described as group work is in fact pupils sitting round a table together but in fact producing individual work. Research in America (Pepitone, 1985, cited by Reason, 1991) compared children in co-operative and competitive working conditions. The children in the co-operative condition conversed and explained more, helped each other more, persevered longer with the task and, furthermore, their joint end products were judged to be of higher quality. Some of the pupils at Phoenix, from their perceptive comments, had certainly learnt in a very tangible way what it meant to really co-operate as they had discovered that they simply couldn't make the structure with sticks and bands unless they worked as a team.

Many of the pupils' responses indicating that they felt happy, felt successful, were calmer and behaved better indicated that the workshops had contributed to raising pupils' self esteem. Some teachers also commented that this was one of the ways that the workshop had supported their pupils' social and emotional development. Self esteem is a 'value judgement about the self. Our self esteem depends on how our self image measures up to our ideal self' (Hinton, 1991). Hinton says that self esteem is enhanced by improving pupils' self image - by, among other things, increasing skills (academic and social skills), by increasing positive feedback from significant others, by providing experience of success, and by expectations of success. Given this, it is clear how the workshops contributed to enhancing pupils' self esteem.

Another aspect of the Millennium Dome workshop worth commenting on is the multi-cultural dimension. By design the workshop has many applications. Working in an area with a large Asian community, participants readily identify the structure they have built with that of a mosque. Developing a sense of belonging, based upon recognition and making connections within one’s own local area, is a central part of the approach. In this fashion such cultural contexts and connections can be realised, celebrated and valued. One Bengali girl at Harpley pointed out this connection, especially since the structure had a silvery metal `cap' on it. I have already outlined how the structure was used for Muslim prayers at Beatrice Tate. This is possibly an aspect of the Millennium Dome workshop that could be developed further.

Concluding remarks

I suspect that most pupils - in both mainstream and special schools - are rarely asked to evaluate and comment upon their learning experiences in the way that the pupils in this study have been asked to do. Whilst this kind of detailed questioning about a learning experience is not something that it would be easy to arrange on a frequent basis, this research shows the richness and depth of pupils' responses to such questioning, and the ability of pupils with special educational needs to reflect thoughtfully and informatively on their learning experiences.

Although pupils and teachers commented on both the content, and the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of the workshops, and both are obviously very important, the really striking finding from the research is just how powerful the workshops are in supporting pupils' social and emotional development. This has been amply commented upon by the pupils in the study. Another important aspect of the workshop programme is how the high expectations of Building Experiences, in terms of what pupils with special educational needs are able to achieve, was borne out both by pupils' practical achievements in the workshops, and in social and behavioural terms. The perception of the Trust regarding the value and potency of its workshop approaches for children with special educational needs would appear to be validated by the evidence of this research.

By welcoming Building Experiences into their schools to run its workshops, special schools in Tower Hamlets have demonstrated the importance of looking outwards into the wider community, and drawing upon learning experiences from it for their pupils, in order to prepare their pupils for life in the wider community. As more pupils with special educational needs become included in mainstream schools, these schools should be made aware of the work of organisations such as Building Experiences who are able to offer such pupils quite different learning opportunities and experiences.

 

References

The Advisory Centre for Education (1996) Special Education Handbook: the law on children with special needs. London: ACE

Department for Education (1994a) Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs. London: HMSO

Department for Education (1994b) Special Educational Needs: A guide for parents. London: HMSO

Hinton, S. (1991) Enhancing Self-Esteem in Pupils and Teachers. London: University College London

Hughes, M. (1999) Closing the Learning Gap. Stafford: Network Educational Press

London Borough of Tower Hamlets (1998) Special Schools Directory. London: London Borough of Tower Hamlets Education Services

London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Corporate Director (Education) (1999) Inclusive Education in Schools Action Plan. London: London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Norgate, R. (1997) Assessment of Children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. Hampshire Educational Psychology Service

Reason, R. (1991) Co-operating to learn and learning to co-operate. London: University College London

Rodbard, P. (1989) Design and Technology: New Directions. British Journal of Special Education, 16, 3, 99-102

Smith, A. (1998) Accelerated Learning in Practice. Stafford: Network Educational Press

Smith, J.A. (1995) Semi-structured interviewing and qualitative analysis, in Smith, J.A., Harre, R. & Van Langenhove (eds) Rethinking Methods in Psychology. London: Sage Publications

Rachel Warner

Educational Psychologist

Building Experiences wishes to thank the Aldgate and Allhallows Barking Exhibition Foundation and the Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership for their support for the workshop programme in Tower Hamlets' special schools, and also to thank the special schools involved for their willingness to take part in the programme, and to agreeing to their pupils and staff being interviewed for this research.

 

Appendix A

Semi-structured interview schedule for pupils: Building Experiences Workshop

Name of school:

Age / gender / ethnicity of pupil:

1. What were your feelings before the workshops?

Prompt: What did you think would happen when your teacher told you about the workshops?

2. What did you enjoy most about the workshops?

3. What didn't you enjoy about the workshops?

4. What do you think you learned from the workshops?

Prompt: Did it help you in any way with the kind of work you do in school?

Prompt: Did it help you with your behaviour or feelings in any way?

5. Was your work or behaviour different in any way during the workshops, to how it is during normal school lessons?

Prompt: Can you say a bit more about that, and about why you think that was?

6. What will you remember most about the workshops?

7. Do you have anything else you'd like to say about the workshops?


Appendix B

Semi-structured interview schedule for teachers: Building Experiences Workshop

Name of school:

Name of workshop:

Number and ages of pupils participating:

1. What were your feelings/expectations before the workshop?

2. What did you value most about the workshop for your pupils?

3. Was there anything that was less successful, or not particularly valuable?

4. How do you feel the workshop supported the curriculum in your school?

5. How do you feel the workshop supported your pupil's social and emotional development?

Probe: Have you noticed this in any other situations since the workshop?

6. Were there any aspects of your pupils' work and/or behaviour that surprised you, or that you particularly noticed during the workshops?

7. Do you plan any other developments related to the workshops?

8.Do you have any other comments about the workshops?

BACK TO CASE STUDIES



Building Experiences     Site Design: Wills-Fleming