A developmental perspective informs the curriculum at Ivy House School, where the starting point is each individual learner. Learning for our students at a very early cognitive level does not occur by laying one skill upon another to form a building block, but is adventitious, irregular and random, coming from all experiences in the holistic manner of young neurotypical children learning through play. Our students need:
- To be able to expressively communicate and understand others.
- To maximise independence through deep learning and mastery.
- To understand rules and the need to follow them, keeping them safe.
- To be able to make choices/decisions.
- To develop resilience.
- To have social skills and apply them in the community.
- To be able to learn to self- regulate to cope with challenge in an appropriate way.
- To know their sense of worth and have self- confidence.
- To use their bodies to complete fine and gross motor tasks and activities.
- To understand the world around them.
Ivy House have worked closely with, and adopted, the EQUALS curriculum for many areas. This suits the needs of the children and offers greater opportunities for extending learning in a range of exciting and vibrant ways. Curriculum Schemes of Work (S.O.W) have been written by professionals involved within the arena of education for children with SEND and so the activities planned build on important milestones and patterns of development. This is important for the children at Ivy House, who require repetition of learning to support their own progress and attainment. We pride ourselves on offering curriculum opportunities that foster and develop a range of personal skills, including:
- Finding out and exploring
- Concentrating and attending
- Enjoying achieving
- Having their own ideas
- Making links
- Choosing how to do things
The school understands that the principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage are applicable to many of the students across the age ranges, due to the developmental level of learning. An inclusive curriculum is about its applicability to all from its inception and not about adaptations and extensions to make a non-inclusive curriculum more applicable to extended groups (Jordan, 2005). It is not an assumption that we just need to water down what is already in place for neurotypical learners. The rationale underpinning our curriculum is in response to the Rochford Review and in consideration of the wealth of research underpinning effective pedagogy for pupils with SEND. Therefore, our curriculum design is arranged to fit the child, rather than the child to fit the curriculum. It is based on the needs, interests, aptitudes and achievements of learners. As educators we need to have deep knowledge of individual differences that steers teachers to provide meaningful contexts in which to really engage children by focusing on things that matter to them.
Our learning experiences are designed to provide maximum opportunities for irresistible engagement that facilitate the exploration, practise and mastery of the developmental curriculum. The process of engagement must be at the heart of any curriculum development (Carpenter, 2010). The pace of the sequence is set by the individual not by arbitrary measures. It is also not designed to be linear. Progress can be horizontal or in some cases backwards. It may be that the maintenance of a skill or the slowing down of a regression are huge steps for the individual learner. Its aim is to support children and young people to apply what they have learned in school in real life situations into real world opportunities so they have agency over their world once they leave us. For some learners, functional skills are directly related to real skills needed for now, transition and the future. Examples are independent eating, understanding and helping with getting dressed or own personal hygiene routines.
Our pre-formal curriculum offers a narrow range of curriculum areas that are concrete in form and focus on individual needs, physical needs, family needs and affective needs (including well-being and security). The curriculum enables them to develop a sense of security in the school environment, which is comprehensible and meaningful to them. The focus is upon enabling them to establish positive interactive relationships with others, to proactively explore the world around them, gaining environmental control skills. All students will be given maximum opportunities to achieve the highest level of independence possible.
The curriculum is process based, and the delivery includes activities such as intensive interaction, where there is no task at the centre of the process. The teacher doesn’t decide the target, the leaner decides where the interactive process will go; the pace and direction of learning and therefore the pace and direction of teaching. For example, when participating in an activity such as baking a cake, the aim is to offer meaningful engagement and improve exploratory abilities, the end product of the cake is unimportant; it is the process that is key.
Students following our semi-formal curriculum learn best when learning is related to their own experience. Some may learn through play; others will learn more effectively through functional activities, and yet others will respond well to a topic-based approach. The curriculum content echoes the ground covered by the Early Years Foundation Stage (2021) since this framework is not confined to those below the age 5, but rather, extends right across the school where students are functioning up to end of year 1 expectations. However, the teaching approach reflects the age and learning style of the students concerned.