Jarlath O’Brien joins us this week to talk about his role as a Special school headteacher at Carwarden House Community School in Surrey.
Jarlath is a physics graduate and has always loved working with teen-aged learners. After working in a variety of settings he took a post to work with learners with emotional and behavioural difficulties. He was attracted to working with the most vulnerable in society and has been at Carwarden House as headteacher for four years.
What are the essential elements of an MLD school?
Jarlath used to take it for granted that all the learners he dealt with were ‘walkers, talkers, readers and writers’. It came as a shock to him to realise that there are children out there who cannot do one of these – or all of them. The normal route of leaving school, getting a job and living by themselves is not always what happens for all.
There has to be a clear explicit focus on helping the students at Carwarden House to live and work independently. The curriculum has to be vocationally focused with a heavy presence in the workplace.
Society doesn’t expect our students to live and work independently – society expects absolutely nothing from our students.
When the students are older, the standard secondary curriculum is augmented with a mandatory vocational curriculum. All Yr 10/11 and sixth form learners attend a local FE college and have work experience as well.
What would Jarlath like politicians to understand about Special school students?
He would like politicians to realise that his students actually exist. He has seen many policies which prove to him that his students are not considered. When they talk about ‘all year 6 pupils’ or all secondary pupils, they don’t mean it. It’s OK to acknowledge that some policies don’t include all students because they have a life-limiting condition or multiple learning difficulties. The answer isn’t to say that the policy doesn’t apply to Special schools because, for example, there are some learners in Special schools who are academically very able. Rather, Jarlath believes that approaches could include separate judgements on SEN in the Ofsted framework…
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