St. Nicholas Primary School (SNPS for the purposes of this post) is a co-educational community primary school (roughly ages 5 to 11) with no religious affiliation in the Oxford village of Marston. According to the Department for Education website, SNPS has 360 students with 13 of them receiving extra resources for “Autistic Spectrum Disorder” and “Speech, language and communication” issues. It was with this group of kids that I spent my day, observing the Communications and Integrations Resource Base (the CIRB or “the Base”) where they get small group or even one-on-one support away from the mainstream classrooms. Many of the adults who help out are volunteer Teacher Assistants (like Harriet) who come in once or several times a week. The students who learn in the CIRB are mostly kids with Autism, although they widely vary on the spectrum from those who are “high-functioning” with Asperger’s syndrome to those with severe Autism. The kids are split by age group, with 5-8 year olds on one side of the staircase and 8-11 year olds on the other. Some students split their time in the CIRB and mainstream classrooms, but many stay in the CIRB all day long. Let me tell you: there was a MASSIVE difference between the two groups as I got to spend time with both. I got to do a lot of different things throughout the day, met a lot of amazing people, and learned some very valuable things.
After meeting Harriet at the bus stop, I checked into the school as a visitor and wound my way through what seemed to be a maze of hallways to the CIRB. All the kids start their academic school day at 0850, although there are some before-school clubs which meet in the mornings before school.
After the students had left for the day, I asked the adults some questions about their school and the system as a whole. The biggest thing they said needed to be improved was that the government and schools needed to begin treating students as individuals. For example, it would be unreasonable to require that students must pass English and math to leave school, since for many special education kids that is an unattainable goal. The adults also said that SNPS was very good at providing creative outlets for the kids and that often the school observes a week-long theme (this week was “Science Week”). Students also have the opportunity to participate in many extra-curricular activities, as well as having a fair amount of the day put aside for physical activity. Specifically, the kids in the Base went swimming once a week and horseback riding every 3 weeks, along with practicing dance routines and break times.
There also seemed to be a great music program from what I saw, and the teachers agreed that their school was very supportive of the arts. The mainstream and the CIRB’s students put on a whole host of concerts/talent shows for the school’s governors and parents, where kids play the piano, sing songs, and dance routines. Apparently there’s also at least one music assembly a week, and the music teacher gets everyone clapping and singing along. The TAs also told me about the school’s choirs and musical groups, including an orchestra with parent volunteers as teachers and participants! While the school has a great commitment to creativity, they did say that the arts were unfortunately almost always the first things cut when money was tight (which seems to be a universal problem, at least in the UK and the US!).