BACK TO SCHOOL: Wilson Stuart School students thrive in five day adventure at Bendrigg Lodge

Words & pics supplied by Wilson Stuart School

Thirteen students from Wilson Stuart School embarked on a transformative five-day residential experience at Bendrigg Lodge in the picturesque Lake District. The trip aimed to provide fully accessible outdoor and indoor activities, fostering personal growth, and emphasising the school’s CIRCLE values.

The students embraced a range of activities, from caving and rock climbing to canoeing and the exhilarating zip wire. The immersive experience not only tested their physical abilities but also served as a platform to enhance their confidence, a key aspect of the school’s values.

For many students, this marked their first time away from home, presenting a unique challenge met with absolute positivity. The resilience and maturity displayed by the students throughout the trip earned them credit as outstanding representatives of the school.

Looking ahead, Tom Elmes, Associate Head of Secondary, expressed anticipation for a similar adventure with the upper school in the summer term.

Reflecting on the impact, Mr Elmes remarked: “The opportunities that the residential trip gives to our students are outstanding. All of our students surprise themselves with what they can do, and the smiles all week speak volumes.”

Trip leader Leigh Noble emphasised the enduring value of the experience, stating: “The skills that students gain away from home at a centre like Bendrigg are skills that they will take with them for life – a truly unforgettable experience for all.”

BACK TO SCHOOL: Wilson Stuart students spend five days at Bendrigg Lodge (pics by Tom Elmes)

For more on Wilson Stuart School visit www.wilsonstuart.co.uk

Wilson Stuart School is part of the Erdington Local BACK TO SCHOOL programme, working together to celebrate school life from staffroom to classroom.

To find out more about going BACK TO SCHOOL please email: edking@erdingtonlocal.com

BACK TO SCHOOL: Wilson Stuart School hosts sensory music experience for students

Words & pic supplied by Wilson Stuart School

In an effort to enhance the musical experiences of students across all age groups, Wilson Stuart School recently welcomed Mike Dryburgh from SENSE, a leading organisation in promoting inclusive activities for individuals with complex needs. The event aimed to broaden students’ access to music through innovative technologies.

Mike Dryburgh’s captivating music performance showcased the integration of music technology, featuring loop pedals and vibrating sound packs. Students not only enjoyed the immersive musical journey but also actively engaged in creating their own compositions using the cutting-edge technology.

Associate Head Tom Elmes, emphasised the profound impact of music on learners, providing sensory input and fostering a sense of joy and wellbeing.

Mr Elmes highlighted the significance of offering students new and enriching experiences, stating: “To have a new experiences from SENSE is a great opportunity for our students and one in which we will look to repeat in the future.”

Executive Head Simon Harris also joined the action by conducting a student-led performance, offering a unique interpretation of Nirvana’s classic ‘Molly’s Lips.’ The event successfully brought together the school community, promoting inclusivity and showcasing the transformative power of music for students with complex physical and medical needs.

Wilson Stuart School continues its commitment to providing a holistic and diverse education, ensuring that students have access to a wide range of experiences that contribute to their overall development and wellbeing.

For more on Wilson Stuart School visit www.wilsonstuart.co.uk  

Wilson Stuart School is part of the Erdington Local BACK TO SCHOOL programme, working together to celebrate school life from staffroom to classroom.

To find out more about going BACK TO SCHOOL please email: edking@erdingtonlocal.com

FEATURE: SEND education in Erdington – past, present, and “fiercely committed people” working hard for the future

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

As children return to classrooms across the country, many with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are forced to stay learning from home. Limited placements, underfunding, and cuts to travel support make it more difficult for SEND children to access to school-based education.

Erdington has a strong portfolio of SEND education, with children referred to special schools in the constituency from across the wider city. But it’s still not enough, and Erdington’s SEND educators continue to face challenges whilst delivering a nationally recognised high standard of education.

With local schools achieving impressive GCSE and A-level results this year, and more ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rated academies than ever before, the educational future is looking brighter for pupils in Erdington, Kingstanding, and Castle Vale.

The upheaval of the pandemic is also becoming a distant memory for pupils and staff, with this year seeing the first post lockdown results to rely on exam results and coursework instead of predicted grades from teachers.

However, parents and carers of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have a very different story to tell.

With a shortage of SEND places in Birmingham, families with children who live with a wide range of disabilities cannot find a suitable school for their child to attend. And those lucky enough to have found the right placement now face their free school transport being axed due to budget cuts at Birmingham City Council.

Teacher, parent of a child with autism, and founder of SEND National Crisis Birmingham, Kate Taylor, laid bare the crisis to Erdington Local. She told: “Right now there are hundreds of children in Birmingham, including Erdington and Kingstanding, who will be sitting at home as children return to school for the start of term. Parents of SEND children face a massive battle to get their child the proper education they need and deserve.

Kate believes a continual lack of investment for SEND children is the key to the problem. She continued: “My son is 21 and what our experience was compared to parents starting out in 2023 with a SEND child is totally different. I could go to my local Sure Start Centre, which were a great help in all different ways from early diagnosis to finding support from other parents; I knew I was not alone trying to bring up a child with very challenging needs.”

She added: “Whereas attitudes and awareness of disabilities and mental health has improved massively, the services on offer have disappeared or are now private.

“Sadly, due to their caring needs a lot of SEND children’s families are struggling financially – as one parent may have to give up work.

“So, withdrawing transport for them and offering a bus pass when these children would find it impossible to navigate their way to school on two different buses adds even more children sitting at home.

“There has been a massive increase in home schooling; but this is not a choice, this is enforced because there is not enough provision in North Birmingham through dedicated SEND schools and mainstream schools with the ability to accommodate SEND children.”

However, Erdington historically has some of the best SEND school provision in the country, and currently hosts the highest percentage of SEND schools of any constituency in Birmingham. There are four secondary special schools in Erdington: Oscott Manor School, Queensbury School, The Pines Special School, and Wilson Stuart School.

There is also the Dovedale Centre, which offers an 81 placement provision for pupils with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), and Hive Collage, which has 110 places for students aged between 19-25.

And in 2024 a new free school will be opened in Kingstanding with provision for 120 students, aged between 14-19, with both ASC and social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) issues.

Wilson Stuart School can trace its history back to 1902 when it opened as Dean Street Cripple School. In 1907 the school moved to George Street West, where it remained for the next 49 years, and it has been at its purpose-built Perry Common Road premises since 1956 – now catering for 270 pupils aged 2-19 years. Lauded as one of the best SEND schools in the country, Wilson Stuart has been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in its last six inspections.

The school became part of the Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) academy group, established in March 2012, alongside Hive Collage and Handsworth’s Mayfield School. EIAT now includes the Wood End Road based Queensbury School, adopting the Gravelly Hill secondary from the Local Authority in 2020 after it received an ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted rating and faced closure.

But maintaining a high standard of education for children with SEND requires “a really high bar”, and higher costs – as the cohort need more staff and facilities to thrive.

Wilson Stuart Executive Head Teacher, Simon Harris, explains: “Erdington is an incredibly successful place for providing high quality education for children with SEND, but the reality is that we’re doing that despite the funding we receive – and that becomes increasingly difficult because all the time you’re trying to squeeze everything out of those last pennies.”

“At Wilson Stuart our challenges are ramped up by a disproportionate amount because we’re dealing with pretty much the most complex children, physically and medically, in the city. And to provide a high-quality education we’ve had to set a really high bar.

“Our staff work incredibly hard and are incredibly passionate about what they do, and that passion and enthusiasm exudes through everyone who works here. And we support people to take risks, educationally, to try things and push the boundaries”

He added: “If you ask me why Wilson Stuart is so successful it’s because we try things, and if they work then great and we continue doing them – but if they don’t work, there’s not a blame culture and we just move on. And that creates a culture where you’re constantly getting fresh ideas and new ways of doing things, and really enthused staff who can see the great results we get for our students.”

Since being part of EIAT, and through the work of its current senior leadership team and staff, standards have also improved at Queensbury School, which also can trace its history back over 120 years. Furthermore, Queensbury is walking into the new academic year with a brand new £5 million sixth form facility on Station Road, Erdington, call New Horizons.

Bushra Adnan, Head of Post 16 at Queensbury, told Erdington Local: “We are excited to be opening the doors to New Horizons, our new sixth form provision for students aged 16-19 which is located on Station Road.

“Students will benefit from a building which has been taken back to first fix, and adapted with extensions and redesigning to offer a provision with all the facilities young people need to prepare for adulthood. There are 11 classrooms, which includes a dual-purpose common room, it has a calm room, mentors room, hall, dual purpose cooking room, and canteen.”

She added: “Students will also benefit from a prime location, being a stone’s throw from Erdington High Street, Erdington Railway Station, and many other local businesses and amenities. This is an exciting time for all stakeholders at Queensbury School and Sixth Form.”

However, parents and carers of SEND children are now dealing with a transport bombshell which could add to the numbers being home schooled.

Birmingham City Council (BCC) has informed families of SEND children the free minibus and taxi rides previously provided by the Local Authority are coming to an end, after an overspend of £18 million in last year’s school transport budget. Children will now be given a personal travel budget, which will mean many parents will have to choose between work and taking their children to school.

Then On Tuesday 5 September, Birmingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice, stopping any ‘new spending’ as they face a projected deficit of £87m and potentially up to £760m in new claims over unequal pay. And despite soft reassurances being made that education in the city won’t suffer, concerns are mounting.

Wilson Stuart Head teacher, Simon Harris, continued: “Wilson Stuart is bigger than it’s ever been now, with 270 places this year, but we are still turning away referrals because we don’t have the space. It’s important to recognise the Local Authority have supported us by funding an additional building, but there needs to be some intervention from Government in terms of pay increases, and that those are funded properly in the SEND sector with its higher staffing ratios.

“What we don’t want, and where some special schools go wrong, is it becoming just about keeping the children safe and being present. Being present isn’t being included and being included is about high-quality education, and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the resources – both human and facilities.

“I think we (SEND educators) are always the afterthought, we’re the bottom of the pile in the thought process… and normally it takes someone having to bang a drum to show that with the running costs for special schools the money being put on the table isn’t going to cover the things we need to do to keep offering an outstanding education.

“It’s going to be tough. But in a way that’s the rallying cry – education, be it in Erdington or Birmingham, needs fiercely committed people who don’t back down, work incredibly hard, are passionate about the children. It’s always needed that, people who won’t just shout it but will actually do it.”

For more on Wilson Stuart School visit www.wilsonstuart.co.uk
For more on Queensbury School visit www.queensburysch.com

For more on Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) visit www.educationimpact.org.uk

For more on SEND National Crisis visit www.facebook.com/SENDNationalCrisis

NEWS: Queensbury School officially launches £2.3m new school site

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ed King & Nandini Gill

On Thursday 26 January, Queensbury School officially launched their new £2.3m school building – which has been operational for students since the latter part of the autumn term 2022.

Queensbury School – situated on Wood End Road, Erdington – received panning consent in September 2021 for the redevelopment of their existing school site, breaking ground later that year.

Now part of the Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT), alongside Wilson Stuart School, Queensbury delivered their new build in November last year – only a few thousand pounds over budget, despite delays and supplier strangleholds due to Covid-19.

Welcoming school governors, academy members, and partners from the Local Authority, this week Queensbury School Executive Headteacher Chris Wilson introduced a “new beginning” for the Erdington Special Educational Needs (SEN) school – which had previously been rated ‘Inadequate’ in its last Ofsted report.

“It will allow a bit of time, and a bit of space,” continued Mr Wilson, explaining how the sensory concerns of their students had been pivotal in the project – with Queensbury’s School Council even designing the new play area between the school hall and new facility.

A special address was then given by Steve Hughes, the erstwhile CEO of Education Impact Academy Trust, who told how the Local Authority once asked him “has this school (Queensbury) got a future,” and how “this is now a school to be proud of.”

A presentation of artwork celebrating the Lunar New Year, short stories, and poems – all signifying “new beginnings” – was then made by Queensbury students, before the official ribbon cutting and tour of the new school site.

Housing seven new classrooms, the new build had further been “futureproofed” by extending floor space to allow more space and flexibility in the immediate teaching environment. National guidelines recommend a minimum of 52m² for up to 30 students, whilst the new classrooms at Queensbury School are 63m² for no more than 12 students.

Alongside enhanced facilities for direct teaching, there are three new ‘calm rooms’ where students can use music or sport therapy to work through overriding emotions – alongside an isolated ‘work room’ for those needing extra space to focus on their studies.

Each ‘calm room’ has special LED lighting to encourage emotional equilibrium, whilst all the classroom lights are on variable dimmers to allow for a variety of sensory responses from the students.

Queensbury now also had a dedicated ‘therapy room’, for more one to one attention, and a ‘confidentiality room’ where a team of eight mentors can engage with families, parents, and carers. In the previous school layout, all these pastoral activities had been conducted wherever there was available space, with the school’s mentoring team based “technically in a shed.”

Queensbury also now has extended areas for outside play, where children can get the benefits of an outdoor environment – a powerful positive to Mr Wison – and engage with the school’s three ‘therapy dogs’: Eddison, Henry, and Odie.

Queensbury School became part of the Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) in September 2021, after plotting a course towards becoming an academy several years earlier. Alongside Wilson Stuart School (Erdington), Hive Collage (Erdington), and Mayfield School (Lozells), Queensbury School is one of four SEN and SEND providers in the Multi Academy Trust portfolio.

With capacity for 276 students at the Wood Lane site, Queensbury School caters for young people from 11 to 19 – with plans to extend their 6th Form provision with a new site on Station Road, hoping to welcome 96 new students into further education in the next academic year.

Queensbury’s current Executive Headteacher, Chris Wilson, began working with the school in November 2018, “falling in love” with the Erdington SEN provider and eventually taking over the top spot.

Steering Queensbury through difficult waters, inducing the threat of closure and a damning Ofsted report, Mr Wilson is now confident in a bright future for the once troubled school – explaining how the new development quite simply “gives the staff the tools they need” to offer the best educational experience.

Mr Wilson continued: “The new building gives us the facilities and the resources for our students and staff to allow them to unleash their limitless potential and create further opportunities for many years to come.

“It’s opening the creativity of the teachers back up, because they’ve got more space to work with and an environment that’s right, and no doubt that will lead to better outcomes for the students – as well as our students being proud. It was very difficult to make them proud of the school when the building was in such a dilapidated state.

“They haven’t got that now, and that means when they take their place in society those preparation for adult skills are fostered within them and integral to their values as well.”

For more on Queensbury School visit www.queensburysch.com

NEWS: Commonwealth Games 2022 mascot Perry the Bull visits Wilson Stuart School

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics supplied by Wilson Stuart School

On 18 May, Wilson Stuart School were lucky enough to be visited by Perry the Bull – the official mascot for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, to be hosted in Birmingham this summer.

Perry was well received by all as he moved around the school meeting and greeting both staff and students.

Perry first visited Bluesky nursery and Primary, dancing, skipping, and giving out ‘hi-fives’ with the students at every given moment before then making his way across school to secondary where he was greeted with yet more cheers and happy faces.

Wilson Stuart School in Perry Common is a special school that caters for 229 pupils aged 2-25 years.

The SEND students fully embraced the experience and were able to get photos with the Commonwealth mascot ahead of the Games. Students further took part in an action packed morning of activities, including a ‘find Perry’ orienteering course, medal design and athlete growth mindset workshops.

The visit from Perry the Bull “helped capture the family, fun and friendly feeling of the games and to get the students geared up to Birmingham hosting the games later this year,” said Tom Elmes, Associate Head of Secondary at Wilson Stuart School.

He added: “There was a real buzz of excitement from the students about our special visitor, it was great to see both staff and students interacting with Perry and the projects that we are part of are now starting to take shape ahead of the games this summer.”

Perry the Bull is a unique mascot for the Commonwealth Games 2022, named after both Perry Barr – where the main bulk of the Games will be held – and the Bull Ring Market.

His appearance is based upon the design of 11-year-old Emma Lou, winner of a national design competition that took place in 2020.

Artist in residence at Wilson Stuart School, Benny Semp, has also been working with students on a wall hanging to act as a legacy piece for the Games.

The Commonwealth Games will take place in venues across Greater Birmingham, the Midlands, and London between 28 July and 8 August.

For more on Wilson Stuart School visit www.wilsonstuart.co.uk

For more on the Commonwealth Games visit www.birmingham2022.com