Annex 1: Visit to New Woodlands School,
19 October 2010|
The Committee visited New Woodlands School, a London
Borough of Lewisham-maintained special school and outreach service
for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.
The Committee held a general discussion with the Headteacher,
Duncan Harper, and his deputy, Liz Davis, before splitting into
two groups to tour the school and to meet children (one group
of primary-age children, one of secondary-age).
There are approximately 130 children in the school,
17 of which have a statement of special educational needs. Originally,
the school had been a small special school for children with social,
emotional and behavioural needs. Most of the school's intake is
now of children without statements referred from mainstream schools
in the London Borough of Lewisham for short-term spells of alternative
provision (i.e. a period of anything between six weeks and several
months - (typically 5 to 6 months). Initially, the placements
of children without a statement of SEN had been unofficial: it
was now formalised through use of the "power to innovate"
under the Education Act 2002 and subsequent legislation. The model
is unique in the Borough: other institutions might have the same
philosophy but were constrained by law from offering the flexibility
of provision for children without a statement of SEN: attempts
to do so in Manchester and Oldham had been blocked by the Department.
Provision elsewhere tended to be fragmented, catering for specific
age groups. New Woodlands had valued the trust placed in it by
the local authority.
At the time of the visit, New Woodlands had 12 classes,
staffed by 16 teachers, 13 teaching assistants and nine outreach
teachers who work with pupils (as opposed to staff) in mainstream
schools. In addition to classroom work at New Woodlands, outreach
staff worked in Lewisham schools, managing behaviour within those
schools but referring children to New Woodlands if those efforts
were not working.
Fixed costs (including overheads and staffing) were
met by the London Borough of Lewisham. New Woodlands has a Service
Level Agreement with all schools in the local area who pay to
be 'in the club' on a pay-per-pupil basis. This is worth £0.5m
per year to the school. Much of the surplus funding is targeted
at supporting students to stay in mainstream schools; this includes
funding one to one support for a set period, paying for breakfast
clubs and after school clubs etc.
The School's Mission Statement is "to provide
the same standard of care and education for all our students as
we would wish for our own children". The aim is to instil
in children an understanding that, in order to fit in to society,
they will need to "learn the rules". To do that, they
need to think about how they present themselves, what they should
aim for in future and how they could meet that aim. The headteacher
described the school's approach as "quite old-fashioned":
there is an emphasis on strict boundaries, good manners and respect.
There is a deliberate effort not to make things too comfortable:
exotic adventure activities would not give any incentive to children
to return to their mainstream school. Children had to eat lunch
at New Woodlands and had to eat together and properly.
The school gives a very strong emphasis to literacy
and numeracy. Many of the classes observed during the visit were
focusing on basic skills in arithmetic or phonics. New Woodlands'
teachers felt that poor literacy was a major issue amongst the
pupils referred to the school. A dyslexia specialist working with
a pupil with SEN told Members that many behavioural problems could
be avoided if mainstream schools used New Woodlands' methods for
improving literacy, such as teaching phonics.
Incentives are provided through a token economy system:
for instance, good behaviour would be rewarded with an activity
at the end of the week. Behaviour was partly measured through
"true time", during which staff discussed with individual
children their behaviour and invited them to grade it, negotiating
towards a mutually agreed grade. This was designed to develop
the children's ability to regulate themselves.
Exclusion is avoided, not least because it releases
children from responsibility. Parents are also thankful not to
have to expect phone calls notifying them of imminent exclusion.
The headteacher and his deputy had worked together
for many years and had a common understanding of what needed to
be done. They were willing to take risks.
Easier for children of primary age than of secondary
age, simply because there were more alternatives for children
for whom a fresh start at a different school was needed. Pupils
returning to mainstream education are tracked (for instance through
assessments of their reading age). Pupils are not returned to
mainstream school until they are completely ready - no time limit
is set on their stay at New Woodlands. Success in re-integrating
New Woodlands' pupils in mainstream school is very high.
The large majority are living in one-parent families;
many had witnessed domestic violence, sometimes of a very serious
nature. Staff had noted an increase in referrals of 5 and 6 year
In a meeting with five primary age children, children's
perceptions were that:
- The environment at New Woodlands
was stricter than at their mainstream school, and they were keen
to return: children acknowledged that this could happen if they
- There were a lot of fights
- They would like more free time: children acknowledged
that this could be earned
- Swearing was done "for fun" or to annoy
In a meeting with secondary age pupils, children's
perceptions were that:
- New Woodlands teachers were
nice and able to talk to pupils at their level
- Pupils learn a lot at New Woodlands
- Lessons are more interactive and more interesting
- Pupils receive more 1-1 attention at New Woodlands
- this is welcomed by pupils
Special educational needs
The number of children in Lewisham with a Statement
of SEN had reduced; in order to get a statement, there needed
to be a clear need, and parents needed to be able to show that
they had engaged with efforts to improve their child's behaviour.
Perhaps 60% of children at the School had specific language or
communications needs, in some cases because they had never spent
fruitful time with adults. Local schools are required to work
in close partnership with New Woodlands and prove that a pupil
has significant learning difficulties before a referral can be
made. Referral forms must be used, with the mainstream school
being specific about the nature of any behavioural issues which
need to be addressed.
This is recognised as very important. The leadership
team had considerable success in engaging all parents and was
persistent in its attempts to secure meetings with them, either
at the School or in homes, at times to suit parents. Home-school
agreements with parents might specify that any television or games
console in the child's bedroom should be removed until the child
had re-integrated into mainstream provision. Efforts are made
to ensure that New Woodlands provides a welcoming and non-judgmental
environment for parents and carers. For example, tea and biscuits
are offered when parents/carers attend for meetings with staff.
The Committee saw classes of four or five children
at Key Stage 3 and 8-10 pupils at Key Stages 1 and 2, with two
or three staff (teacher, teaching assistant and perhaps a behaviour
team member), although class sizes would probably rise once autumn
term referrals came through. Teaching staff were mostly from a
mainstream school background. The senior management team and behaviour
staff regularly walked the corridors. Classroom doors were locked
The school uses a 'primary' model for teaching secondary
age pupils, with the same teacher staying with a class for all
The fabric of the building
Older parts of the building dated from 1998; an extension
had been built for Key Stage 3 children in 2007. All areas of
the building were light and spacious and were painted in calm,
attractive colours. The headteacher believed that the quality
of the environment mattered. While new premises offered advantages,
older Victorian-era buildings in good repair also served well.
Shoddy buildings (often those built during the 1960s) merely indicated
to pupils that "they didn't matter".
Learning from the Woodlands experience
Deputy Headteacher Liz Davis felt that all local
authorities should be prepared to devolve more of their responsibilities
for behaviour management to schools to allow them to innovate
in their local areas. Lewisham Council has devolved to New Woodlands
all responsibility for managing the highly challenging behaviour
of 5-14 year olds, allowing for much greater central co-ordination