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‘Marathon club is the best thing ever to release tension and get him moving - it is absolutely brilliant. They go to the park and do laps around the lake and get a band for each lap. It makes him proud and gives him a sense of accomplishment’. School uses system called ‘zones of regulation’ which is aimed at helping pupils recognise what their feelings are and where they are at emotionally. We saw a group talking about appropriate feelings and reactions ...

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What the school says...

Abingdon House School opened in January 2005 as a major new initiative in education providing a unique education for children in need of educational support. Our class teachers are highly trained, have specialist qualifications and are effective. Our onsite multi-disciplinary team provides valuable speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Specialist literacy, maths and visual perceptual training along with music therapy are provided.

Our environment is based on understanding your child's individual needs, nurturing your child's academic and social development and caring for your child's wellbeing. Abingdon House understands the importance of discipline and boundaries. The school fosters a sense of pride and belonging that encourages your child to progress and achieve at school.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headteacher

Since January 2018, Tanya Moran (40s), maths and science graduate from Canada. She taught in New Zealand for six years then came to London where she taught at the Harrodian for 11 years including six years as deputy head, when she also got involved in setting up an academy. She then set up The Independent School which was subsequently taken over and closed by The Cavendish Group who then asked her to head Abingdon House School following the sudden departures of previous head, Roy English and the deputy head.

Moran brought her deputy head from The Independent School and all the rest of the ‘excellent and very competent staff’ stayed on. Recognising the value of stable staff and staff development is apparent as eight teachers are undertaking dyslexia level 5 training, and five staff (including the head) are training for a postgraduate degree in autism.

Originally the school only went to KS3 but since Moran's arrival KS4 has opened and she has brought in more sports; more wellbeing and mental health in the curriculum; and worked to create links with other schools for sports fixtures and sharing good practice, including working with Trinity College of Music to bring in musical opportunities. Enthusiastic and dynamic, she gives parents and teachers ‘a feeling of confidence’ and ‘she is a really safe pair of hands’ and ‘a good leader’ we were told.

Academic matters

All pupils have a range of comorbid difficulties - some 65% have autism listed within their diagnoses and half of the children have a specific learning difficulty - dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD. Some with social communication difficulties, but currently none are non-verbal. The top ability pupils are expected to take one or two GCSEs in the core subjects with preparation for these from year 7. Other qualifications on offer are ASDAN, functional skills, Arts Award, entry level qualifications and vocational, personal and social development qualifications. One parent told us: ‘The school works for both my children as it accommodates their different abilities’.

Classes (mostly around 10) mixed by cognitive ability (including a ‘nurture class’ for learners who need more time). ‘The small classes allow my child to focus better. His voice is heard unlike in the large classes of mainstream school,’ a parent said. The school follows the national curriculum.`When we visited we saw projects on Egyptians and plants growing. It makes it feel like a mainstream school’ explained one parent. Seven lessons to a day (with five minute transition time) with visual timetable in each classroom, maths and English in the mornings (streamed across age groups to match ability). Maths skills made as applied as possible so that maths looks to practical skills like choosing, calculating and buying. ‘The school identified my son’s strength in maths and so he takes maths with older kids and gets awards - they are playing to his strengths’. English supported with small library with both group readers and individual reading books - helps with ‘accelerated reader programme’ which includes 15 minutes in form time for reading as well as timetabled reading lessons. Google Classroom has been brought in which allows parents to see work that has been done, to allow pupils to see what has happened if lessons missed, to see progress in work, and allow sharing between all staff and pupils.

There are specialist teachers for English, maths, science and ICT as well as art, music, drama and PE. Touch typing from the youngest classes and technology used to enhance communication and produce work. Science lab also has kitchen equipment and laundry facilities so it can be used for life skills. Classrooms adapted for pupils with tables adjustable for height, wedged cushions, ear defenders and use of sensory boxes.

We heard good reports on the teaching: ‘There is continuity of staff which is important to our children - it means they know my son very well and what makes him tick’.

‘Staff are intelligent and thoughtful and respond within the hour if I message them’.

Games, options, the arts

Two tiny playgrounds and a gym useful for short break times or sensory circuits, but for sport pupils either go to Regents Park or use the local play area. ‘Just the walk to the park is good exercise for my son,’ one parent said. Many on the autism spectrum don’t manage team sports but like the running club. ‘Marathon club is the best thing ever to release tension and get him moving - it is absolutely brilliant. They go to the park and do laps around the lake and get a band for each lap. It makes him proud and gives him a sense of accomplishment’. A strong partnership has also grown with local Fourth Feathers youth club which has a ‘cool, street vibe feeling which my son likes. They have ping pong tables, murals and a terrace that the boys go on to wave at the trains going into Marylebone Station’. Fixtures arranged for football with other schools including Fairley House, the Moat School and the Bridge.

Arty activities are notable according to one parent, who said: ‘One of the strengths of the school for my son is the quality art and music and drama teaching that goes on and was not available at other schools we visited’. They have started the Arts Award qualification and we heard from parents that ‘the art is particularly well taught and not just used as therapy’. We watched a music lesson with four pupils to prepare music for the end of term show - listening, counting, making sounds - and working together. There are also individual music lessons by peripatetic teachers - piano, guitar, singing, violin and flute currently being taught.

As well as two timetabled sessions of art and music and sport each week, enrichment for 45 minutes at the end of each day allows pupils to choose an extra club or activity - more music, drama, art, sport, chess, cooking, yoga, bicycle maintenance or working towards an additional qualification (Art Award for example).

Being in central London allows for regular outings to museums, concerts, shows - ‘we go on public transport - more life skills training’.

Background and atmosphere

Abingdon House opened in 2005 initially just providing interventions for pupils who were in other schools. It moved to its current site in 2011 as a primary school, then extended first to KS3 then KS4 - but it is no longer taking the youngest pupils, now only open from year 2. It fits well in the Cavendish Group of special need schools with a range of needs met in different schools. ‘It means we can support each other for training and share good practise’. The Cavendish Group is a for profit organisation ‘that is problematic and they are not popular with many of us parents due to poor communication’ we heard. But while there were some comments about the ownership of the school, parents spoke well of leadership in the school - saying it is well managed and has a well oiled staff team. ‘There is a strong sense of community and shared purpose’, and, ‘Staff are well trained, calm and thoughtful about children’, parents said.

The school is hoping to find a way of providing for 16-25 year-olds and all parents we spoke to expressed concern about where their child would move on to.

Lunch made on site with plenty of fruit and vegetables in a three week rolling menu. A few pupils bring their own food in but eating very much part of skills to learn and teachers and therapists supervising tightly at lunchtime. Signs on walls encouraging pupils to ‘try every type of food’.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Each morning starts either with a wellbeing session - where they do a joint activity to transition from home to school (walking the school dog, mindfulness, sensory circuit) - or with twice weekly PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) developing resilience and mental health. School uses system called ‘zones of regulation’ which is aimed at helping pupils recognise what their feelings are and where they are at emotionally - in the blue, green, yellow or red zones. We saw a group talking about appropriate feelings and reactions to responsibility. Therapists give parents feedback so they can follow up and reinforce activities at home.

Pupils and parents

Three-quarters of pupils have an ECHP, the rest are privately funded. The mix should help create a diverse demographic but some parents joined the school funding privately and then applied for the EHCP which supported the child staying at the school - this creates a largely self-selecting group of middle class parents. Self-financing families tend to live more locally (and proximity to the American School seems to bring in quite a few American families). Usual problems of building a close parent body when pupils live far away exist. ‘We have created a Facebook page for us parents so we can share tips and ideas’. The school works hard to develop the Parents Association, give social and information events and sends out weekly newsletters. Again, typically boy heavy - 5:1 boys to girls. One parent commented that the school is not intimidating: 'Pupils are calm and well behaved mostly - there is no swearing or shouting’.

Entrance

Children join at all times of the year, ‘though ideally at the beginning of a term or half term or even better at the beginning of the year’. The first stage is to send in specialist reports. If school feels they can meet the needs, child attends for a few days acquaintance in a potentially suitable class for observations. School make it clear that they do not take pupils with primary behavioural issues or those unable to follow the national curriculum. Nor is the building suitable for wheelchair users or those unable to manage the several staircases.

Exit

When pupils make good progress they move on to mainstream maintained or gentle independent schools. However, parents and teachers are aware that the transition is a worry and everyone is hoping that 16+ provision might be developed. For the moment, pupils go on to further education colleges - Westminster City College, Hampstead Fine Arts or Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College - and the often unwelcome move from five structured days to the three short days available at an FE college.

Money matters

Support from The Cavendish Group provides a buffer as Abingdon House grows to full capacity and it also gives parents a sense of financial security. Expensive fees not necessarily apparent in the building or facilities but include all therapies and interventions and seem to ensure plenty of staffing support for individual needs and to allow pupils access to activities that would normally be too demanding on resources - outings, sports, art and music, and in-house therapeutic support which is not at an extra cost.

Therapy and staffing

Speech and language therapists (two part time and one full time), three occupational therapists and one physiotherapist all based at the school and are able to integrate therapies within the pupils’ day either by seeing them individually or in groups, or working within the classroom. CBT therapy used but no ABA. Sessions in draw and talk therapy and mindfulness are held both at the beginning and at the end of the day specifically for taking time to be grounded, to reflect and to have an opportunity to be aware of feelings. Some behavioural issues can be accommodated if they are about settling into a more suitable school environment and so higher support initially possible. A few pupils have one-to-one support but this is very much the exception. There is a sensory room with lighting, tents and beanbags for pupils either for regular sessions or as needed.

Our view

A small and calm environment which parents call ‘happy, warm and supportive’ with experienced and SEN qualified teachers allowing the pupils, who are mostly fairly high functioning with few behavioural issues, to learn well. Mental health and emotional wellbeing a priority with daily embedded exercises and teaching. Not as much space as everyone would like but good systems ensure that pupils move easily around the school and go for regular outside exercise and other activities.

Special Education Needs

Abingdon House School opened in January 2005 as a major new initiative in education providing a unique education for children in need of educational support. Our class teachers are highly trained with relevant specialist qualifications. They deliver bespoke multi-sensory lessons. Our on-site multi-disciplinary team provides speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Much of the therapy is integrated into the curriculum.Each child has a termly Individual Education Plan with SMART targets written in collaboration with parents. Specialist literacy, maths and visual perceptual training are provided. Our environment is based on understanding your child's individual needs, nurturing your child's academic and social development and caring for your child's well-being. Developing creativity and raising self-esteem are pivotal to the development of the young people. Abingdon House understands the importance of discipline and boundaries. The school fosters a sense of pride and belonging that encourages your child to progress and achieve at school.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia Y
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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