Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Alternative Provision? You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Alternative Provision? You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

Article excerpt

Innovations abound inside the TES overall school of the year

"We do say it's all about the money," says Jackie Smith, executive headteacher of Uplands School in Swindon. They sound more like the words of a shopkeeper than the head of a special school celebrated for outstanding teaching. And, as it turns out, shopkeeper is just one of Ms Smith's jobs.

Since 2012, Uplands has transformed itself from an already high-performing school into a unique institution that provides education, employability training and life skills for students up to the age of 25 and beyond. Such innovation earned Uplands the title of alternative provision school of the year at the 2015 TES Schools Awards last month, not to mention the ultimate accolade of overall school of the year.

It all began with a shop. Ms Smith, pictured left with the school's operating head Deirdre Fitzpatrick, wanted a place where disabled students could learn workplace skills and interact with the public. Legally, this meant launching a charitable trust to take on the lease.

"That was the game-changer," says the former maths teacher. "As soon as we had the trust, we were enabled to do everything we wanted to do as creatively as we wanted."

Ideas multiplied, spurring Uplands on to raise an estimated £100,000 in cash and in kind. The school now has two shops, selling donated items and craft products made by students; a farm with horses, chickens and rabbits, greenhouses and a conservation area for BTEC students; a learning centre for post-19s; and even its own supported accommodation, where older students can learn to live more independently.

These facilities also bring local people into contact with students, teaching them about disability and raising awareness of how much the young people can do. "Sometimes it does feel like we're breaking down the barriers with a sledgehammer," Ms Smith says.

"I always think of the farm and the shop as the biggest book we've got. It's just like buying a book - it's our biggest resource, our biggest learning tool. That's all the shop was meant to be; what never occurred to me was that it would make money."

Never give up

The first shop alone now makes about £40,000 a year and pays for itself as a learning resource. The trust has also protected the school from cuts. For instance, it pays for a youth club that was previously supported by Aiming High, a government fund for disabled children.

"That funding just stopped overnight," Ms Smith says. "We had to just keep going, because you couldn't give up on something as important as a youth club that was really important to the young people. Now the trust will take responsibility for that, and they will fundraise to make sure that happens."

The trust also allowed Uplands to deliver on the pledges of the Children Act 2014, which for the first time promised disabled young people a continuous education, health and care plan up to the age of 25.

The aim was to keep students from suddenly finding themselves without provision when they left school - historically a big problem. Figures from 2011, provided by charity Ambitious About Autism, show that only a quarter of students with autism in England continued in education after leaving school. Moreover, 37 per cent of all disabled people aged 16-24 are not in education, employment or training, according to a 2012 Labour Force Survey. …

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