Being COVID secure : The experience of a special school

Ahead of the meeting I attended earlier this week chaired by Vicky Ford MP, Minister for Children about a full return to school in September for pupils with SEND,  I prepared for the discussion by reflecting on the way we worked as a whole school community during the period of lockdown and on our preparations for September.

Alongside all other schools we have of course been open throughout to pupils whose parents were classed as key workers as well as children we identified needed a place through our pupil risk assessment. We filled the school to capacity within the guidance which was in place during that period of time. Running alongside this we ran our home learning programme for pupils who were not able to attend and were pleased it was published as a good practice example by the Department for Education.

Having reflected on what I believe are the key elements which made the way we worked in the Spring / Summer term successful and are the foundations of plans for the new term, I feel there are 5 key themes:

  • Building / systems
  • Personalisation
  • Involving the school community
  • Communication with parents / carers
  • collaboration with the multi – agency team

Buildings / Systems

This is the logistics of day to day management of the school environment including:

  • Bubbles / groupings of pupils and staff
  • Cleaning schedules
  • Access / egress
  • Signage around school
  • Arrangements around home learning in the case of self isolation / lockdown of bubbles etc
  • response to and systems in place for anyone displaying COVID symptoms or any confirmed case
  • All other  ‘practical’ things to ensure safe and smooth running of the school day


As a special school knowing our pupils really well and personalising our approach to meet their individual needs is what we are all about! This is imperative in the context of being COVID secure whist ensuring meeting the learning needs of the children if they are not able to be on site. For us this includes:

  • Having  a designated member of the class team as ‘key workers’ for all of the children so that they can have a close working relationship with parents / carers whilst in school or any periods of home learning
  • Having packs of ‘real’ things for home learning e.g. personalised symbol choice boards / sensory toys  is so important as many of our children are either not motivated by or struggle to access online learning. Staff prepared home work packs for all the children during lockdown and made  / delivered more resources as needed.
  • Ensuring addressing of all aspects of each child’s EHCPs through the curriculum/ day to day school experience
  • Ensuring online activities are meaningful and relatable e.g. using school staff / info about the individual child in online activities. An example is the signing videos on our website– feedback from parents being how much the children enjoy and engage when they recognise the school staff.
  • The key worker / personalised approach ensuring that any concerns e.g. safeguarding issues which arise can be promptly identified, escalated and addressed.


Involving the school community

The school has a culture of involving the staff and governors in all aspects of work and this is no different. Sharing the risk assessment during development and making amendments in relation to feedback has been in place throughout. Staff have also been very proactive in sharing their own good practice in relation to home learning and sharing links to resources they have found. Involving the whole school community in this way helps us to be responsive to the needs of the children and the school and to make adaptations where they are needed. I am lucky to have such a positive / proactive and committed school team. It has been important to consider staff health and wellbeing throughout this period of time too and ensuring they have access to our Employee Assistance Programme including telephone appointments with the school counsellor

Communication with parents / carers

This has been such a challenging time for our families and we are really grateful for the collaborative way they have worked with the school. We have found using a layered whole school generic Class dojo page, class pages and individual pupil dojo pages a really positive way of engaging with families. The private messaging system on class dojo has enabled parents / carers to have ongoing contact with key workers / class teachers.

With regards to whole school information, the front page of the website   is kept updated with key information  including the risk assessment which is in place for September and in addition letters and text messages have been regularly sent out.

Use of a google form questionnaire sent to parents / carers during lockdown was useful in finding out what queries and concerns parents / carers had and then information from this was used to form a FAQ section on our website. All families have received an individual / personalised letter about the arrangement for starting school in September.

Collaboration with the multi – agency team

As a school we are not an island and in term of meeting a child’s holistic needs it is imperative we work collaboratively with other agencies as part of our general practice. This is has been particularly important during the period of lockdown as we move forward to full reopening in September.

Other agencies such as our physiotherapist, occupational therapist, school nurse have been proactively liaising with / supporting families at home through ideas, advice and support as well; as getting equipment such as sensory cushions, standing frames home to children when they were needed. We have liaised closely with early help as well as social care when safeguarding concerns have arisen. Collaboration with other schools where siblings attend is really important to working together in order to share information and best support families.

We were grateful to Magic Breakfast for continuing to deliver to us through the period of lockdown as we were then able to distribute the breakfast foods to our families in need

Preparations for September 

The risk assessment is in place, the training days are planned and there is every intention of fully re-opening the school to all pupils during September. Some of the additional measures include:

  • A slightly staggered start – mainly around the pupils new to the school to ensure they are effectively supported into school. On line information / videos etc  are on the website for children  / families who have not yet been able to visit.
  • Social stories about returning to school and social distancing are on the front page of the website.
  • We are implementing  The Recovery Curriculum during the Autumn term to support all of our children back into school.
  • We are using part of our training days at the start of September to make contact with each child and their family ahead of them returning
  • Plans for home – learning including homework packs are in place ready for any periods of self – isolation / local lockdown

Challenges ahead

I am not naive enough to believe that ticking off the elements above does not mean there will not be challenges ahead. At the point of writing this blog there are a range of unanswered questions around how we will effectively include and support the needs of some children within our building and staffing capacity whilst adhering to guidance for example the small group of children we have who require AGPs ( aerosol generating procedures) such as suctioning for which there is a raft of additional safety requirements. As with all other aspects of the work we do however we will continue to consider and respond to the children’s needs and what is required of us to keep everyone safe and we will find a way to make it work!



A safe return to school for everyone with SEND? Reflections and reassurances from a Ministerial Round Table discussion.

I had the privilege  of representing Camberwell Park School yesterday in joining a Ministerial Roundtable discussion yesterday led by Vicky Ford MP and including  the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and other esteemed colleagues from various organisations relating to children with SEND and their families. It was a really reassuring meeting with regards to how we get all of our children back to school safely and wanted to share some of the key messages which arose from the discussion.

Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer  outlined the science behind the confidence that a full return to school is safe including the exceptionally low risk to children of catching the virus and the rapid recovery of children when they do become unwell. In this context the day to day risk is very low. She reinforced the important concept that whilst a case of COVID – 19 may be identified in a school, it does not imply that schools are settings for transmission of the virus as it could have been caught elsewhere and brought into school. As ordered and organised settings it is easier to ensure that heirarchy of controls e.g. handwashing are implemented and she stressed the bigger risks would be in relation to social elements of adults e.g  in the staff room if they don’t follow social distancing guidance. She also reminded us of the risks, including to long term health of children being out of school.  Russell Viner, president of The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health   reinforced the message about the balance of risks and how there is very little evidence that schools are places of transmission of the virus. A mindset of operating on a reasonable understanding of what the risks are and how we minimise the risks rather than in a mindset of fear is a helpful position to take in this context.

With regards to our pupils with additional and complex needs, Wendy Nicholson, (Deputy Chief Nurse and Deputy Head of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre PHE), referred to the guidance published by the DfE in July regarding the full opening of special schools.   She spoke about how as school leaders we know our settings and pupils so well and therefore individual risk assessments are key. in this context it is recognised that the guidance is not too detailed and specific in a way which would inhibit the flexibility of schools to respond in a way bespoke and appropriate to needs of individual settings and of individual pupils. We had a useful discussion with regards to children who require AGPs ( aerosol generating procedures) such as suctioning as well as children who may need positive handling. It was recognised that whilst the guidance will not change, some additional information on some aspects of the guidance may be helpful.  We also spoke about the importance of involving parents / carers in co-production of risk assessments and the control measures which are in place. My headteacher colleague, Matt Rooney  and I were pleased to be able to share some good practice examples  from our own schools of how we haven kept our schools open safely throughout the period of lockdown and how we are preparing for September.

Viv Bennett, ( Chief Nurse PHE) , offered the helpful message that handwashing, social distancing etc are all part of a system of controls and not a checklist / test which children have to ‘pass’ before it is safe for them to be in school.

It was energising to be part of a meeting with such a dedicated group of people who are al very clearly committed to getting all children back to school safely and giving such clear confirmation that this is possible. It is now up to us all to play our part – As Matt Rooney said during the meeting it is about how we overcome barriers to children coming in rather than looking for issues and establishing them as reasons why not!



COVID19 and our children with SEND #ThereIsAlwaysHope



We are in uncharted and unprecedented times at the moment which are testing us all in endless and often unexpected ways. No matter who we are we are all affected both practically and emotionally by the impact of COVID19.

As a special school headteacher I am responsible for a group of the most vulnerable and complex children and I recognise the need to ensure we continue to provide a school base for those who really need us either because of their parents being key workers or because they are vulnerable in the context of safeguarding. I also recognise and want to support the needs of my staff team who have some very real and valid concerns about the practical implications of continuing to be in a workplace where social distancing and maintaining the advice around additional personal hygiene routines which are told are a MUST are not only a challenge but in some cases with some of our most complex pupils impossible.

I am sure I am not alone in feeling that the last 2 weeks as a headteacher have been 2 of the hardest weeks I have ever experienced. Responding each day to the latest curve ball coming our way, managing the conflicting expectations of the government, LA, parents and staff with everyone looking for me to lead whilst I assimilate the latest advice, review and respond in the best way I can knowing why we are doing what we are doing – ultimately to stop the virus spreading and to save lives.

It is important for me to say that I have a fantastic team in school who have supported me every step of the way. My leadership team have worked collaboratively with me and the wider staff team have been doing amazing things online to support the children who are no longer able to be  in school. Currently the things we are doing with parents are shared via our school dojo account however we are currently working on setting up a home learning page on our website in which we can share more widely and in a longer term way some of the fantastic things our staff have set up e.g. a daily sing and sign session, online storytelling as well as endless bespoke activities / communications by our staff who are all acting as key workers for every child in school to ensure daily contact. I also appreciate how the families of our children are supporting us, keeping their children at home when they’re able to and engaging with our staff team to support their children’s home learning.

Yesterday evening I was invited, along with a small group of colleagues to have a conference call discussion with Vicky Ford MP  and representatives from the DfE with regards to Coronavirus and special schools. We had been asked to submit issues we wished to raise with the minister prior to the meeting which as you can imagine were broadly similar and formed our agenda of 5 key items: –

  • Supporting the workforce ( social distance / PPE  / testing)
  • Sustaining provision / local coordination
  • Communications
  • Planning for September / transitions
  • Sharing good news stories

What I can reassure colleagues of is that both the minister and DfE representatives were very aware of all of the efforts that colleagues across the country are doing to support our most vulnerable and complex children with SEND and were very keen to hear about other ways they could work with us and support in the areas we raised with them as above. They are very appreciative of the things that we have all put in place very rapidly and very much see our place as key workers in the overall context of stopping the spread of COVID19. This is backed up by the open letter that the minister sent out to colleagues on the 24th March and the thank you letter to colleagues written by the Secretary of State to all colleagues on 25th March in which he made a specific reference to special schools. 

We know people have been facing and will continue to face challenging times, however, even in our darkest days we have to remember why we are all doing what we are doing


Time to say goodbye!

Working with children with special education needs  and their families is in my blood!

From being a 6th form student studying for my A levels, I volunteered one day per week at a local special school. I was one of those people who always knew what they want to do! I applied and was successful gaining a place at Westhill College in Birmingham where I completed a B Ed with ‘special needs’ as my main subject. My teaching placements were in both mainstream and special schools. on one of the summer holidays during my degree course I went to live with a family who had a young person with ASD so I could deepen my understanding of the experience of a family with a child who has SEND ( they advertised in college for someone to be placed with them to support over the long summer break) . I am pleased to say I am still in touch with them as I am with a small number of families of other children I have taught over my career.

I was lucky to find a teaching job in an all – age special school close to where I then lived in Blackburn, Lancashire where I taught classes of mainly secondary aged pupils with a range of special needs and was also subject leader formusic teaching music throughout the school including to classes in the primary department. I was there for just over 10 years. During that time I was also teacher governor leading the curriculum committee and held a responsibility post for assessment throughout the school.

I was delighted to be appointed to a deputy head post in an all – age school in Rochdale for my next post where I enjoyed teaching in every class in order to cover PPA time for the teachers. During this time I completed my NPQH – I had no intention of becoming a headteacher – I was doing it to become a better deputy!

I gained my first headteacher post in a small special school in Manchester in 2002. The school was established as an assessment centre for children for whom it was uncertain whether they would need specialist or mainstream provision and whilst they were with us we completed their statutory assessment. The school also had a mainstream playgroup as part of the provision allowing full inclusion of children playing and learning together. It was fab! During my time at this school I also  became very involved with Chernobyl Children’s Project and had the opportunity to go on a visit to Belarus to support the work they were doing. During the time I was headteacher there I also completed my M Ed in Educational Leadership.

I took up my post as headteacher of Camberwell Park School in September 2006. Since being at the school we have grown in size from 85 to 146 pupils with plans in place for further expansion, we have been judged outstanding by Ofsted 3 times  and have gained the Gold Award for Investors in People 3 times. The school has an amazing hard working and committed team of staff and the children are most certainly at the heart of the school.

During my tenure as Headteacher at Camberwell Park I became a National Leader of Education which has earned me the privilege of working with a supporting a range of other schools across Greater Manchester. From 2015 to 2019 I also enjoyed setting up and co- running a weekly SEND themed discussion on @SENexchange on Twitter alongside @Cherrylkd

After 14 years as headteacher of Camberwell Park School and 33 years working with children with SEND and their families, I have made the decision that it is time for me to take early retirement.  I will be leaving the school at the end of the summer term. Dora, who has been at the school with me for the last 2 years is retiring with me 🙂

Last year I was honoured and privileged to have been awarded an OBE by the Queen in her New Years Honours list. It was a humbling and emotional  and special experience which for me captured how important children with SEND and their families have been and will always be in my life.

The advert for my post will go live at the end of this week – will start making it real at that point! I know that Camberwell Park School will continue to be an amazing place because of the amazing people that work there!

I have not made any plans for my retirement as yet – I will see what opportunities come my way. What is for sure is that I will always remain Passionate about advocating for Children with SEND and their families, Respectful of the families I have worked with over the last 33 years, Organised in continuing to advocate for SEND after I have left the school e.g. through social media, Understanding of the challenges faced by our families of children with SEND and Dedicated to doing whatever I can to support SEND in the future. I will always be PROUD to have had the opportunities I have had the privilege to work with so many special people.

Mary Isherwood

Headteacher of Camberwell Park School

September 2006 – July 2020




I was pleased to have been asked by Hannah Wilson to add to the Talking Heads blog. Here is my contribution:

Name: Mary Isherwood

Phase: Primary

Sector: Special

Region: North West

Years Served in Education: 30 years

Years Served as a Headteacher: 16 ½ years

Leadership Journey: In my earlier career I had middle leadership responsibilities including subject leader for music and whole school assessment lead. I worked as a deputy headteacher in an all age special school where I taught all classes to cover for teacher’s PPA. During this time I completed my NPQH and also my Masters in Educational Leadership. I was headteacher at a small special school in South Manchester for 4 ½ years before moving to my current headship where I have been for 12 years

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration: A headteacher I worked for was a really positive role model which in itself was inspirational. In addition she spotted the things I was good at, praised me, encouraged me and facilitated opportunities for me.

Twitter Handle: @Mishwood1


Why do you think we need to develop a coaching culture in our schools?

I have a passion to empower and to develop others and feel that a coaching culture is the best way of achieving that – the idea of transformational leadership to make that shift in individuals and really move things on in the school. More often than not others already have the ideas and solutions and just need that encouragement to develop and have confidence in themselves.

Why do we need to be outward-facing as leaders?

As leaders we have a responsibility for the good of all children not just those within our own school and we are in a great position to be able to influence change on a wider scale so by networking and being outward facing generally, we are in a much better position to be able to do so. There is so much we can learn from others too – it is a privilege to go into others schools and learn from them as well as spend time in professional discussions with others whether that be on line or face to face.

How do you create a culture of wellbeing?

We are a team and as such need to be there to support each other as human beings with things that happen in our lives as well as staff colleagues. I am a big believer in being an Investor in people in the widest sense of the word and that includes health and wellbeing / work life balance. We have a number of things in school to support staff wellbeing including a subscription to the Employee assistance programme, a school counsellor who is available to staff on certain time – slots during the week and an appraisal system which includes a health and wellbeing discussion as an integral part of the process.

 What are the values that your shape you as a leader?

The children! At the heart of every decision – asking myself what would be the difference / impact on them

What makes you get out of bed every morning?

The children!

Leadership Advice

Don’t feel that you have to give an instant response to every query – people will often expect that as you are the leader. It is ok to respond with ‘leave it with me and I will get back to you’ when you need time to reflect.

 Leadership Inspiration

I am currently re-reading one of the books by Paul McGee (The SUMO guy). ‘How to succeed with people’.  I have bought and enjoyed all of the books Paul has written and found them invaluable in my personal as well as professional life. I am using some of the aspects of his SUMO approach when I am delivering NPQML training as there are so many ‘common sense’ ways of looking at leadership challenges through the SUMO lens

Leadership Mantra

Remember to be:







– PROUD in everything you do!

 Please follow @TalkingHeadsBlog #TalkingHeadsBlog and check out other posts here:

Curriculum under the spotlight

The summer break is a good time for reflection about key aspects of school as well as planning next steps. I am taking this opportunity to blog as I reflect on our school curriculum, after all it is central to the day to day experience of our pupils in school so worthy of high regard and consideration.

I am writing this from the starting point of our school having been inspected by Ofsted in January 18 and am pleased that our curriculum was praised in terms of offering  “a high-quality curriculum to pupils. It is both motivating and exciting. In addition to English and mathematics, you offer a rich, imaginative and varied, learning experience that significantly contributes to developing pupils’ self-belief,confidence, personal development and life skills”. Ofsted Jan 18

I embrace some of  the increased freedom which is being offered to us around curriculum and assessment – the autonomy of being able to respond to the specific needs of the children in the school and establish a bespoke curriculum which meets their needs and an assessment system which effectively demonstrates progress and achievement. Understandingly however, with increased autonomy comes enhanced accountability and in addition to whether our assessment systems have the rigour and accuracy required, we are now finding our curriculum increasingly under the spotlight. Curriculum is likely to become an increased area of focus in Ofsted inspections

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector,  has talked about how Ofsted would be looking at how schools’ curriculum is impacting on pupils’ school experience and what makes a “really good curriculum”.

The school’s curriculum is organic. The position we are in today follows many years of review, changes and adaptations in relation to our school population first and foremost as well as local and national requirements. It is also not the work of one person. The curriculum is a whole school endeavour. Our senior leadership team are supported by forward thinking subject leaders and value staff meeting discussion giving input to the whole school team on aspects of curriculum development and how this is experienced by the pupils each day . This includes meetings of curriculum teams which include groups of teachers and teaching assistants planning and working together on curriculum areas including STEM, K+U, Health  and emotional well being, communication and language, Expressive arts and design and EYFS.

Our curriculum is relevant to the group of pupils and the context we are working in as well as underpinning the ethos and philosophy of  our school in terms of what we believe is important for our pupils to learn and therefore I would not expect it to be automatically transferable to other schools,  however I find it useful considering how others approach aspects of school improvement as a stimulus for review and discussion and I hope that maybe reading this might give others a similar opportunity to reflect on their own curriculum in a helpful way.

Where we are now

Core curriculum: We believe our children have an entitlement to a core curriculum of National Curriculum subject areas. In addition to Maths, English and Science, Foundation subjects are delivered in a topic based way through our spiral curriculum

Enhanced curriculumThe school enhances and enriches the core curriculum offered to the pupils in a range of ways including Open Futures, Rights Respecting Schools, ECO Schools, Forest Schools, Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural, British Values, Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning, peer massage, yoga, pupil voice, school council, and Friday Fun Clubs.

Personalised curriculum :

All children attending Camberwell Park School have an Education, Health and Care Plan. These outline their individual educational, health and social care needs, the provision they need to meet these and outcomes expected across the next stage of their life.  We see the EHCP as an integral part of the children’s curriculum planning and use the outcomes to identify the children MLT’s (my learning targets). The areas of personalisation include: Mobility, Behaviour, Characteristics of Learning, Communication, Life skills, Personal and social development and sensory skills. Our highly skilled staff then use the MLT’s and their own knowledge of the children to plan a personalised curriculum offer for each child.  This can include but not exclusively ; support plans from our multi-agency partners; pediatrician, school nurse, SaLT, Physio, OT,  specific subject intervention groups, opportunities for social development or opportunities for emotional development.  This was also acknowledge as a positive aspect of our work in our January inspection as in relation to our pupils’ EHCPs it states : “These goals are then broken down into small achievable steps, and a personalised curriculum is developed to enable the pupil to work towards achieving the goals”.  Ofsted Jan 18

As the needs of the pupils vary across the school and in different classes, teachers have autonomy over the structure of their timetables and the weighting they give to different areas of the curriculum in their timetables however they must be able to evidence how their timetable meets the individual needs of each of the pupils in their class.

Our next steps

The needs of our pupils are changing and it is essential that we continue to respond to this in terms of our school organisation and curriculum and therefore our ongoing programme of curriculum review will support subject leaders and curriculum teams to work with the leadership team in ensuring that the Intent of each area of the curriculum is clear, we implement the curriculum in a way that is meaningful to the pupils right across school and that we are able to measure the impact – the important ‘so what’ question  to make sure what we offered our pupils has made a difference in a way that is relevant to them.


Thank you for reading















Not doing it just for Ofsted….

We were inspected by Ofsted on 16th January 2018. It is the 4th inspection I have experienced as headteacher of Camberwell Park School  but my first experience of a Section 8 inspection. A section 8 inspection for us meant one day with two inspectors – 1  an HMI and an additional Ofsted inspector.

There is no doubt that having an inspection, brings pressure to bear on the school and I would be lying if I said I did not feel the immense pressure and burden as headteacher – the weight of responsibility of maintaining our Ofsted badge of success . After all, Ofsted is the common language in an external judgement of the school which is publicly available and used as a measure of how good the school ( and by default the headteacher) is in so very many ways. There were some things we had to do the afternoon , evening before in preparation – most of it logistical around timetabling and organisation of the day so that all aspects of inspection could be included. Whilst the documentation required was all present in school there was some gathering to be done too so that it was readily available when needed.

All this being said, we do what we do because it is the right thing to do not because we were being inspected. One of best things I heard in the days following inspection was from one of my teachers who was talking to some of the governors  and said “we were calm because we were prepared – it is what we do all the time anyway.”  I felt calm, school was calm and the attitude we took was that it was was an opportunity to share what we do and have professional dialogue in context of challenge and support

As part of our programme of self – evaluation, we are used to having external quality assurance – we  welcome it as part of  a bank of ways we self -evaluate our work as there is so much to learn from the challenge and support from others outside of the school including peer challenge and support such as cross- moderation of assessments as well as school improvement colleagues who undertake activities such as classroom observations and document scrutiny. Ofsted inspections are part of that bank of  internal and external monitoring and checking which helps us to have an ““accurate, reflective and honest view of the school’s strengths and priorities” (Camberwell Park School Ofsted inspection report, January 2018) and ensuring that  “There is a strong sense of school improvement never standing still in your school” (Camberwell Park School Ofsted inspection report, January 2018)

Whilst there are core expectations  of things every school should have in place (quite a list of them!) e.g. statutory policies , core curriculum , thorough assessment of pupil progress, rigorous self – evaluation and clear school improvement planning to name just a few , we wanted to tell our own story as a school . Through our website, self evaluation processes and self – evaluation form and therefore during the Ofsted inspection we wanted to take the opportunity to give recognition to and to celebrate the things that are important to us. We have worked hard as a school to consider the words of Mary Rayner HMI when I heard her speak about the Ofsted framework early in 2017 when she told us we have the autonomy to tell our own school story about achievements in the widest sense as long as we could provide clear evidence. We considered as a school how we could ‘measure what we value‘ in a credible way and have since produced a series of case studies. For this reason the comment that “You break down barriers to learning, ensuring that pupils feel safe and confident to flourish, both academically and in their personal development” ( Camberwell Park School Ofsted inspection report, January 2018)  means alot to us.

The school curriculum is the foundation of what goes on in the classroom and of the children’s experience of learning and our layered approach of core, enriched and personalised curriculum for our learners ensures a  ‘motivating and exciting’ ‘rich, imaginative and varied learning experience that significantly contributes to developing pupils’ self -belief, confidence, personal development and life – skills” ( Camberwell Park Oftsted inspection report, January 2018). Dora  our school dog even got as mention!

I found  our Section 8 inspection a collaborative process . It was  rigorous  and thorough as it should rightly be but as we are not doing it just for Ofsted it was an opportunity to tell the school story through professional dialogue, interviews with stakeholders, time spent in school and review of range of information and QA sources.

If anyone is interested and would like to read our report here it is:

I am lucky to have a hard working and dedicated staff team and delighted that it was acknowledged in our report that “Staff share your aspirations for pupils”  and that “Everyone lives up to your school acronym ‘PROUD‘, by being ‘Passionate’, Respectful’, ‘Organised’, Understanding’ and ‘Dedicated'” ( Camberwell Park School Ofsted inspection report, January 2018)

This is a school full of smiles and laughter” ( Camberwell Park School Ofsted inspection report, January 2018)

I am PROUD to be the headteacher of Camberwell Park School

Mary Isherwood

Headteacher Camberwell Park School

February 2018


Introducing Dora – our school dog


Having a school dog is not a new idea – there are many schools now that have school dogs and there is a raft of evidence online that tells of the benefits for both staff and children.

Having a school dog @camberwellpark is not a new idea either – it is something we have talked about on and off for a number of years. I am grateful however to @cherrylkd who having acquired her fabulous trainee therapy dog Doodles, spurred me into action once more  and was very supportive in linking me up with the breeder from where Doodles was born and I was able to get our little superstar puppy Dora.

As it is national pet month, and Dora has been in school for 3 weeks now,  it seems a perfect time to introduce her to a wider audience.

Dora is a miniature labradoodle, and as with Doodles, she has been particularly chosen as a breed as she is hypoallergenic and an intelligent, calm and friendly dog breed. Perfect for being with our children. At the time of writing this blog she is 13 weeks old.

Dora lives with me and travels into school with me each day. She has a crate in my office so that she has a quiet and safe place when she needs it, particularly whilst being a puppy.


She has a big job ahead of her in school and we have shared information about her role and responsibilities on our website. She is a fully fledged member of staff and even has her own signing in and out to be done 😉

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In order to support the children learn about her we are developing a range of social stories. We will extend these out to a trip to the vets, going to puppy school and other things that Dora gets up to.

IMG_1725   FullSizeRender (4)

We have photos of her dad , mum and one of her sisters so we can do ‘about her family’ for the children.

Dad 2                                  MumDora and her sister







She even has her own schedule in the office so that it can support the children to understand about routines and using their own schedules!


We also have  a Dora object of reference as well as symbols to go on the children’s schedule when they are going to work with her.



We are obviously managing Dora’s introduction to school very carefully for her sake and for that of the children in order for it to be successful. She is only a puppy yet so has lots to learn. She has started puppy training classes with me now and is doing really well. Once she has completed her basic training the trainer is going to work with me on particular skills as a therapy dog e.g. sitting still in her bed whilst being a reading dog for the children.

She has already proved her value however, she has a pet – gate at my office door and has a regular stream of children looking out for her and saying hello as they pass as well as asking loads of questions, wanting to draw / colour pictures and bring them to her. We have had more than one occasion when our pupils who have multiple learning difficulties have either stopped crying when they have held her, stilled and raised their heads and on another occasion one little girl whose hands are always clasped tight, immediately unfurled her hand , turned her eyes towards Dora and started blinking. On another occasion a year 6 pupil in crisis was able to de-escalate his anger very quickly by coming and telling Dora what had made him angry and then returning to class to continue his learning. Staff too are loving having her around and she is a therapy for them too. Dora doesn’t like anyone being sad and ran and comforted a member of staff who was upset about something from home when sat in my office. Dora cuddles were just what was needed at the time.


She has visited lots of classes already and has been to assembly and is already the stimulus for lots of classroom work. Sadly,   due to pupil confidentiality I cannot share photos which show the children’s faces however  here is some of the fabulous writing one class has produced this week

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So Dora Camberwell – it is early days but you have already proved your worth.

School council are meeting next week to discuss and set out  ‘Dora rules’ – be gentle etc and write a list of things she needs so that classes can research and buy things for her.

She is very much part of the school

Thank you for taking the time to read about her

Mary Isherwood

Measure what you value not value what you measure – our case studies

Some time ago I blogged on the issue of Measure what you value not value what you measure as it is increasingly a topic of discussion with regards to our pupils with SEND – how do we evidence progress in some of the areas we are so proud of for our learners and celebrate their achievement?

This blog focuses on one of the ways which we are doing this which is through Case Studies. I am blogging now as in recent discussions a few colleagues have asked me for information about how we put together what we are describing as a ‘gold standard’ case study – one which is rigorous and clear in evidencing progress. In the spirit of sharing – here is what we do!

At Camberwell Park School we are keen to evidence holistic pupil progress and have discussed and agreed 9 areas we feel are essential areas of learning for our pupils


  • Core Subjects
  • Foundation Subjects
  • Mobility
  • Life skills
  • Personal and Social Development ( PSD)
  • Social, Moral, Spiritual and cultural education ( SMSC)
  • Communication
  • Behaviour
  • Characteristics of Learning

In order to demonstrate progress in these areas we have developed a set of case studies which includes a range of evidence sources.

To ensure the same rigour and high expectations are applied to our case studies as are with all other aspects of assessment, we have discussed and agreed what for us is a ‘GOLD STANDARD’ for putting together a case study:


  1. Overview of pupil info: Start by giving a very brief overview of the pupil (e.g. age, ethnicity, pupil premium) and their needs (e.g. SLD, Downs syndrome).
  2. Telling the story : The case study must tell the story from start to finish – clarity on the starting point – how was the child presenting? Needs / goals? How did we meet the needs and what were the outcomes?
  3. Easy to read format: The case study should be clear in presentation – use of headers, imagines, bullet points, bold and italicized writing to ensure all information is accessible and clear to the reader. The school logo should be included at the start and the key area of focus from the 9 areas above should be identified.  Arial font, size 12 should be used.
  4. Include real data: The case study should include real data – quantitative and qualitative. Quotes from others e.g parents / carers / members of the multi-agency team and where ever possible the pupils themselves.
  5. Links to evidence documents: Links to evidence documents e.g. end of year reports, EHCplans, video clips should be used. Word documents can be embedded.
  6. Summary A conclusion to draw the case study to a close – what was the overall impact?


I am sadly not able to share any completed case studies due to pupil confidentiality  . What I can tell you is that they now form part of a comprehensive both quantitative and qualitative assessment system in school and they have been successful both in terms of process as well as product – the professional dialogue of colleagues working together to write them has been invaluable as well as the amazing product of the completed case studies which very clearly demonstrate progress in all of the areas detailed above.

Hope this information is useful to colleagues

Thanks for reading







Visiting Belarus with Chernobyl Children’s Project

I was sorting out some of my files and photo albums at home when I came across a folder where I had recorded a visit to Belarus with members of the team from Chernobyl Children’s project back in 2005. I can’t believe it was over 10 years ago now! The recollection of the visit plus the desire to promote the amazing work done by the team has led me to write this blog.

At the time, I was headteacher of Rodney House School in Manchester and one of the privileges I had was to have developed a relationship with Linda Walker , the National Co-ordinator who had brought several groups of influential dignitaries from Belarus to visit the school and see the work we were doing with our pupils with SEND. This included the person in charge of SEN in the Ministry of Education, groups of staff from children’s homes, the Director from the home for abandoned babies in Gomel including a senior staff responsible for training. There was such a strong will to make positive changes in the area of working with children and young people with SEND and we know it was having an impact because of the letters we received following the visit e.g.


“Titania has gone home full of ideas of how they can improve the care and education for children at the abandoned baby home”

I was really honoured when asked by Linda if I would participate in a visit to Belarus to share my expertise. As well as visiting various schools and orphanages I also was to be given the opportunity to speak at an international conference in Minsk , spend a day with members of the early years team visiting children out in the community and participate in interviews for the staff for the Mayflower centre which was to be the established as the first respite care home in Gomel.


The week was a busy one filled with a range of emotions as you can imagine. I have such admiration for the children, their families, for those that were and still are working so hard to improve things for the children in Belarus – the children with SEND and the children with cancer. The work that the Chernobyl Childrens’s project does is amazing and I would urge you to take a look at their website to find out more about their work and support in what ever way if you can.

I met  and had the chance to spend time with some very special children:

Speaking at the conference in Minsk was an ‘interesting’ experience ! Not least having my presentation simultaneously read in Russian! Things have moved on a lot , it was over 10 years ago, however I faced lots of challenges from the ‘medics’ in the auditorium at the time about the educational value of working with children who had such significant learning difficulties and indeed being taken to see the ‘cot children’ in the orphanages even now brings a lump to my throat.

Like I say though it was over 10 years ago now and such will to change. As a strong advocate for our pupils with SEND and a supporter for  UNCRC Receiving a letter like this says it all and made my day:

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UNCRC: Article 28. The right to education – ‘after her visit completed work on a new law which entitles all children to an education what ever their level of ability’ #result!

Interviewing for the Mayflower Centre was a blast and how privileged to have a big role in appointing staff for the first respite care home for children and their families!

I had an opportunity to spend lots of time at Rodni Kut which was the first care home established by Chernobyl Children’s project –  I took Rodney House t-shirts out for the children who had moved in to live there. Again, in terms of an honour and privilege – there can be no greater than receiving a letter like this:

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“Whenever we have brought visitors to your school they have been greatly impressed by the happy atmosphere, the high standard of care and education and the obvious dedication of all the staff. When we created our first home for children with special needs we were trying to think of a suitable name for it. One of our Belarussian friends suggested ‘Rodni Kut’. In Russian this means ‘cosy corner’ but to us it is now ‘Rodney House’ and we hope to model the care and education as much as we can on what you do at your school.”

I have so enjoyed looking back through my file of leaflets, photos, letters and re-living some of the memories. The work of Chernobyl Children’s project still goes on however and I for one will be continuing to support them.

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Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I know what I did was a drop in the ocean to the hard work done by the team at Chernobyl Children’s Project but I’d like to think I did my little bit and I thank Linda and everyone involved for allowing me to be a part of the bigger story.