Building on common ground - Castle Tower Special School
Mrs Stephanie Caldwell, Primary Curriculum Senior Leader
Castle Tower has many links with other schools in the Ballymena area, particularly though the ‘Ballymena Learning Together’ community.
However, an ETI inspection report in 2017 recommended that the school should begin a programme of formal shared education. Castle Tower embarked on its shared education journey at the beginning of the 2018/19 school year with two separate projects, one for nursery pupils and the second for primary pupils.
Sharing from the start
Through Peace IV’s ‘Sharing from the Start’ programme, the nursery in Castle Tower linked with Ballymena Nursery School and First Steps Nursery, a playgroup located in the town centre. Ballymena Nursery shares the same site as Castle Tower with access between the two schools. Teachers from the three settings chose music as the theme for the project. Mrs Caldwell commented “music is a natural inroad, it is a medium where all children are on a level playing field. Through music every child can enjoy, partake and not feel isolated. Using music we can explore sensory themes and ‘personal, social and emotional development.’” In total 12 joint sessions have been planned, taking place in Castle Tower School or on the Ballymena Nursery site. Each session will last the length of a typical school day. The project is teacher-led and will include external facilitators on some of the days, such as Jo Jingles and CJ’s Musical group.
Sharing best practice
The project for primary school pupils will be carried out in partnership with Clough Primary School and will focus on pupils in P1, P2 and P7. Mrs Caldwell comments “The P1 and P2 classes will focus on developing shared play. Castle Tower is particularly strong in this area, therefore we saw this project as an opportunity to share best practice with Clough Primary.” The P7 classes will share ICT and PE lessons. The project will be teacher-led and a total of 11 sessions will take place between the two schools. Shared education is an opportunity for each of the schools involved to share expertise, resources and to learn from one another. Mrs Caldwell states, “staff in each of the schools have already started working together to share practices. We have expertise in special educational needs and can share this with mainstream schools. We are bridging a gap and learning from each other.”
Castle Tower also hopes to enhance parental engagement through the programme. As a special school, Castle Tower’s catchment area is much larger than other schools. Many children are transported by bus so there is limited opportunity to engage with parents. Through the nursery project parent nights and fun days are planned to increase family engagement. The shared education projects will run until 2021 through Peace IV funding. Mrs Caldwell concluded “the funding is an investment in our schools and classroom practice. We have a clear vision for the projects and as schools we can all support one another and learn from each other.”