Top 5 school unveils ‘garden classroom’ for pupils with additional learning needs

CHILDREN with additional learning needs are thriving thanks to innovative methods and investment at a top secondary school.

Ysgol Eirias in Colwyn Bay has redeveloped its curriculum and facilities for ALN pupils, including the construction of a new accessible outdoor learning space and ‘garden classroom’.

The school secured grants of £40,000 via a £20m Welsh Government capital funding scheme, allocated to improve the inclusivity of teaching environments, create quiet or sensory areas, upgrade or purchase new equipment and for works to improve additional provision for young people with ALN and/or disabilities.

Ysgol Eirias – listed fourth in Wales in the Sunday Times Parent Power league table, and winner of the Secondary School of the Year title at the North Wales Education Awards – has created a safe, secure hub for its students, as well as revisiting and redeveloping the curriculum to offer a more bespoke, tailored approach.

Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator Liz Gunby said: “Pre Covid we began exploring and identifying the areas we could improve and expand our ALN provision.

“Despite the challenges of the pandemic we continued to make great strides in upgrading our MLD (Moderate Learning Disability) base and adapting timetables to meet the pupils’ needs and requirements, because there is no one size fits all system.

“That has included the introduction of more life skills, more of a focus on health and wellbeing and trying to bridge the gaps that became even more prevalent during lockdown and beyond.”

Reflecting on the new outdoor development, she added: “Demand for ALN support has risen so we have increased the number of staff and resources to meet that, including a Wellbeing Officer and a Nurture Coordinator.

“We have also increased the number of rooms we have and introduced the outdoor space and classroom, which has been a breath of fresh air.

“Developing these safe, diverse spaces for ALN and Inclusion has given the pupils a place to learn but also to enjoy nature and be active during movement breaks, helping them to focus and concentrate on mindfulness, to feel centred and calm via sensory input.”

Learners will create garden furniture, tables, and benches as part of classes, and other equipment includes a cross trainer, rowing machine, leg press, pull-up bars and more.

“That pushing/pulling movement helps, and yoga techniques and breathing for children who have sensory processing issues, notably those with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder),” said Ms Gunby.

“Proprioceptive input helps them to understand where their body is and what it should be doing, so these ‘heavy work’ activities will be very beneficial mentally and physically.”

Deputy Headteacher Drew McKenzie added: “For ALN pupils it can be quite intimidating and daunting being surrounded by four walls all day, so the outdoor learning space and garden classroom is a much more proactive and accessible alternative.

“The children absolutely love it, it gives them an escape and even just being out in the fresh air helps, using the wildlife and nature as part of lessons.

“At Ysgol Eirias we know the value of empathy, encouragement and building relationships and trust to unlock their potential and support these students as much as possible on their educational journey, which is why we are trying to provide them with the belief they can go on and be successful in whatever they choose to do in the future.

“That’s a huge priority for us, and always will be.”

For the latest news and information from Ysgol Eirias, visit www.eirias.co.uk and follow them on social media.

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