How learning at a school with community at its heart builds education and growth

Simon Brown, Headteacher at Livability’s award-winning school in Dorset, Victoria Education Centre, talks about the centre’s community approach to learning.

How would you describe the community at Victoria Education Centre?

Everyone who visits Victoria Education Centre notices our distinct ethos, and that our students are confident, happy and safe. We are proud of the strong relationships between staff and students – our aim is to ensure that every one of our students feels valued. All the services we offer have been tailored to the needs to our students and the external community. Together we’ve created a dynamic and innovative environment.

What opportunities do students have to participate in their local community?

Victoria Education Centre is rooted in a local community. We work hard to connect students and offer them a broad range of learning experiences and successful local partnerships. This helps to prepare them for their next stage of life so that they feel part of society and understand the opportunities that are available. Our students develop life skills through work experience, organised trips and participation in local events. As young adults, they move on to a variety of different placements. We start planning these with families early on to explore potential placements and guide them on their journey.

Throughout the year, we organise a great many community events with students. Our Wheelchair Grand Prix is particularly popular. The Christmas service at St. Aldhelm’s Church in Poole and our radio station projects bring people together to share resources and raise awareness.

What are the benefits of being involved in the wider community?

We want our students to make a positive contribution and be involved in society a meaningful way. Students regularly work with their peer groups from other schools. Our students are very proactive in making their voices heard and are often invited to speak at local authority. As accessibility is an on-going issue, a group of our older students recently chose to highlight the difficulties disabled people face when accessing public transport. Local press covered the story and Radio Solent broadcast interviews with them.

How do you ensure the best outcome for students?

For me, being part of a team is the key to providing the best educational experience for each student. Alongside families and therapists, we closely monitor every student’s progress through the school and determine what the next steps should be and the most important goals to work towards. We take into account every aspect of the child’s growth, evaluating their physical and social progress and looking at ways of building self-esteem, independence while maximising enjoyment of life. These targets are worked on at every opportunity: in class, at break times, on outings, in the evenings and at weekends. Everyone who works with each child is involved so that there is a strong, holistic, community approach to our students’ learning and wellbeing.

How will Victoria Education Centre build on its success in the future?

We are always looking at new technologies to see how we can use them, to maximise students’ learning experiences and prepare them for the future. This will give those students with a wide range of communication difficulties a voice, enabling them to take control and express themselves.

Above all, we will continue to build a community where all achievements are recognised and celebrated.

Victoria Education Centre is a nationally recognised Centre for Excellence in Disability. In 2015 it was awarded an ‘outstanding’ rating by Offsted.