Debbie Sweet, settling into her new role as head teacher at Highbury School, can clearly remember the precise moment when she decided that special needs education was where her vocation lay.
She was fresh out of college and in her first teaching job at Withinfields School in South- owram.
“I was working with a little boy with profound disabilities and he managed, after some effort, to put the last piece in a jigsaw.
“The look on his face was amazing - he was so pleased and proud of himself. That’s when I decided that it was special needs education that I was really passionate about.”
Debbie’s philosophy is encompassed in the motto ‘Where Children Shine’ which greets visitors as they arrive at the new entrance to the school in Lower Edge Road.
“Whatever their difficulties, children come here to get an education, not to play or be looked after. Children are here first and foremost to learn and I believe they should get the same chance to learn as other children.
“I want our pupils to be able to read and to do maths. I want to help them do the best they can and I want them to be subjected to the same rigour as in mainstream education - and I think our parents want that too.”
As Debbie says, she ‘hit the ground running’ at Highbury with an Ofsted inspection within weeks of taking up her headship.
But with Highbury being judged ‘good’ in all areas she is delighted that the school did so well and attracted favourable comments from the inspectors.
“I am really pleased that the inspectors commented on the fact that it is a happy school and that the children love coming here but I am even more pleased that they picked up on the fact that the pupils make progress in their learning. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
Debbie is 42, is married to Christopher and has two children, Neve, aged nine, and Louis, 13. She came to Highbury from Cliffe Hill Primary School at Lightcliffe where she was deputy head for two years.
She was trained at Bretton Hall College and also worked as a consultant with Calderdale Council’s education department.
Highbury School has 62 pupils aged from two-11 with a wide range of special educational needs including children with autism, cerebral palsy, impaired sight and hearing and severe learning difficulties.“Having a child with these difficulties can have a massive impact on families and we try to offer as much support as we can to parents. Since many of our children are brought into school by special transport we might not see parents on a day-to-day basis so we have family assemblies every week and coffee mornings so we meet mums and dads and find out if they have any particular worries.
“One of my aims is to boost parents’ confidence and help them to see what a good job they are doing. Some of our children require one-to-one support all the time and we have the resources to do that.”
One of Debbie’s innovations has been to introduce a multi-sensory class where the most disabled children of all ages can get individual attention and learning opportunities. She also hopes to start introducing trainee teachers to Highbury so that they can gain experience of special needs education and to provide respite care for families in the school holidays.
“We have the most incredible support from the community in Rastrick and beyond. We have a new sensory garden which the children love and people are very generous when it comes to fund-raising. Obviously we always need to buy new equipment and invest in resources to help our children.
“People are very kind when they know there is fund-raising going on.”
Ofsted inspectors said:
l Highbury is a very happy and improving school. The new head teacher has energised the school with her enthusiasm.
lPupils’ achievements throughout the school is good.They make exceptionally good progress in the development of communciation and independence skills.
l Pupils’ behaviour is good because they enjoy coming to school and want to learn. They feel safe in school. The care and support provided by staff is outstanding.
l Staff at all levels enjoy excellent partnerships with parents who feel very supported by the school and fully informed about their child’s progress.