Healthy School award information

Healthy School Award 2023

External validation date: 26th October 2023
External Assessor: John Rees

Outcome: Based on the findings of the visit, I can confirm that the external validation visit was successful, and I am delighted to inform you that Castle Hill School now holds Externally Validated Healthy Schools Status.

Information about the assessment process

  • The school self-evaluated current Healthy Schools practice within the four core themes, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE), Healthy Eating, Physical Activity and Social, Emotional & Mental Health (SEMH), using the School Health Check prior to the external validation visit. The school judged themselves in each theme using Ofsted-style grade descriptors.
  • The external assessor interviewed groups of parents, staff, parent governors and the head teacher, and included aspects of ‘pupil voice’.
  • A tour of the school was conducted to observe Healthy Schools in practice.
  • Relevant paperwork was presented as stated in the agreed list of documentation.

The school has the following strengths:

Castle Hill School is a specialist school for children and young people, with complex layered needs aged 3-19. The school is in a delightful purpose-built setting and provides a rich learning and caring environment for staff and pupils. For children and young people with complex and frequently significant learning needs, this is an excellent school to attend.

The ethos of nurture and caring, but with high expectations for all, is tangible and represented throughout the school, the website, documentation, grounds and attitudes embodied by the staff. Considerable time and care is taken to generate this nurturing and celebratory ethos where a ‘Total Communication’ approach supports pupils to express their wants, needs and understanding. This culture also aims to ensure that all staff fully understand how this is implemented and sustained but also continues to grow so that staff and pupils can flourish.

The learning spaces and corridors within the school are thoughtfully decorated. Where appropriate, children’s learning is celebrated, but others are designed to avoid sensory overload for other pupils.

There is an almost seamless integration between indoor and outdoor learning. Most of the classrooms on the ground floor have access to outdoor areas which allows pupils to access a range of safe, sensory spaces. Easy access is then facilitated to safe, enclosed grounds which have a significant array of sensory and learning opportunities and have recently been re-modelled to be wheelchair accessible.

One of the significant strengths is the leadership provided by Mr Perren and supported by a Senior Leadership Team who are thoughtful, imaginative, and compassionate but also make high expectations of pupils and staff to enable children and young people to experience the best possible education and enjoy optimising their learning experiences.

The other, most noticeable characteristic of the school is the whole-school approach, to learning and
wellbeing which is supported by a strong sense of community and excellent communication between pupils and all members of staff. Considerable thought and care are given to staff allocation to individual pupils. This requires senior leaders and individual staff members to develop an excellent, detailed understanding of the needs and capacity of individual pupils, but also to reflect on the impact they are having on the engagement, motivation, and development of pupils.

The School has made a significant investment in the Re-works, eco-build space. Plans are in hand to invite other pupils from special schools (especially those with SEMH needs), other mainstream pupils, and members of the community to develop a hub from which Castle Hill and other communities will benefit. Similarly, ideas are being developed about a space for a shop, or perhaps a pop-up shop, which will be of benefit to pupils and provide exciting opportunities for a range of developments.

An ethos of developing pupils’ Personal, Social, Health and Economic education pervades the curriculum and informs almost everything that staff and pupils do together. All the pupils have different levels of need, from profound and complex learning difficulties, whereas others are encouraged to become increasingly independent through the development of their self-confidence, knowledge, and skills. This may be as simple as a regular walk to the shops and staff are hugely thoughtful about how they can best engage with the local community, but also support the needs of their pupils.

Staff are acutely aware of the importance of pupil’s personal emotions, how these may be communicated and the needs that individual pupils will be communicating. It is of huge credit to the staff and school that these diverse needs are met so consistently and effectively.
PSHE is well-resourced, in line with other curriculum areas, and this is further supported with planned curriculum time, but also staff CPD. Management time is given to the subject leader for preparation and planning. There are also opportunities for class leaders to meet, discuss and share resources based on the needs of different pupils.

Teaching and support staff know the pupils very well and plan and adapt a curriculum which is appropriate to meet their needs. It is well understood that some pupils can become frustrated and gentle and appropriate teaching helps them to manage this appropriately. For those pupils, for whom it is relevant, an ASDAN, personal and social development qualification is available.

Significant efforts are made to enable pupils to engage with the local community, to break down barriers for individuals and young people with multiple and profound needs more generally. There is a wide range of planned activities, adapted to meet the needs of different pupils which enable them to develop a degree of social and cultural capital and to encourage them to be the best that they can be.

PSHE objectives are also supported through a well-planned and carefully adapted series of assemblies and activities, which are all aligned to help develop the personal, social and health needs of pupils. This is further supported and enhanced by engaging with outside specialists, including speech and language, occupational health, and other therapists, all of whom support the agenda. The teaching staff really appreciate the opportunities to liaise directly with specialist colleagues from other disciplines to meet the needs of pupils.

The school is on track to complete the asthma-friendly award, which will necessitate some additional staff CPD and the curriculum already provides excellent opportunities for personal and social development while the concept of mastery is already being developed. Leaders are consequently challenging themselves with questions like “What does this look like for this aspect of the curriculum?” As part of this, there is an acknowledged need to help pupils, especially those with ASD, to learn to develop more appropriate ways of intimate touch and self-pleasure. The subject lead is also leading on the Kirklees Special School PSHE policy which will bring additional perspective and insight.

Healthy Eating:
Managing the food and healthy eating habits of such diverse pupils takes considerable skill and planning. As with other aspects of healthy schools work at Castle Hill School, all aspects of healthy eating are very well led, carefully thought through and impact positively on pupils.

The thoughtful, detailed, healthy eating policy clarifies that children require a balanced, nourishing diet in order to thrive. The quality of a child’s diet and nutritional status affect their ability to attend, concentrate and learn effectively. It also reminds us that eating in school should be a pleasurable, social experience for all concerned for those children with gastronomy feeds, it’s vital they have equal opportunities to mix with peers at these times.

Individual pupils have their own eating and drinking plans which are well supported by staff with their detailed knowledge of the needs and likes of individual pupils. The dining areas are carefully managed and include opportunities for pupils to eat collectively or in other areas according to their individual needs. This has been thoughtfully adapted to meet the needs of different pupils. Pupils are also encouraged to develop their social and emotional skills through careful interaction in the dining areas.

Wherever possible, pupils are encouraged to learn about cooking and food preparation through the curriculum. Pupils take advantage of the sensory growing area which contributes to their understanding of where food comes from. Plans are inevitably, but appropriately, adapted to meet the needs of pupils and are tailored to meet the dietary, social, and motor skill capabilities of individual pupils. Pupils are engaged in influencing the content and evaluating the quality of the curriculum, and where possible, their views are sought and responded to.

Resources are in place to support all aspects of the healthy eating agenda and there is a wide range of cooking equipment available in the school.

This is already very well provided for through the curriculum and practical arrangements for pupils eating. Consideration should be given to regularly re-visiting pupil voice, to ensure changing needs are met and responded to although thoughtful and carefully adapted links are made with parents/carers to ensure that pupils' dietary requirements are met. Such approaches also ensure that students are encouraged to develop their interest in food and cooking to the best of their ability. Therapy is also available and is hugely valued by parents who have taken the opportunity to do this.

Physical Activity:
Physical activity is encouraged for all pupils, partly to promote their physical and emotional well-being, but also to develop a sense of ‘shared joy’. Pupils engage where possible and appropriate and respond to tasks which are carefully adapted to meet their sensory needs and provide appropriate challenge for individuals. Pupils are encouraged to maintain weight-bearing and breathing activities as far as they are able, to promote their physical and emotional well-being.

Pupils are encouraged to develop their gross and fine motor skills, according to their needs and abilities. One pupil was delighted to be able to feel the mush and seeds of a pumpkin, whilst another used a walker to enable him to enjoy some physical activity and to help maintain his emotional equilibrium. Staff provided almost limitless patience which enabled the pupil to enjoy repeated opportunities for physical activity.

As noted above, physical activity is encouraged through the creative use of outdoor space, which has recently been adapted for wheelchair users and offers a range of different physical activities and learning opportunities. The forethought, planning and execution of these activities is a delight and provides opportunities for physical activity and to meet emotional needs. There is a strong and prevalent recognition that physical activity is part of the preparation for life after school, but will frequently be driven by the education, health and care plan of individual pupils. There has been some excellent thinking to promote the use of standing frames, ‘side liers’ and walkers to promote and improve posture management. Appropriate levels of physical activity vary from the needs of individual pupils, but visual and auditory clues to provide stimulation and visual tracking are used thoughtfully on an individual basis according to the needs of individual pupils.

The hydrotherapy pool and rebound therapy are used to promote physical activity, but also to build communication through, for example, tapping, which creates a chance to stretch and move in different ways. These areas are staffed by specialists who have had additional training and creative use of the sports premium funding has been used to facilitate this.
Subject leaders are also actively developing a mastery approach to support teachers and develop a bank of resources for groups and individual pupils according to need. Some CPD may be necessary for staff and awareness raising for parents, but this will provide some excellent learning and development opportunities for pupils.

Social, Emotional & Mental Health (SEMH):
Although the school encourages learning and academic attainment, as far as possible, the SEMH of pupils and staff is promoted and encouraged throughout every aspect of the school. It is woven throughout the curriculum and every interpersonal engagement, and detailed records of the SEMH needs of individual pupils are carefully recorded. There is a very clear understanding of the importance of developing pupils confidence, but their capacity to develop feelings and express emotions, to build and maintain relationships, engage with the world around them, cope with the stresses of daily life and developing pupils capacity to adapt in times of change and uncertainty.

The physical and emotional challenges of working with children and young people with such diverse and complex needs are understood and acknowledged by leaders at all levels throughout the school. The physical knocks and emotional bruises for all staff are recognised, and senior leaders have created an excellent ethos which promotes staff well-being as an essential precursor to the care, compassion, and aspirations they consistently provide for pupils. Celebrations of harvest festival, Eid and Diwali provide opportunities for staff and pupils to engage with parents and other visitors. These, and the other opportunities provided, are very much welcomed by parents and appreciated by governors.

Pupil voice is encouraged, literally and metaphorically to help continue to improve the provision for pupils, but also to develop their social skills, self-confidence, and an increasingly strong sense of community. Pupils who can communicate verbally are encouraged to do so, but non-verbal communication, through the use of pointing, images and Makaton as appropriate. All members of staff take time to really get to know the needs and likes of individual pupils, and there is a strong emphasis on parental engagement which is very much valued by parents.

All of the usual policies are in place and have been carefully adapted by staff and pupils to respond to and meet the diverse needs of pupils. Staff consistently encourage pupils to communicate and develop their autonomy without any real sense of limitation. This encourages pupils to become increasingly independent and autonomous as far as circumstances allow. The social and emotional needs of different pupils are managed and responded to with dignity and compassion and an awareness that behaviour is communicating need, and this must be responded to professionally and appropriately.

All staff consistently model, courteous, supportive relationships with pupils and each other. Although staff acknowledge that senior leaders have decisions to make, some of which may not be immediately communicated to staff, there is a sense of trust and mutual respect which permeates the school. Even the newest and most junior members of staff are encouraged to share their ideas, which are treated with dignity as part of a distributed leadership. This builds confidence, and a can-do attitude amongst staff, and encourages them to be creative in their professionalism and compassionately supportive of pupils and each other.

The school is keen to develop even more engagement with communities outside the school. Plans are in hand to promote intergenerational links with the Castle Grange Care Home and particularly with the Re-Works community centre which has been designed around recycling but will also provide a fantastic stimulus for pupils and visitors to engage with each other, even more productively.

Areas for Development:
As part of the External Validation visit, no areas for development were identified.

Quotations from the External Validation visit

The well-being of pupils and staff is at the heart of what we do at Castle Hill. The Leadership is excellent and is always looking for ways to improve outcomes for pupils.

I really like being a member of staff here. Everyone is kind and helpful and looking out for each other as well as the pupils.

Everyone pulls together as a team; everyone works so hard to get the best for our learners.

I have been so delighted at the way my child has been supported and cared for by the school. They really listen to us, and nothing is too much trouble for the staff.

Thank you to all concerned who took part in the external validation process and for making me so welcome on the day. I wish you every success in the future.

Kind regards

John Rees
Healthy Schools External Assessor
On behalf of Leeds Health and Wellbeing Service