Dorchester Middle School

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Dorchester Middle School is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Highlighting best practice
Caroline Dearden, head teacher
Dorchester Middle School is fully inclusive:
pupils playing football together building
positive relationships
Caroline Dearden is the head teacher of Dorchester Middle
School, a mainstream school with specialist provision for
children with physical disabilities. Until recently the school
also maintained specialist provision for children with speech,
language and communication difficulties. However, this was
withdrawn by the local authority, as this aspect of additional
needs was no longer recognised as warranting specialist
provision within mainstream settings. Despite this, pupils at the
school with special educational needs and/or disabilities enjoy
excellent provision, accessing lessons and many other activities
alongside their peers in an inclusive academic environment.
Caroline discusses how children with disabilities uniquely and
positively impact the lives of all who attend Dorchester Middle
School and warns that continuing governmental funding cuts
may irrevocably damage this harmonious environment.
Enriching the school
When it comes to exploring the experiences of schools educating children with
disabilities alongside their peers, thoughts tend to focus on the perceived negative
impact of the disability. Disabled children are commonly viewed as “victims” who
face excessive demands, emotional distress, physical and/or financial burdens
and interpersonal difficulties. Consequently, the many positive impacts and
meaningful contributions that children with disabilities make within schools tend to
»Head teacher: CarolineDearden
»Established as an academy in
»Based in Dorchester, Dorset
»Type of school: Free-standing
academy, with middle school
provision for years 5 to 8
»No. of students: 619
»No. of teaching staff: 37
»No. of support staff: 23
»Heavy athletics emphasis
with top-quality sporting
»Strong design technology
provision – fully resourced
rooms for teaching art, textiles,
food and resistant materials
»We have a forest school
provision with chickens to teach
children concepts of nurture,
and “pets as therapy” dogs
Dorchester Middle
At Dorchester Middle School our
altogether unsurprising discovery has
been that children with disabilities have
a unique and positive impact on their
fellow pupils and make exceptional
contributions to school life. At our
school, physically disabled pupils do
not experience the anger, stress and/
or anxiety which results from having
to deal with the ignorance of other
people or a general lack of societal
understanding. All pupils at the school
welcome diversity and embody a
strong belief that there is an inherent
and intrinsic value in all people. They
have a balanced appreciation of the
contribution difference can make to
school life. Adults at the school have
learnt to not place limits on any child
or tell them what they can or cannot
do, but instead help them strive for the
highest possible expectations rather
than complying with what is typical for
When asked what they want to share
with others, the children say that they
simply want others to understand that
their disabilities do not make them a
worse person, a less intelligent person
or a person who has less to offer
society than their peers. At Dorchester
Middle School the perception that
pupils with disabilities are slow has
been dispelled. Having cerebral palsy
or muscular dystrophy or being in a
wheelchair doesn’t stop our pupils
from having big ambitions or bright
futures. Children and adults at the
school do not feel sorry for those
who are disabled, because they firmly
believe that they enrich society through
positive, interesting and fun lives.
We have learnt so much from
children who view their circumstances
in a positive light. Making these
perceptions readily available to the
whole school community has enabled
us all to come to view the experience
of integrating a child with a disability
as one that is not tragic, but rather
enriching and rewarding. It is therefore
impossible to comprehend why
schools like Dorchester Middle School
are facing interminable financial
constraints. Like many other cash-
strapped schools, we are having
to make choices about the level of
integration we can afford.
Challenges for the future
Despite promises that school funding is
ring-fenced, head teachers like myself
have been hit with a range of extra
costs: higher contributions to national
insurance and teachers’ pensions,
the introduction of the national living
wage, pay rises and theapprenticeship
levy. Moreover, per-pupil funding is
not rising in line with inflation. The
National Audit Office estimates that in
real terms this will equate to cuts of
8per cent by 2019-20.
Funding pressures will mean less
support for pupils who have additional
learning needs. The job of supporting
pupils who require specialist one-
to-one support in an overpopulated
Supporting independence
We have
learnt so
much from
children who
view their
in a positive
Highlighting best practice
classroom will be almost impossible.
Teachers will need to ensure they are
providing personalised support for
sometimes up to five students each
with varying needs in a single class.
Furthermore, as funding is no longer
ring-fenced for children with special
educational needs many may not get
their full entitlement and the future
life chances for pupils with physical
disabilities or other additional needs
may be diminished.
Funding cuts also impact the
curriculum available to pupils. We are
no longer able to offer art and drama
as discrete subjects. Choices now
must be made about the timetable
space afforded for subjects other than
English, mathematics and science.
It is not just staffing that is impacted
by reduced funding; the budget for
books and equipment has also been
slashed. We are unable to replace IT
equipment such as broken printers
and run-down computers. This
reduces the school’s capacity for
providing assistive technology for
those pupils who need to learn in a
non-traditional manner.
As the school’s academic provision
may need to be stripped back,
extracurricular activities may also have
to be cut. Field work, school visits and
trips abroad are being undermined
because parents must pay for the
staff cover as part of the cost of the
trip. After-school clubs, which are
mostly run for free by teachers in
the evenings, are also at risk as staff
become increasingly overworked
and demoralised. These threatened
activities are the very things we once
prided ourselves on and knew to be
hugely effective at integrating all pupils
into our school community.
It is unsurprising that schools like
Dorchester Middle School may need
to reduce staff, considering the
magnitude of savings we’re expected
to accomplish and that teachers make
up the vast proportion of the school’s
budget. If we try to make do with
fewer teachers and support staff at
a time of rising pupil numbers, then
class sizes grow, teacher workload
intensifies and inclusion becomes
increasingly challenging.
In Dorchester Middle School, we have
reached a point where there are no
obvious savings left to be made. The
government’s own research shows
that the likely funding shortfall in a
typical secondary school will be over
£400,000 by 2019 – this is equivalent
to ten teachers.
This cannot help but have negative
consequences, especially for the most
vulnerable. In Dorchester Middle
School that includes those with
physical disabilities who undeniably
enrich our lives. The UK is one of the
wealthiest countries in the world.
Education and inclusion for all must
be seen as an investment in this
country’s future, and not a burden on
It is
that schools
like Dorchester
Middle School
may need to
reduce staff,
the magnitude
of savings
expected to
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This article was sponsored by Dorchester Middle School. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.