Sunnydown 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 Sunnydown School is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Catering for students with communication and interaction
needs, Sunnydown School provides both boarding and
day places. Their boarding provision, rated “outstanding”
by Ofsted in March 2019, is routinely oversubscribed, and they
endeavour to support both the academic and pastoral needs
of each of their students. Beyond their academic curriculum,
they provide a range of extracurricular activities, and each
Friday is dedicated to lifelong learning and employability skills.
Headteacher Paul Jensen discusses their provision and how
funding cuts could cause long-term societal harm.
We are a special school in every sense of the word, working to transform lives. Our
students, boys aged 11 to 16, have communication and interaction needs, often
associated with autism. Our outstanding inclusive and academic outcomes make us
proud, and demand is high for both day and boarding places – often four times the
amount of applications than there are places.
Our 2018 Progress 8 score, based on pupils’ performance across eight subjects
from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school, has improved
significantly, placing us in the top ten of the 1400 special schools nationally. This
is an amazing transformation from three years ago; actively embedding a growth
mind-set approach is having an impact.
Supporting our students’ welfare
We start with our boys’ basic needs using Maslow’s five-tier model. The best chance
of gaining valuable skills for lifelong learning exists when our boys feel comfortable
and safe in every respect, have a sense of belonging and can cultivate self-esteem.
»Headteacher: Paul Jensen
»Established in 1983
»Based in Caterham
»Type: Special boarding and
day secondary school
»No. of pupils: 84
Sunnydown School
Our growth mind-set
approach is captured in the
graffiti mural painted by
Highlighting best practice
Anxiety is a constant issue for many of
our students. A pastoral team has been
established and trained as emotional
learning support assistants, monitoring
the boys’ welfare, and we employ
our own clinical psychiatrist one day
a week. If issues at home are having
an effect, such as the mental health
of siblings or housing problems, we
actively help and support our boys’
families: contextual safeguarding is of
paramount importance. These services
are not “extras”: they are essential.
The harsh reality is, however, that they
would be the first things to go if our
budget were to be squeezed further,
and the negative effects of budget
cuts could be catastrophic in both
the short and long term. To prevent
this, we tirelessly strive to find other
ways to ensure that our boys get what
Exploring alternative learning
Research shows that interaction with
animals can have a positive effect.
We see it ourselves when an agitated
boy is calmed by stroking our school
dog or when an anxious boy feeds the
snake or pets the rabbits. In 2017, the
Wooden Spoon Charity helped to fund
our Rebalancing Suite, which contains
£20,000 of interactive equipment.
This includes a resonance platform, a
bubble tube and disco lights. Mental
and emotional wellbeing are essential
for learning to happen.
Outdoor learning is hugely beneficial.
Our boys helped to build our mountain
bike track in our beautiful grounds, and
we have created a wooden walkway
and outdoor seated fire area. Our
boys would benefit from a high ropes
course, an animal husbandry area, and
horticulture and aquaculturefacilities.
Transforming our curriculum
Transforming lives meant transforming
our curriculum. Thinking creatively
to provide the necessary learning
environment for our pupils, we teach
the national curriculum Monday to
Thursday, with Fridays dedicated to the
pursuit of each boy’s bespoke pathway.
This involves learning life skills such as
cooking, or bike maintenance in our
dedicated cycle workshop. Fridays are
also when the boys can learn more-
specific employability skills: bricklaying at
a local college, working as a technician
in a local computer repairshop or
broadcasting on local radio.
Student progress in these non-
statutory areas is monitored using
our bespoke system based on RICE:
developing resilience, independence
and co-operation through
encouragement, ultimately enabling
students to beempowered.
The employment potential of an
autistic person in our society is bleak:
according to 2016 figures from the
Paul Jensen creates
opportunities to unite the
local community in raising
awarenesss of autism
and funds for additional
transformational projects
embedding a
growth mind-
set is having
an impact
Our gourmet burger
van is popular among
the boys for lunches but
also as a learning and
fundraising resource
National Autistic Society, only 32 per
cent of autistic adults have any form of
paid work. This must change, not only
for the mental and financial health
of autistic people and their families
but also for the long-term benefit of
society as a whole. Our innovative
curriculum, developed and delivered by
dedicated teachers and support staff,
seeks to redress this unacceptable
imbalance. Our wider society is being
educated by Sunnydown to recognise
that those with CoIN have skills and
talents of great value.
Developing community links
As well as helping the boys to overcome
such hurdles, we seek to tackle them
ourselves and are relentlessly proactive.
Our transformational journey began
four years ago: we decided to become
a true community hub, working
collaboratively with local businesses,
other schools and many different
agencies and charities.
We now have links with a variety
of organisations, including the
Women’s Institute, Round Table,
Rotary International, Coast to Capital
and the Children with Special Needs
Foundation. We invite visitors to come
and see the transformational work
that we do on a daily basis. This could
include mucking in at one of our three
annual working weekends, usually
attracting around 80 people, or by
fundraising: our canapés and cocktail
event was a wonderful evening, and
we have plans for a music festival.
By establishing a community of
goodwill, we have the opportunity to
reciprocate – our own gourmet burger
van operates at local events. This has
enabled us to realise many projects
and initiatives that otherwise could not
have happened. Such networks extend
internationally through events like The
Gibb Challenge, where students will
cycle 660 kilometres across northern
Australia in 2021.
Adapting to funding challenges
But let’s be clear: meeting the needs
of our vulnerable boys while absorbing
extra expenses, funding cuts and
bureaucracy beyond our control is a
constant balancing act.
Despite growing demand for
our boarding facility, again rated
“outstanding” by Ofsted in March 2019,
and evidence proving that boarding
students make substantial academic
progress and can access greater
opportunities for independent living, we
had to reduce the number of beds from
33 to 23. This also impacts the revenue
we receive to run theschool.
We believe it is our collective moral
duty to continue to provide our
exceptional educational experiences,
yet our endeavours are in jeopardy.
Financial pressures have undoubtedly
made us more creative, but they
are spiralling in a way that, if left
unaddressed by local authorities and
central government, will only cause
significant long-term societal harm.
Despite everything that’s currently
conspiring against young autistic
people, we are absolutely and resolutely
passionate about working together
with the boys, their families, our local
community, businesses and charitable
organisations to transform lives. Our
young men and their families deserve it.
We are
absolutely and
passionate about
together with
the boys, their
families, our
local community,
businesses and
organisations to
transform lives
Dedicated 1:1 support
is provided by our
specialist team with
demonstrable student
progress particularly in

This article was sponsored by Sunnydown School. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.