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


Principal Sian Thomas
West Kirby School
and College
Sian Thomas joined West Kirby School and College as the new
principal in September 2019. When she joined West Kirby, a
school for children with Social Emotional Needs and Disabilities
she arrived with a keen belief that the curriculum should be ‘enabling,
not disabling’. She wanted to ensure the school provided children
and young people with a breadth and depth of access to learning
opportunities, to encourage personal choice and independence,
to support pupils in realising their capacity for making a positive
contribution and to recognise the value they have in society.
When I arrived at the school, there was an immense web of holistic and supportive
measures in place for ensuring children’s social and emotional development.
Awhole structure had been created to develop key personal skills. However, the
approach was not wholly balanced, effectively pushing aside recognised academic
qualifications, without consistently expanding academic horizons. While it focused
on developing social and emotional abilities, this was to the detriment of academic
prowess. We believed we could do both.
This review was inspired by Mr Frank Dowler. Born in 1932, Frank was hearing
impaired which meant that he lived his life labelled “deaf”. When he started
secondary school in 1943, Frank was sent to a “special” school, which focused on
training its pupils in vocational courses. During his secondary school education, Frank
was trained to be a tailor. He could select fabrics, cut a pattern and sew a complex
garment, but Frank didn’t want to be a tailor.
»Principal: Sian Thomas
»Located in West Kirby,
»Type of school: non-maintained
special school
»No of pupils: 85
»Ofsted: “Outstanding”
West Kirby Residential
Highlighting best practice
Frank was the father of a deputy head
teacher at our school. His daughter
is the special educational needs and
disabilities co-ordinator and it was
during a conversation about how we
enable and develop the academic
pathways of our pupils that she told
me how her father was funnelled into
his learning experiences, without being
given due choice.
Moving from our starting point
We realised that the structure in school
was a strong foundation for what we
wanted to achieve. Namely, to offer
every one of our pupils the equality
of opportunity, which was, according
to an Ofsted investigation, “often
an issue for lower attaining pupils or
pupils with special educational needs
and or disabilities”.
We also knew that teachers in our
school were able to offer a broad
and balanced curriculum of depth
and flavour across our school.
What is more, they were keen to
do so. Previously where we had
allowed pupils to dabble in subjects,
we wanted to structure learning
milestones and give teachers back their
curriculum confidence.
We started by examining areas
of expertise; by looking at what
qualifications were on offer; by
seeking expert contacts and training
opportunities for our staff in managing
and expanding areas of development;
by promoting reading and phonics
to the fullest extent; by ensuring
the development of writing was a
key strength; by sharing our high
expectations across the board.
We also realised that we needed to
involve parents, carers and, essentially,
pupils on our journey. We decided to
focus on strengths as a route towards
curriculum expansion, so we began
capitalising on children’s natural
interests. We broadened access to
the curriculum in Key Stage 2 and
Key Stage 3, looking to ensure that
pupils had a range of experiences. In
year 9 we changed options evenings,
giving pupils choices which aligned
with their needs, abilities and areas
of personal interest. We set up Pupil
Progress Conversations, where children
and young people were able to talk
about the progress they were making
and discuss the direction in which they
wanted to go.
Linking to a career path
We understood that we needed to
intertwine our curriculum offering with
real, varied and aspirational career
outcomes. A member of staff was in
place as a transitions officer, dealing
Engaging in a
Technology, Engineering
and Design class
Frank Dowler’s class,
circa 1943
We are in the
midst of great
change and
we hold on to
with the important transitions from
school to next placements. However,
we wanted to enhance our focus on
pupils’ aspirations.
We changed that role to careers and
pathways officer and employed an
independent careers adviser. We
set up career development sessions
and charged a staff member with
creating work experience placements.
The impact of this has been the
introduction of concrete steps which
give pupils tangible direction and
range of experiences.
Next steps
We continue to be ambitious for our
pupils. We have employed a food
technology teacher who is introducing
a bakery as an enterprise initiative. We
have a working party which is creating
a three-year STEM action plan. This
team are making an application for a
grant to buy equipment and remodel
areas of school. We are building links
with industries.
Now, seven months along, we are
slightly stalled due to the pandemic,
but our staff continue to plan and
create opportunities for growth. Our
children are learning online and we
are ready to expand our curriculum
delivery in September. We are in the
midst of great change and we hold on
to optimism.
As for Frank – he did not work
as a tailor. During his twenties,
Frank enrolled in night school,
becoming a qualified accountant.
Later he joined the Open University,
obtaining a degree in philosophy
and a qualification to teach adults
who had a hearing impairment. He
believed, “Agood education gives
you confidence and choices. With
confidence and choice, you can start to
take control of your own life.” Frank
gave this message to his children.
We seek to enable our children
in developing their strengths and
pursuing pathways towards success.
A good
gives you
and choices
A primary pupil learns
to code
A Post 16 pupil focuses
on history


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