Kingscourt School in the Community

Written by: Dawn Sharpe, Kingscourt School

Kingscourt School, Catherington, enjoys a very close and special relationship with the Mary Rose School in the heart of Portsmouth. The relationship is now into its fifth year and, we are very pleased to report, shows no signs of waning.

The Mary Rose School is a community specialist school which opened in September  2006.  It caters for 120 pupils aged from two to nineteen years of age who predominantly have severe or complex learning disabilities. In addition to their learning disabilities, many pupils have additional needs associated with physical disabilities, autistic spectrum disorder and medical conditions, many of which are life limiting.

Head teacher, Alison Beane says, “We think we have created a place of learning that is magical for our pupils.  We instil in them the ability to solve problems and become as independent as possible, experience the joy of discovery, be filled with awe and wonder, develop self confidence and self belief and become emotionally intelligent.”

Kingscourt’s headteacher, Jacky Easton together with marketing and development manager, Dawn Sharpe first visited The Mary Rose School in 2008.  Jacky said, “A parent here at school works at the Portsmouth school so we already knew a little about it.  We were very keen to explore the possibility of our Year 6 children being able to visit a class there in order to forge relationships with children who they might not ordinarily meet in their daily lives.  As part of our PSHE studies, we wanted to break down barriers about disability and to work carefully with our own children so that their attitude to disability might be changed – ideally for life.”

And that has certainly been the case.  Teaching assistant, Beverley Fry always accompanies each small group of Year 6 pupils on their visits to the Mary Rose’s Penguin class.  The Penguin class is made up of children with such severe disabilities that they cannot communicate in the usual way; the children have to find a way to relate to each other using more unusual methods.

Beverley says, “The children are usually apprehensive on the way to the Mary Rose School when they first make the trip.  I talk through some of the things they might expect which adds to the lessons they’ve had in school.  When they first arrive in the classroom there, they are usually quiet and slightly overawed at first but it is truly wonderful to watch as they begin to interact with the Mary Rose pupils, and, in turn the Mary Rose children take much pleasure from being with the Kingscourt children.  The Penguins class teacher, Louise Kay is superb at putting our children at ease and explains things to them very well. There is often an ice breaker where we all sit around and introduce ourselves.  Then it’s time for fun!  Most of the time during the 90 minute session, the children are just allowed to play with each other which is a very rewarding sight.”

“The Kingscourt children quickly begin to realise, even the most nervous and timid ones, that the children are, in fact, just like them, but they just happen to be living with disabilities which means their bodies don’t do what they want them to.  It really is an eye opener for our children and on the way home the chat in the minibus is always interesting as the pupils are full of lively conversations about the friendships they’ve now made with the Mary Rose pupils, what they did and how they’re looking forward to visiting again.  They also can’t wait to get back to Kingscourt to pass on their experience.”

Beverley feels that our able bodied children definitely take away from these visits a much better understanding of a disabled person’s life and a different attitude towards them than the one they took down with them. She says, “I think they are very grateful to have been born fit and well too.  I know that from my own two children, Hannah and Lauren, who were a part of our community scheme a few years ago now, that this feeling has lasted and that they are far more likely to interact with disabled people when they meet them, than they might previously have been had they not made friends at the Mary Rose School. Barriers, which they might not have even realised were there, have definitely been broken down.”

Penguins teacher, Louise Kay agrees and adds, “The relationship we have with Kingscourt School gives the pupils in my class, the Penguins, invaluable time with able-bodied pupils.  They gain a lot of valuable life experiences from them and really enjoy showing them our school.  The children from both schools are able to quickly communicate with each other without the barriers of other people expecting the interactions to fail.  We are always pleased to see that all of the children from KIngscourt’s Year 6 who have visited over the years so far, have appeared to enjoy helping and interacting with the pupils here and, in turn, it has aided our communication with the world outside school and increased our links with other areas of the community.”

The final endorsement of Kingscourt’s work in the community with the Mary Rose School comes from our current Year 6 pupils.  Callum Hitchings was keen to share his thoughts on the matter and said; “When I first realised it was our turn to go along to the special school, I have to admit, I was more than a little bit nervous as I didn’t know what I should do or say around them having never met a disabled person, and certainly not a child, before.  I soon realised though, after only a very short time that there was no need for those nerves and I gained confidence just by being there.  I had never met anyone who was disabled in any way before and certainly hadn’t tried to communicate with someone who can’t speak in the conventional way but it soon became apparent to me that this was just another class of children, of my age who wanted to be friends with us.  I love playing with them, helping them with their lessons and have found it so rewarding to be able to communicate on so many different levels.  It really has changed my preconceptions about disabled people which will stay with me for life I think.”

His classmate, Amelie Lewis agreed and added, “The school is so friendly and they totally make you feel comfortable and welcome. Just because our friends there don’t speak like we do, doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to say – they definitely do!

Ben Thompson concluded, “As the other two have said, I did feel very self conscious at first in the Penguins’ classroom but everyone was smiling and so friendly that after a few minutes, it soon dawned on me that this wasn’t going to be a gloomy and sad place after all.  The teacher said that the class really look forward to our school’s visits every year which is really nice to hear.  We very much take for granted that we can just open our mouths and speak to each other but they have to find other ways to do that. You get tuned in pretty rapidly and find out how each individual in the Penguins class can communicate with you. You recognize their signals and facial expressions.  When we’re there, we play with skittles and trains; we do art projects and work with touch screens.  Having had this wonderful chance to make friends with the Mary Rose children has had a big impact on me as I used to worry about how I would deal with someone in that situation, but now I know I needn’t have worried – they’re children, just like us.”

Kingscourt is now very much looking forward to welcoming the Penguins class to the school hall when the children will be entertained by the Year 5 and Year 6 cast of this year’s summer production ‘Alice the Musical’.  Jacky Easton said, “This is always a wonderful occasion when the children have such fun together during the afternoon. We very much value our relationship with all of the children and staff at the Mary Rose School and look forward to many more years together.


MAY 30   /  
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