Pioneer Network Professional Learning: An Update from Heronsbridge, Tai Centre, Tŷ Gwyn 2016-2017

Who are we?

We are a group of Special Schools from three Local Authorities, Bridgend, RCT and Cardiff allocated Pioneer Status two years ago. The pupils in our schools are aged from 3-19 years old and have a wide range of Additional Learning Needs including those with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, Social and Emotional Behavioural Difficulties and Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

What did we want to do?

In our first year as Pioneer Schools we began to think of preparing the workforce for the challenges of the new curriculum by auditing areas of professional development that lead to sector leading practice. We wanted to highlight within our sector what training opportunities already existed and developed to a high quality as evidenced by excellent outcomes for our pupils. We focussed particularly on training opportunities delivered by staff who had gained accreditation in specific aspects of teaching considered essential in our sector such as signing, behaviour management and the development of communication.

This has now been collated into a directory with the aim of providing effective resource management across the sector and to limit duplication. Work is ongoing to establish this as a core professional offer for staff in Special Schools to provide them with good quality learning opportunities. The CSC Special Schools Co-ordinator/Consultant is negotiating with Special Schools and CSC to develop these ideas into a manageable system and a sustainable model.

In our second year we began by focussing specifically on the pedagogical principles from Successful Futures. We RAG rated the knowledge and understanding of staff within the sector of the pedagogical principles and explored within our schools what this might look like in our classrooms. As expected confidence and knowledge was higher for those principles associated with individualised approaches, real life experiences, cross curricular opportunities and development of positive relationships than those associated with higher order skills.

We decided to utilise the experience and knowledge of a mainstream school to help staff in Special Schools understand the principles of one approach that would help to develop “good teaching and learning, employing a blend of approaches including those that promote problem solving, creative and critical thinking”. We thought that the combination of their expertise and the enthusiasm and aspirations of Special School staff would help to develop the capacity of our pupils’ ability to deepen their thinking.


Contacted Tongwynlais Primary School who offered a programme to develop understanding of Thinking Hats as an effective approach to foster pupils ability to think about thinking

The staff delivering the sessions liaised with Special School staff to make any adjustments to the original programme; two half day sessions were planned. Special Schools were made aware of the sessions through the existing network of half termly meetings.

The first session took place in Ty Gwyn School in Aberdare looking at the use of Thinking Hats in the Primary School. Staff were provided with a set of hats and made plans to trial their use.

The second session on Thinking Maps was held in Tongwynlais Primary school as all staff agreed it would be beneficial to see some of these approaches being used in the classroom and Tongwynlais were very happy to host this. Special School staff also shared in this session what their experiences were with very different groups of pupils.

The third session grew out of the discussion and exploration of the strategies and their links to the pedagogical principles embedded in the new curriculum. Special School staff were keen to learn more about the third strand of thinking skills deployed by Tongwynlais, Habits of Mind and the school had already began a mapping exercise linking all of the approaches with Successful Futures.


The take up for these sessions was a little disappointing with only 4 Special Schools participating: Ysgol Bryn Castell, Ty Gwyn, Tai Centre and Heronsbridge but this was compensated by the opportunity for high quality professional discussion. Staff were able to consider the scaffolding and building blocks required to help pupils in their schools develop their ability to think about thinking.

The course evaluations from Tongwynlais were presented in a thinking skills format using the Hats which also emphasised how this approach can support thinking in all sorts of situations

Way Forward

Excellent links have been established with the Primary School and the Special Schools which all participants would like to develop further. Next term we would like to establish a working party to develop thinking skills for pupils with SEN by having Primary School staff working alongside staff from Special Schools. This will involve Primary School staff visiting Special Schools and Special Schools hosting a series of workshops to develop resources and trial their use making the best use of expertise in both sectors.

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