Tina Harvey has been the Headteacher of the Perseid, Special Educational Need School for quite some time. During her tenure, she has seen the school double in size, a new upper school has been built and the lower school significantly refurbished and extended to accommodate this.
Tina, tell us about the role of the Perseid within Merton.
Perseid school caters for children with specific educational needs - severe and profound learning difficulties - that cannot be met by other primary and secondary schools. We take in children from the ages of 3-19 from all over the borough and we have just under 130 pupils on roll at the moment.
What sort of activities will children learn at the school?
All of our children follow a broad and balanced curriculum not dissimilar to that in mainstream schools, but it is adapted to each child’s needs and abilities. We believe in providing every child with the best possible education and help children to communicate more effectively, learn many life skills and become aware of the world around them.
For those without any experience of people with learning disabilities, the children’s progress may not always be obvious but our staff and parents constantly see development and new achievements everyday just as you would with any child who loves learning.
What specific skills do the staff have and do you have particular facilities that other schools do not?
All staff have training in moving & handling, Autism Awareness, positive behaviour support, a range of communication approaches including PECS and phonics and sensory integration.
Teaching staff must all have or be working towards a masters in SEN. We also have specialist therapy and nursing staff.
Likewise our facilities are also pretty specialist, with sensory rooms, soft play areas, extensive outside play areas and hydrotherapy and swimming pools. Speech generating equipment and obviously many accessible appliances allow the children to engage and learn as much as possible.
Why has the school grown so much over the years?
Awareness, better medical procedures and greater life expectancy have all contributed to our growing roll, as well as an increase in the general population in Merton, of course. This progress has come about through various governments listening to families and better recognition of the rights of disabled people. One has to remember that up until 1971, children with learning disabilities were not entitled to go to school.
That sounds very Victorian and retrogressive
So what happens to your pupils after school leaving age?
While some will continue to learn up to the age of 19 and there are many local tertiary educational facilities, sadly our pupils have disabilities that will not allow them to be independent or to earn a living.
This does mean that because of better healthcare and life expectancy across all of society, increasingly we are seeing elderly parents with disabled adult children.
Finally, what do you hope parents of new children to your school take away from their first visit?
Having a child start school is an emotional moment for any parent, but if your child has a disability this is even more so. When parents visit Perseid for the first time they are not always sure what they will find and it can be a very daunting time, trying to work out what would be the best school for your child who has additional needs, especially when perhaps the range of choices seems quite limited.
However I am proud to say that often, by the end of their visit, parents feel reassured about what Perseid can offer their young person; often parents comment that we’re just like any other school but with more facilities and special approaches, and we feel pleased when that happens.