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QEII Silver Jubilee School

Published on 1st December 2017


For a while, it didn’t appear that we would take much away from our visit to Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee School in Horsham.

Our intention was to present a comprehensive feature on this incredible school, which caters for pupils with severe or profound learning difficulties. However, our tour initially revealed a string of empty classrooms! We do find one class, in which pupils were busy colouring in a picture of the Bayeux Tapestry.

After speaking to several children, we heard differing opinions on whether King Harold II was killed by an arrow to the eye...After more vacated rooms, wefinally stumbled upon a second class. Senior pupils with cameras in hand were developing their picture-taking skills with assistance from photographer Stephen Candy.Among the group, we find friends Billy, 19, and Sophie, 17. We recognise Sophie immediately having first met her whilst featuring The Springboard Project on Hurst Road, Horsham.

We sit down for a chat and it’s quickly apparent that they both love drama. In a recent production, the school presented a unique take on a Shakespeare play which involved Billy wearing a kilt. Another skill both have developed at QEII is their cooking abilities. Billy said: “We do a lot of cooking, especially in the Sixth Form. Some people help with the shopping, others do food preparation and some cook. Sophie does a very good paella and I'm good at making meatballs.“I will be leaving next July and I will miss the school a lot. It’s fun and the teachers are nice and help everyone. But I will come back and say ‘hello’ whenever I can!”

 As it transpires, the activities that Billy and Sophie most enjoy offer a hint as to why so many classrooms are vacant. QEII is not like most schools. Here, education is focused on personal development and independence, much of which involves outside excursions. Along the corridors are numerous collages of photos from outdoor activities and trips. These include adventure weeks in the New Forest and trips to a specialist activity centre through The Calvert Trust, where young people can experience climbing, canoeing and sailing. Sixth Formers have enjoyed a self-catering trip to Center Parcs, whilst even the primary school pupils are encouraged to attend an overnight trip to help them become accustomed to being away from home.

Focus on Creativity

As lunch time approaches, groups start to re-appear after their morning activities and we’re able to gain a greater understanding of the school’s ethos. It doesn’t take long for us to discover that performing arts is at the heart of most things. Sue Jay, Head of Creative Arts, was even presented with a Gold Plato at the 2017 Pearson Teaching Awards in recognition of her commitment.

The school’s passion for performing arts was kick-started in 2007, when it participated in the national Rock Challenge. QEII was the first special school to enter and its performance was so well received that pupils were subsequently asked to appear at other venues, including Stoke Mandeville Hospital. QEII is also involved in the Shakespeare School Foundation Festival, where unique takes on The Bard’s classics led to pupils being invited to tread the boards of a West End stage.

Claude Hopkins helps Sue Jay to produce various shows and has seen first-hand the benefit that drama and music offers: We are always preparing for a show of some variety, be it a Christmas play, carol service or a rock event. We have a Shakespeare production coming up and as soon as that is over we’ll be rehearsing for Rock Challenge at The Hawth. “We present a different Shakespeare play every year and this year it’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Our opening number is a Spice Girls song, so we always find a fun way to present a play. Mainstream schools take part too and are very good, but are usually traditional with their interpretation. We know that Shakespeare can be difficult to understand, so we make it as fun as possible, whilst staying loyal to the main plot.We always receive a standing ovation because the audience can see how much joy our young people are getting out of it.

“They’re very professional too, as Sue sets high standards. Our actors know not to wave to their family in the crowd until the show’s over and they all respond to that. This focus helps increase their confidence and self-esteem.”The theme of QEII’s Rock Challenge production will be mental health. Actresses Carrie Fisher and Deborah Reynolds, who both passed away this year, were advocates of mental health care and in tribute to them, the school will be incorporating music from Star Wars into the show.

“The encouragement young people receive here is incredible. Sue, along with many other teachers, instill so much confidence in them. She knows what they are capable of and helps them realise their potential through acting, dancing, singing and interacting in ways they might never have done before. The pupils come alive on stage and that’s why QEII has achieved special status for its performing arts.”

Fight for Funding

The Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee School was opened by the Queen in 1978, hence its name. Prior to that, there was a similar school called Forest Hospital School, located in Roffey. Whilst the hospital school was open throughout the year, QEII operates in regular term time.

It provides for young people with severe and profound or complex learning needs that cannot be catered for in mainstream education. Pupils can suffer from autism or epilepsy, whilst others may have a physical disability with more severe learning difficulties. This year, QEII will accommodate 100 pupils for the first time in its history. Yet whilst facilities have been improved and expanded since The Queen cut the ribbon, much more needs to be done to cater for growing demand.

Head teacher Lesley Dyer, who has been at the school for 24 years, said: “When I first arrived, we had just 37 pupils. Now, with the opening of two new classes this year, we’ll surpass 100 pupils as there is a huge need in the community. When you take into consideration the additional housing being built around Horsham, there are concerns of a shortfall, as we’re already oversubscribed. 

“We hope that part of the school can be reconfigured, as joining fragmented sections together would provide more space for classrooms, improve access and hopefully allow us to position a therapy room in the heart of the school. The Sixth Form college opened a year ago and we would ideally like the rest of the school to match this facility, but of course that requires funding. The amount of money we receive depends on the number of pupils, with some extra support to cover additional costs involved in caring for those with more severe or profound needs. 

“Funding is a major issue for all schools and it’s no different here. If we were a new school, we would have a modern IT suite built with new computers. But because we’re established, it’s not so easy! As with mainstream schools, we’ve not seen an increase in our budget for some time, whilst costs have risen enormously. Providing the education that we do on the budget we have is only possible because of the fantastic team of teachers, support staff and parents we have at QEII.“This work is reflected in out recent Outstanding rating from Ofsted.”

Success Stories

Class sizes tend to be a maximum of 10 children, with a teacher accompanied by at least two special support assistants and often more.For those in Firs, the Profound and Multiple Leaning Difficulties (PMLD) class, sessions operate on a one-to-one ratio and staff rotate roles to avoid a pupil becoming overly reliant on one adult. 

Sensory sessions last for half an hour and there is often a theme, hence the abundance of brightly-coloured wigs in the photos!Here, young people with conditions such as Rett syndrome and cerebral palsy find the soothing sounds and bright colours of sensory activities to have a calming influence. The school is also developing ways to improve communication skills, most notably by utilising an eye gaze device which recognises eye movement to communicate choices. Such equipment is making a huge difference and pupils are developing their understanding of how it operates. 

Lesley said: “Outside of the PMLD class, we teach the Key Stages of the National Curriculum with a focus on functional literacy and numeracy. Some pupils may take vocational courses with examinations before they leave. So, we cover the whole spectrum, although it’s all based on personal development and promoting independence. We do believe in early intervention, so try to bring in a wider range of pupils at the age of two, in the hope that we can work with them and hopefully prepare them for placements in mainstream schools.” 

Whilst traditionally pupils have found it difficult to take the next step after leaving QEII –one of the reasons why a Sixth Form was created – there have been many success stories. They include JubyLee Bakes, a company formed by pupils and parents of QEII and previously featured in AAH. Others have left to join specialist performing arts colleges such as The Orpheus Centre Trust in Godstone or the disabled youth theatre group, Freewheelers. Some continue their education at college or work at places like The Butterfly Project in Horsham.

Mutual Benefits

Whilst there may be a fight for more funding for better facilities behind the scenes, the school caters brilliantly for its pupils. One of the more unusual features is a hydrotherapy pool, built as part of the original school in 1978 and modified over the years. Swimming in the small but warm pool can be deeply relaxing, particularly since fundraising by the Wooden Spoon charity organisation led to the addition of a multi-sensory environment.

Those with a flair for drama benefit from a modern theatre facility, whilst there’s plenty of opportunities for those who love music and art. After a healthy lunch, we found Key Stage Two pupils painting pink stars to be used as props for the forthcoming Rock Challenge, under the guidance of art technician Faye Hudspith. It’s another opportunity for pupils to express themselves creatively. On the walls are huge canvas pictures made with the help of Rachel Galston, an acclaimed artist who visited QEII for a three-day workshop. Rachel aided pupils in the gifted and talented programme as they painted Paralympic themed pictures, before she took them to the Tate Gallery in London.

On the musical side, the school has strengthened its links with Forest School by joining forces with the choir at the all-boys’ school around the corner. Music co-ordinator Rosie Huggett said: “We are very keen to work with other schools on music projects. It benefits our young people to work with children from mainstream schools and it's also an important experience for children who are not used to interacting with people from a special school. 

“I took a class to Holbrook Primary School to see their summer show and during play time, I struggled to identify where my children were, because they were mingling with everyone! They were even ‘dabbing’ with the Holbrook pupils, which was wonderful. Such visits can really help them develop social skills. “As well as singing with choirs from other schools, I've been trying to teach some children to read music. I find that some pupils with autism respond well to the logic of reading music. It’s important for us to identify these skills and develop them when possible, as happens with our performing arts team. That is one of the things that stands QEII School apart.”




For more information about the school you can visit the website at https://www.queenelizabeth2.w-sussex.sch.uk