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‘For us, PSHE is as important as Maths or English’

Jayne Leversidge, of Abbey School in Rotherham, talks about the challenges of raising self-esteem and confidence in a special educational needs school, and how PSHE is the cornerstone of all their learning

I am a PSHE Lead at Abbey School in Rotherham, which has 150 pupils aged 5 to 19. We specialise in educating children with learning difficulties such as autism, Down’s syndrome and ADHD.

I remember in particular one boy with autism that came to visit the school. Because of his condition, he’d regularly make a noise that he could not control. He found the environment to be so safe and accepting that at the end of his first day he said, ‘I’ll come back tomorrow, and I’ll keep coming back’.

That same afternoon, his mum sent me an email saying that he had come home and immediately said, ‘Mum, I didn’t get told off for making the noise once!’ He had been chastised for something that is part of his make-up and behaviour that he can’t ever change.

‘Children who have special educational needs and disabilities often fall behind their peers’

Our school ethos is to be accepting of everyone’s differences and to allow children the opportunity to grow knowing school is a safe place to make mistakes and learn by. We treasure children's childhood and allow them to grow and learn as individuals ready to face the modern world.

Many of our pupils started out in the mainstream school system where they often did not receive the skilled staff support.

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Children who have special educational needs and disabilities often fall behind their peers and are unable to meet the challenges of a mainstream settings – for example producing the same level of work as their peers.

Many of our pupils have become used to a feeling of not being able to achieve. As a school, we work on pupils’ self-esteem and personal wellbeing before academic ability. Staff often say, ‘You can't work on the academics before you have conquered the Bloom stuff!’

‘Through PSHE, the pupils can learn how to deal with their feelings and emotions’

On the other hand, some of the challenges are just the same for all children, such as body and appearance worries. Our pupils are generally more vulnerable and, since they can have difficulty understanding the emotions they are feeling, it is important that they receive the support they need to develop their self-esteem.

PSHE is as important to us as Maths or English. Through PSHE, the pupils can learn how to deal with their feelings and emotions which will have a beneficial impact on their learning.

Abbey School treasures childhood and all the challenges that the modern world presents to our children.