The Bridge Trust is a unique Multi Academy Trust which consists of four special schools, one primary school, a Training and Development Service and an Outreach Service.
The Bridge School is a large special school which provides for pupils with severe learning difficulties and/or autism. It is based on two sites, a Primary site and a Secondary site. The Bridge School has been judged outstanding by Ofsted in its last three inspections. A key focus of the primary curriculum is to offer a wide range of educational experiences. The secondary curriculum focuses increasingly, as the pupils progress through the school, on preparation for life after school, looking at accreditation options, independence and belonging and contributing to the community.
We have always been committed to supporting staff and pupils in other schools and sharing the knowledge we have. It was a natural progression for the CEO/Executive Headteacher to become a National Leader of Education in 2009 and the school to become a Teaching School in 2011. This has enabled us to offer a wide variety of training opportunities to our own staff and staff from other schools, develop an initial teacher training programme through School Direct, support other schools who may be facing challenging circumstances through facilitating our staff and staff from other schools to provide advice and support, and to develop and promote research in our own school and across the network of schools we work with.
Through partnership with the Local Authority we provide advice and support to all the mainstream schools in the borough of Islington on addressing the needs of pupils with autism or severe learning difficulties. This support is provided by a highly respected, small dedicated team of professionals who aim to work with schools to pass on their knowledge and develop skills in school-based staff.
The leadership team of The Bridge recognised that there was a small group of pupils whose needs meant that they were often being placed in residential schools, many miles from their homes. We felt given the right approach we could meet the needs of these pupils. We used the opportunities provided by the opening of Free Schools to develop a new provision for pupils with extremely complex needs which often included sensory overload and behaviour which challenges. This school opened in January 2015 and is called The Bridge Integrated Learning Space (ILS). Staffing at The Bridge School is typically one member of staff to every two pupils, whereas at the ILS it is at least one member of staff per pupil. Each pupil is assigned to a class team, however many of them have individualised timetables. The focus of much of the work at the ILS is to support the pupils to feel safe in the school and community and to develop appropriate independence skills. This allows them to access other learning opportunities. In October 2017 Ofsted considered the school to be outstanding at its first inspection.
In September 2017 we opened our second Free School. This school is called The Satellite School and it provides for pupils with autism who benefit from access to a mainstream curriculum but are not able to access mainstream education. This school is based on four sites and each site is located adjacent to a mainstream school. This allows us to provide for the very special needs of these pupils whilst also accessing opportunities for inclusion. Three of these sites cater for primary age pupils, one for pupils in Key Stage 3.
In September 2017 The Bridge Trust was approved as a sponsor for Hungerford Primary School. The schools have a long standing relationship as The Bridge Primary School is next door to Hungerford Primary School. Hungerford School was placed in special measures by Ofsted. We have recruited new staff to the school and put in place the leadership and coaching structures and systems which work in all of our other schools. We recognise that our expertise is special schools, but it is also running outstanding schools. We are implementing what can be transferred to a primary setting at Hungerford and also making sure that we ensure access to primary expertise. We have done this through setting up a School Improvement Board which ensures support and advice from local head teachers, from community and independent schools, and the Local Authority school improvement service. We appreciate that the school has a journey to undertake but our intention is for this too to be an outstanding school.
The Bridge Trust is unique, but not only in the collection of provision we have. We also have a set of fundamental principles which drive and inform us.
We are driven by our values – the five Ps – pride, passion, professionalism, positivity and partnership. All decisions and developments are anchored on these values. When recruiting we look for staff who will buy into and uphold these values.
We put children at the heart of everything we do. Whenever looking at new ways of doing things we consider the impact this will have on the children. We believe in developing staff, not constraining them. Our staff are the greatest resource our pupils have. We recognise that there are no absolute answers in the best ways to educate our pupils so we look to encourage staff creativity. We want people to try new ways of working (within safe parameters). We give staff a framework to work within, but encourage appropriate risks to be taken.
We want to learn from others and encourage staff to engage with the research literature. This is supported by our Training & Development Service. We also recognise that when working with the pupils in our schools it is not always about engagement with the evidence, but sometimes about informed creation of the evidence. Our research officer will support staff to create and share evidence using appropriate, well considered methodologies.
As a part of this commitment and desire to learning from others we actively engage in school improvement networks. The Trust is a part of Challenge Partners, a national school improvement network where schools support each other to improve. We lead a hub of over 30 special schools who network and learn from each other. We are also members of Maamulaha, a local network of schools, mostly mainstream. There is some overlap of these schools with our Teaching School Alliance (TSA) but there are other schools in the TSA who we also work with.
We have always been committed to engaging positively with our pupils and this is one of our values. We have recently worked with the British Institute of Learning Disability (BILD) and the Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam to introduce Positive Behaviour Support to all of our schools, mainstream and special. We are committed to working with all of our pupils with a positive focus.
What next? We do not stand still. We want to continue improving what we do, so that we can improve the offer to our pupils. We are not maverick in our approach to improvement, it is done in a considered way, but creativity and ‘thinking outside the box’ is encouraged. Each of our schools continually looks at how it can develop further. Being part of the Trust allows for learning across our schools and support to implement some new strategies. We definitely feel that ‘together we are greater than the sum of our parts’. We learn from each other. We challenge each other. We support each other.
We have also considered how the Trust will further develop. We would welcome other schools and organisations joining us. But this needs to be a partnership that both the present schools in the Trust and the new organisation would benefit from.