The Hillcrest Centre, part of Hedleys Northern Counties School, is a specialist provision for children and young people on the autistic spectrum with additional learning and communication difficulties.
The centre currently has seven classes with 40 students aged between 5-19 years old.
A team of highly skilled teachers, therapists and support staff work together to provide an exceptionally integrated approach to education.
All students at Hillcrest require one-to-one support throughout the school day, while some require two-to-one and even three-to-one support.
Staff deal with extremely challenging behaviour on a daily basis, but their commitment to engaging students in class and helping them progress and achieve is second to none.
“The staff here are great at coming up with strategies to help students take part in activities,” said Abi Cowie, Lead Practitioner at the Hillcrest Centre.
“Our students really do get involved in the different topics we cover and that’s thanks to the teachers and support staff, who are really good at adapting activities and coming up with new ideas to suit specific individuals.
“Tasks have to be very short for the children and staff have to be on their toes to move on to the next task whilst keeping the student engaged.
“We were studying Food and Festivals around the world and one student built a colosseum out of sugar cubes. That’s how we adapted the lesson to teach that individual counting skills. We also looked at measuring, by taking part in a cheese rolling event.”
The Hillcrest Centre introduced a Behaviour Intervention Team two years ago to support staff to deal with challenging behaviours.
It has been a huge success for the centre – two current students who required three-to-one support when they first started at the centre now require two-to-one support with the goal of working towards one-to-one support in the future.
“We deal with every kind of behaviour at Hillcrest, including some very challenging behaviour. It’s a very physically and emotionally demanding place to work, but staff are so invested in the students and motivated to help them progress and achieve.
“They are very good at supporting each other and are well trained to spot triggers and come up with appropriate solutions. They also have great relationships with our parents and are keen to work in full partnership.”
All children have access to an inclusive functional curriculum that provides stimulating programmes that are challenging whilst at the same time ensuring that they are relevant and appropriately differentiated to meet individual needs.
Staff at Hillcrest are committed to helping students fulfil their potential and celebrate achievements.
“All the children have been to the Theatre Royal panto. That might not seem like a lot but that’s a huge achievement for us,” Abi explained.
“We have to take so much into account when it comes to planning something as simple as a trip to the theatre so we are very proud that students have the opportunity to do these things.
“We also have students who are working towards the bronze award of the Duke of Edinburgh Award and we were recently awarded accreditation from the National Autistic Society for the second time.”
Abi has been at Hedleys Northern Counties School for 13 years and she explains just how far the provision for autistic children has come in that time.
“When I first started we only had four autistic children so it’s great to see how the centre has developed and changed over the years,” she said. “We’re very proud of our work and the skills our young people develop over time.”