Carmarthenshire in West Wales is a beautiful but somewhat remote part of the UK, where it can be a challenge for schools to offer international opportunities to their pupils and staff. Erasmus+ rises to the challenge!
Thanks to Carmarthenshire County Council’s support, 16 schools within its borders are currently involved in a variety of Erasmus+ projects, helping them to connect with the outside world, forge international links and highlight global citizenship. One such school is Ysgol Heol Goffa, in Llanelli, which recently featured as sector leading practitioners in an Estyn case study focusing on international school partnerships. We look at how Erasmus+ has helped them achieve this.
Ysgol Heol Goffa provides placements for pupils aged from three to nineteen years with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties. It received 40,000 euros to partner with three schools in Dublin, Belfast and Edinburgh for an Erasmus+ Key Action 2 project to reduce the disparities in learning outcomes adversely affecting disadvantaged learners. As there are very few special schools in their region, Ysgol Heol Goffa will really benefit from linking up with similar schools in other countries. Staff hope that their pupils will gain the confidence to mix with others who are unfamiliar to them and become better prepared for life after school and for the world of work, where this is possible.
Ysgol Heol Goffa co-ordinated a very successful school project through the Erasmus+ predecessor programme with support from the Wide Minds Comenius Network, led by Polly Seton from Carmarthenshire County Council. This was awarded the British Council’s International School Award and led to Ysgol Heol Goffa linking with other special schools across Europe, including Scoil Mochua in Dublin, who then invited them to join this Erasmus+ partnership. This was a great place to start as the links with Ireland were already formed and staff and pupils had made firm friends. They also knew that they had further good practice to share with each other and their new partners too.
Ysgol Heol Goffa staff have visited all their partner schools for training events to share teaching approaches. They are particularly focused on gaining expertise in communication for learning for students with severe articulation difficulties or who are non-verbal in mild, moderate or severe range of learning ability. Each school is hosting training on their specific strength and they aim to improve practice through sharing experiences, expertise and research. Laura Hunter, project co-ordinator said: “Our school is now more aware of the need for a consistent approach to communication, the best software to use and how to use it. We all realised we were at the same level with communication and that we needed to get back to basics, really. The project has united us to work on this common theme.
I am currently completing a middle-leaders course and managing this project and seeing it go so well has given me more confidence to apply for a senior role in the school.
Expanding pupils’ horizons
All partners have also visited their Belfast partner school with their pupils, which was a real highlight. Activities such as cooking and sports were organised, and, with pupils needing to work together, new friendships were formed. Ysgol Heol Goffa are now looking forward to taking pupils to Dublin and cannot wait to welcome pupils and staff from Belfast, Edinburgh and Dublin to their school in Wales this year.
Laura added: “The pupils who came on the visit are definitely more confident now. Very few of our pupils have opportunities to travel or meet others from different countries so this project has been especially important for them. Three of them had never flown before and the visit opened up new experiences and opportunities for them all. In Belfast we witnessed the improvement in our pupils’ social skills and their increasing independence. Staying away from home, dressing themselves, or just sitting quietly at a restaurant table is a huge deal for our pupils.”
The main highlights so far have been:
- participating in the training provided by each school in turn as it is very rare to find high quality training relevant to pupils with special needs;
- the excellent opportunities for staff development;
- improvements in pupils’ confidence and in their social skills as a result of the visits.
Reaping the rewards
“You can be so isolated in a special school so it has been wonderful to share practice with others. We go somewhere and see something and think, 'we could do that in our school'. We’ve benefitted so much as a whole school so I think it’s definitely been worth all the work,” said Ysgol Heol Goffa Deputy Head Jan Oyston.
This is evidenced in Ysgol Heol Goffa’s recent “double excellent” Estyn inspection report, which said: "The school has developed outstanding strategic partnerships with special schools in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Austria, Cyprus and Turkey. These provide pupils with exciting opportunities to experience overseas travel, make friends in other countries and learn first-hand about other cultures and traditions.
"On returning from these international visits, the pupils engage enthusiastically in events to share their experiences with other pupils and parents, such as in open evenings where they showcase the language, food and traditions of the country they have visited.
"These experiences give pupils greater self-confidence and improve their self-esteem, communication and social skills. The school’s curriculum has been enriched by the wide range of teaching materials that staff and students have brought back from other countries. Staff use these resources well to develop pupils’ knowledge and understanding of other cultures and traditions."
Feeling inspired to offer similar opportunities to your staff and pupils? Find out more about school partnerships funding on our dedicated webpage.