New head at Derby’s Royal School for the Deaf sets out her vision for the future

Wednesday 2 December
New head at Derby’s Royal School for the Deaf sets out her vision for the future

- December 02 at 6:56 AM

A new head has been appointed at Royal School for the Deaf, in Ashbourne Road, Derby. Helen Shepherd, who has been acting principal since it was placed in special measures by Ofsted, has now been given the position permanently. She talks about the far-reaching changes that have been implemented in the past six months and her vision for the future.

“I have been working at Royal School for the Deaf Derby for the past 24 years and can safely say that it’s where my heart lies.

This is a school with a rich and illustrious history and I am very proud to lead it. Although the past six months have been extremely challenging, I can safely say that the school is coming out of a difficult period, substantially stronger, better and safer. We have a clear vision for the future and we are moving forward at a rapid rate; the future is extremely promising for this school.

We have 127 pupils on our roll, aged between three and 19 years old, and some have complex needs. We also have 29 boarders – our catchment falls far and wide – and the safety of all our pupils is our highest priority.

My appointment is part of a complete re-evaluation of the leadership team, which has been entirely restructured. We have implemented a very clear and transparent line of accountability from the classroom to the trustees.

The governing body has doubled in size, to a team of 15, and we have elected a highly capable and experienced new chairman, Daniel Makinde from Rolls-Royce. The vice chairman is also a new appointment, Peter Kendall, who is himself deaf and also a parent of three children who attended the school.

All our school policies have been updated and embedded across the organisation and a comprehensive safety audit has been undertaken. In particular, our safeguarding policies have been thoroughly and extensively overhauled. All staff have undergone safeguarding training to the level appropriate to their role in school. Every member of staff has also undergone ‘Prevent’ training, to help them keep children safe from the risk of radicalisation and extremism and we have also established an e-safety (online) group in school involving pupils, parents, carers, staff, governors and members of the community .

I have also set up a counselling service to improve pupil well-being, which is being run for us by a deaf counselling service. Children can refer themselves or go direct to the counsellors for help or advice about anything concerning them in school or at home.

In the past six months, the school has spent £65,000 upgrading and refurbishing one of our residential units. Until recent years all our residences were older, detached houses on the periphery of the campus – today they are all modernised, purpose-built facilities.

We have also worked hard to improve our pupil progress tracking, which we believe will help improve results. Many pupils start at the school below the level expected for their age and we need to ensure that they are making the appropriate progress from their individual starting points.

Our new tracking system means we can monitor and demonstrate this clearly. It also means there is a clear line of accountability so that the governors are able to hold leaders to account over attainment.

We want to build firm bridges between staff and parents and encourage them to work together. So, a new Parent Staff Association has been established, and we hope to encourage parents to become more actively involved in school life.

We have begun to run courses for parents too and believe it is our job to help educate children and families to manage risks. We have organised e-safety workshops for parents and carers covering healthy selfies, PEGI rating for games and firewalls. We also offer free sign language classes to parents and carers of our children in the evening to improve communication at home.

I feel very strongly that all our children should leave here with a strong deaf identity and a clear sense of belonging. Not all deaf children have a sense of which world they belong in, but we want them to believe they can function in a hearing world and feel equipped to manage the challenges ahead.

We do this through studying Deaf Culture and Deaf History, but the most important way is through positive deaf role models. We are actually one of the largest employers of deaf people outside London and our staff must make a commitment to learn sign language to at least level 2 and English to an equivalent level.

British Sign Language and English are absolutely equal here in school so that every child can access the curriculum regardless of age, ability or communication mode. It also fosters a stronger sense of community so that no one feels isolated or left out.

My vision for the future of the school has been developed in consultation with the children, governors, staff, parents and carers. I want all our students to have confidence in developing their own deaf identity and sense of belonging. I want them to feel safe, happy and cared-for in an environment where all children are listened to, can express their views and are understood whatever their preferred communication mode.

Our children should be challenged to achieve their best through excellent teaching, a comprehensive curriculum and a wide variety of experiences from Early Years to 16 Plus.

I want the school to be an environment that encourages lifelong learning, and equips our children and young people with the tools and skills to achieve. I want to foster tolerance and inclusion, so all children and young people are able to build effective relationships based on empathy, friendship and respect.

I hope that governors, parents, carers and staff can be united as a team and that the days when the school felt like an extended family will return. Some staff were pupils here and many parents were pupils too – so that sense of togetherness is very real.

Family is important to me – I have seven children, three of my own and four step-children. We are extremely close and still enjoy holidays together and watching Derby County – I am a season ticket holder.

Of course, I also have 127 other children and want the same for these young people as I want for my own: I feel exactly the same sense of responsibility for them.”

Article source: Helen Shepherd, Daily Telegraph

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