Hello, my name is Karen Thomas and I am the PMLD Coordinator for Milestone Academy. It is my privilege to advocate for pupils who may not be able to get their voices heard. I have been working at Milestone Academy for five years, after 13 years teaching in a residential special school in North Wales. I achieved my role as PMLD Coordinator in September 2013 and it is an achievement I am extremely proud of.

At Milestone Academy we define pupils as having PMLD (Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties when they have a significant developmental delay, specific communication difficulties and complex medical needs which can include other significant impairments such as visual, hearing, deaf blindness and/or physical disabilities. At present 12.5% of Milestone Academy’s pupil population is classified as PMLD. As a school the pupils’ needs are paramount and as such we have created three PMLD focused classrooms, two in the primary department and one in the Secondary department. There is also a fully equipped classroom and facilities available for pupils within the FE department. Each of these rooms, and other communal learning areas, such the AquaLearn pool, Interactive room, Soft play and Rebound gym are purposefully equipped to ensure easy access for our PMLD pupils, this includes fitted ceiling hoists and specialist moving and handling equipment. All staff who teach these pupils are trained to carry out all moving and basic medical needs, such as gastrostomy feeds, tracheostomy changes, administering oxygen and emergency medication administration. Each class is supplied with a direct access device to the onsite medical team who support and provide any medical and clinical decisions which need to be made.

At Milestone Academy we try to look at the world through the pupils’ eyes and find a way to ensure that everything they access is offering them the best opportunities to learn and develop. This year sees the development from chronologic grouping to ability grouping, and as such our primary pupils are now taught in two classes specifically catering for the pupils’ levels of needs.

Staff training and development within the PMLD department is an ongoing process. We attend a variety of workshop training days which develop our knowledge of sensory learning, physical development and support and relevant medical training. As well as peripatetic support from a Hearing Impairment specialist and a Visual Impairment specialist, two of the current PMLD team are undertaking further education to develop their skills in supporting children with Multi-Sensory Impairment/Deafblindness. We also have support from a variety of visiting Physiotherapists and occupational therapists, an on-site physio assistant who oversees any programmes put in place, and a team of speech and language therapists who work in conjunction with the class teams to develop and assess communication development and eating and drinking issues.

Due to the unique nature of learning for our pupils the curriculum is a continuously evolving process. It is important for us to celebrate all of our pupils’ achievements, not just their academic ones. As such we have implemented a three tiered assessment system which is aimed at capturing the progression of the ‘whole child’. For the early development skills we have Routes for Learning (RfL). This system focuses mainly on the early communication and cognitive skills that every child needs to develop to enable them to become an independent learner, regardless of their physical constraints. Working in tandem with this is MAPP (Mapping and Assessing Pupil Progress) and PLevels. MAPP supports us in establishing targets which are both academically significant but also physically and socially significant. It allows us to track a pupils progress on a set number of criteria, to record the pupils gaining levels of independence, their confidence at carrying out the skill, how well they can remember it and the lengthening amount of time, and the many different ways and places in which they can carry out their learned skills. Skills, or targets, set are always functional for the pupil with the long term aim being to develop as much independence as is possible for each individual. The third tier of our curriculum is based on the nationally recognised system of PLevels. As a school we currently use the PLevel system as our main form of assessment for progress. PLevels are very generalised in their requirements for progress and some of our learners do not follow the set routes required, with the help of Routes for Learning and MAPP we are developing a very broad and detailed system which focuses specifically on each individual learner and allows us to celebrates their achievements both within the school and at a nationally recognised level.

As well as developing skills inside the classroom, we also provide a number of exciting offsite visits which offer the children valuable life experiences. Every year we have a week long residential visit for a number of our older pupils. We stay in a purpose built self-catering house in Arundel, near Bognor Regis, and visit surrounding attractions including the Arundel Wetlands and Wildfowl centre, Brighton Sealife centre, Bognor Regis beach and town.  It is a fantastic week thoroughly enjoyed by all who participate.  We also run local trips including the very sensory experience of Wheelchair ice-skating at Bluewater – this is popular with pupils, staff and parents alike. As a team we value the home-school link and work hard to develop a professional and approachable relationship with all our parents. We encourage parental involvement as much as possible and in support of this we have successfully pioneered the development of the digital home/school diary. Using tablet technologies, both school and pupil owned, we record and photograph exciting activities and achievements on a daily basis which are then shared at home and within the family.  Through the use of this ever popular technological addition our parents are now able to share and feel included in all the exciting and inspirational activities that our pupils are involved in on a daily basis. It has been welcomed by many parents, particularly those new to school who have found comfort and reassurance through the viewing of their footage and have a valued method to share these learning experiences with their child.

Myself, and my inspirational team are happy to welcome visitors, so if you would like to come and see us at work please contact the school and I will look forward to showing you around.

Karen Thomas