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How the arts can support SEND children and families

How the arts can support SEND children and families

Razzamataz Leeds currently has eleven special education needs and disabilities (SEND) students, all thriving under the expert care and supervision of the team

It has been widely acknowledged that many children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) and their families have found lockdown particularly challenging. The sudden change of routine can be overwhelming and many parents have noted that their children have taken a step back in their learning and development.

Participation in performing arts helps all young people make sense of the world, especially SEND children who may have many challenges in school. Jude Hill, the co-principal of Razzamataz Leeds has worked with SEND children and young adults for more than 30 years. She is passionate about working towards a better future and as a mother of a grown SEND child, she understands the importance of that child’s voice being heard.

“I have sat on adoption and fostering panels and been part of hundreds of CAF meetings as lead to help families work with a professional to support a child with additional needs,” explains Jude. “I’ve used this knowledge and experience to offer a truly inclusive environment at Razzamataz Leeds. I have training meetings with our team about our SEND students and also offer guidance on learning material.”

The Razzamataz Leeds school has been highly praised for its work and is presently in the middle of obtaining the Scope Inclusive Activity Award (formerly Scope Quality Inclusion Mark). Unfortunately, the lockdown has meant observations during the lessons have had to be put on hold but it will recommence when it is safe to do so.

Razzamataz Leeds currently has eleven SEND students, all thriving under the expert care and supervision of the team. “Communication is key from the outset,” explains Jude. “It’s important that every family with a SEND child does not feel that they are treated differently. We just adapt to enhance their individualism and uniqueness. We work with each student and implement or/extend EHCP’s and liaise with any outside agencies that may offer advice or assistance. The goal is that each child feels valued and an important member of the ‘Razz Leeds Family’.”

Jude’s experience has shown her how critical performing arts are for all children and especially SEND children as she explains: “Performing arts is a way of promoting independence and self-confidence with all children. SEND students rely on consistency and structure to their daily lives. If part of this is taken away, children become stressed and insecure. Performing arts stimulate their imagination and improves their communication and allows them to express their feelings in a controlled and safe environment.”

With lockdown having a major impact on daily routines, Jude spent a lot of time checking in with parents. “I talked a lot with our families, monitoring their weeks and offering support where I could. Just having someone to talk to who understands what they are going through was really appreciated,” she says.

In fact, Jude and co-principal Phil often receives letters of support from parents, including this typical example: “Our daughter Sophie has particular needs. She suffers from epilepsy and has learning difficulties, which means she needs particular attention in group settings. This can be in the form of a heightened need for one-to-one attention, and through requiring very careful expectation management to avoid her being upset. Razzamataz is brilliant at including Sophie in their curriculum. The teachers, led by Jude and Phil are all aware of Sophie’s needs, and have the skills, empathy and patience to enable Sophie to be a normal member of Razzamataz. The team all go out of their way to give us confidence in their ability to deal with Sophie’s health needs. Jude has taken part in special training to administer her rescue medicine, which is going way beyond the expected. We know Sophie is in good hands and will have a great time every time she is at Razzamataz.”

Across the UK-wide network of Razzamataz schools, there are many SEND children with varying needs. MD and founder of Razzamataz, Denise Hutton-Gosney, also has a SEND child who attends the Carlisle school.

“My son Lewis was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness, type 1 diabetes, when he was just two-years-old,” says Denise. “He has a very complicated care plan and many clubs have refused him entry. He loves going to Razzamataz Carlisle and the team ensure that his disability doesn’t impact his ability to join in or single him out as being different in any way. As a parent I really appreciate the way they listen, understand and are sympathetic to our needs. They make me feel welcome by offering me a lovely seating area and coffee and the teaching assistant will come and get me if his alarm goes off so I can administer the drugs that he needs. These may seem like small things but as a parent with a SEND child, they really mean the world. It’s really so important that children’s activity providers work with parents who might disclose to you that there is a care plan in place. By communicating with the family, the staff can then get in touch with a specialist team to do the relevant training, which is upskilling them also.”

At Razzamataz Bognor, student Michaela has also recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Mum Helen McGahey says: “It has been a steep learning curve for us as a family but she has amazed us every step of the way with her resilience. Technology has played a big part in helping us monitor her closely and importantly, she has been able to carry on doing all the things she enjoys including Razzamataz. Having moved to the juniors this term, she can enjoy two and a half hours of dance, drama and singing whilst managing her blood glucose with the support of the wonderful staff who have embraced learning about type 1. A huge thank you to principal Andrea and her team for their continued support.”

IMAGE: Jude Hill, the co-principal of Razzamataz Leeds

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