Developing the methodology of Lesson Study to enhance the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils with moderate learning difficulties in a UK special school setting

Tracy Edwards

Pupil 1: If I went to the nurse, I’d be brave.

Pupil 2: A School Principal is brave because they are powerful.

Teacher: What about this picture here. Do you know Noah? [explains story of Great Flood]

Pupil 2: I’m scared of Hell. Jesus, he’s brave, he’s the lamb of God. Are you scared of Hell?

Teacher: What about a soldier? Is he brave?

Group: Yes

Teacher: What about someone who refuses to fight? Are they brave?

Pupil 1: I want a world without guns. The Metropolitan Police have a slogan and no guns. 'Making London a safer place for all’

Teacher: Barrack Obama?

Pupil 3: Definitely brave, six pack, good president, does not fight, not thrown out, or sacked.

Teacher: Is he braver than a soldier? Is he braver than Jesus?

Pupil 1: Barrack Obama is braver than the school Principal! He’s more famous.

Teacher: So the more famous you are, the braver you are?

Group: No.

Teacher: Is Jesus the bravest?

Group: He has no bullet-proof vest.

Teacher: And what about him? [points to a painting of Buddha] Is he brave?

Pupil 2: He’s not brave! He’s just a statue!

Introduction and context

Why does Jacob show intolerance to learners he sees as 'disabled' or 'different'?

122 Tracy Edwards

Why does Sally always seem disinterested in class discussions on controversial issues?

Why has Vera never visited a theatre, museum, art gallery or cinema?

The school context

The above questions are based on key priorities, which the four participating teachers brought with them to the initial planning dialogues of a study group that adapted the methodology of Research Lesson Study (Lesson Study UK, 2019) to enhance the holistic development of pupils within their school setting.

All four teachers worked at the same inner-city special school within the United Kingdom. One of the four teachers in the group is the author of this chapter, who also facilitated the research and secured funding from the Farmington Trust to carry out some initial research lessons. At the time of the study, the school had recently undergone a significant expansion, resulting in a larger and more diverse pupil population, including a greater number of pupils with a diagnosis of ‘Severe Learning Difficulties’ (SLD) and ‘Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties’ (PMLD). The challenges associated with this shift represented a valuable developmental opportunity for the four teachers and, indeed, for the school itself. Due to its urban location, the school already served an extremely multicultural community where over 90 languages are spoken, and had a student intake which reflected the economic and social diversity of its catchment area.

The above questions were very much reflective of this school context. The enquiry, for example, focussed on the learning and development of pupils with a diagnosis of ‘Moderate Learning Difficulties’ (MLD). A number of these pupils within the school had started their education in mainstream settings. Some had experiences of being bullied within these mainstream settings and/or were resentful at being placed in a special school, alongside pupils with whom they did not initially identify. This all made the expansion of the school very difficult for several pupils with MLD to process emotionally. The teachers within the lesson study group were being required therefore, to devise personalised strategies for individuals by looking deeply into their profiles and placing questions such as “ Why does Jacob show intolerance to learners he sees as 'disabled' or 'different ?” at the heart of their work.

With this, it is noteworthy that the school had drafted a new curriculum framework for its changing population, coinciding with its expansion. This new curriculum, departed from the UK National Curriculum, with areas such as ‘social and emotional literacy’ and ‘independent living skills’ being emphasised in new school policies. This supported teachers to also address questions such as ‘ Why has Vera never visited a theatre, museum, art gallery or cinema?' and plan opportunities for the related development of functional literacy and numeracy (for leisure activities or for using public transport for example) on a daily basis.

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