Extraordinary Stevenage students challenge people to see beyond their disabilities

Lonsdale School students at Wembley Arena for Voice in a Million. Picture: Catherine Sumner

Lonsdale School students at Wembley Arena for Voice in a Million. Picture: Catherine Sumner - Credit: Archant

Incredible children with severe physical and neurological impairments are determined to lead independent lives, studying hard for GCSEs and A-levels and letting their hair down by skiing, horse riding, completing the Duke of Edinburgh Award and even singing at Wembley.

Pupils and staff from Stevenage's Lonsdale School made memories to last a lifetime during a skiing t

Pupils and staff from Stevenage's Lonsdale School made memories to last a lifetime during a skiing trip to Andorra. Picture: Jamie Drackford. - Credit: Archant

These awe-inspiring children are students at Lonsdale School in Stevenage – a special needs school which moved from Webb Rise to new, purpose-built premises in Brittain Way in January 2013 as part of a £43 million project, and is co-located with Marriotts School.

The state-of-the-art school for children aged three to 18 is funded for 85 places, with up to 23 residential pupils at any one time.

Jamie Drackford, facilities and community manager, said: “It’s not here for respite care for parents. It’s here for educational purposes, and the flats are full of technology to help the children with everyday living.”

A recent Ofsted inspection rated the school’s residential provision for students as outstanding. The report said: “This provision is central to the school’s efforts to improve outcomes for children.

Students took to the slopes of Andorra with sit-skis and outriggers. Picture: Jamie Drackford.

Students took to the slopes of Andorra with sit-skis and outriggers. Picture: Jamie Drackford. - Credit: Archant

“Families value highly the input that their children receive at the school and its impact on their lives.”

One parent said: “This is a wonderful and unique environment for children with special needs to grow up in.

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“Since our child’s been attending, our friends and family have seen them grow from quite a dependent child into a self-confident, more independent young adult.

“Our child has exceeded all our expectations. The establishment has truly unlocked their full potential. Instead of being dependent on support in adult life, we now anticipate they will have the independence skills to contribute to society in the future.”

A 15-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy, who is a resident at Lonsdale, said: “I feel quite independent because I have £15 a week for food and decide what to buy and what to cook.”

Students follow the national curriculum, workings towards GCSEs, A-levels and BTECs in subjects including English, maths and science, as well as business studies, IT and drama.

But it’s by no means all work and no play, with a group of students having just returned from a skiing trip to Andorra, where they took to the slopes with sit-skis and outriggers.

Teacher Michelle Woolley said: “The children were virtually doing it by themselves and went from the top of a slope to the bottom, and also had a go at doing jumps and 360 degree turns.”

Other children are completing the Duke of Edinburgh Award, with 16 working towards their bronze and six taking on the silver.

Co-ordinator Sheena Harley said: “They still have to do everything, like pitching tents and cooking all their own food, and they have also learnt first aid. They get so much out of it.”

Earlier this month, 10 students went to Wembley Arena to take part in Voice in a Million, when children from schools all over the country gathered to sing as one huge choir.

Primary teacher Catherine Sumner said: “It was just such a great experience for our children and they were so excited.”

Headteacher Annemari Ottridge said: “We tailor-make our offer for every child and everything we do is for them.

“The whole focus of the school is enabling the children to learn, developing their independence and preparing them for life.

“They learn how to use public transport, manage their finances and choose their own clothes.”

She added: “Most of our children, cognitively, are functioning at the same level as their mainstream peers. The challenge is for people to see beyond their disabilities.

“I love my job and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

“I’m just a piece in a very large puzzle and, as a team, we are privileged to walk the children’s journey with them.”

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