Story/Interview November 7, 2022
A welcoming environment for SEND and neurodiverse learners
As SEND Lead Practitioner, Ray Boxall is helping create a welcoming environment for SEND and ND learners at King’s InterHigh. He’s showing them that their differences will be celebrated, and can open many paths to success.
With online school, pupils can avoid the social pressure to conform and be themselves. Ray also believes technology will have an increasing role to play in supporting SEND and ND students in the future.
Ray’s qualifications include a master’s degree in educational leadership, and a postgraduate certificate in the psychology of education. He spent 15 years as a teacher in London, working his way up to the position of Deputy Head Teacher. After his daughter became sick, he left that role and set up an online tutoring business. When he saw his current position advertised by King’s InterHigh, this seemed like a “natural extension” to his private tutoring. He remembers feeling excited about the opportunity to teach in an innovative environment.
He says this makes for more effective teaching and learning. “You can intervene at the point of a student making a mistake,” Ray explains. What also helps is that lessons are no longer a fleeting experience, to only be experienced once. “I like that all lessons are recorded, and pupils can go back and review the materials.”
What’s unique about Ray’s experience is that he teaches students with Special Educational Needs (SEND), and those who are neurodiverse (ND). Online schooling at King’s InterHigh provides an environment for these pupils to thrive. He notes many of these learners additionally have anxiety or depression, and being in a bustling physical school environment can create a stressful sensory overload.
King’s InterHigh offers an alternative. “We can provide an environment that’s calm and focused,” says Ray. “If a learner is struggling one day and can’t attend their lessons, they can catch up later. They can contact their teachers directly for support. This approach is far kinder for someone with additional needs.”
“We can provide an environment for SEND and ND pupils that’s calm and focused. If a learner is struggling one day and can’t attend their lessons, they can catch up later.”
Difference, Not Disadvantage
When teaching SEND and ND pupils, it helps to be adaptable and aware that no two learners are the same. “We’re constantly ensuring our teachers are well-trained and are experts in adapting their teaching to their classes,” he says.
So far this academic year, Ray has already run workshops about adaptive teaching and celebrating SEND and ND. He says around 25% of students at King’s InterHigh are SEND or ND. “We try to create an environment that says all minds are different, and that’s something to celebrate. Your difference is not a disadvantage; there are many ways this can lead you to success.”
The response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. In Ray’s experience, many parents are familiar with how physical school environments haven’t worked for their children. They’ve struggled to keep up, or they’ve not felt challenged enough. They’ve never seen how an online platform can help.
“Parents often say it’s great that we’re doing something different. Their child feels reinvigorated about learning again, because they’re not in an environment they find challenging,” Ray says. “There’s less noise, less interference. It’s easier to get some quality dialogue going with their teacher.”
If learners don’t want to communicate with their teachers in front of everybody, they can do it privately through the Question and Answer pod. Or they can email teachers directly. “We can help build relationships that way.”
Ray is also supporting parents with Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) applications. “To get local authorities to help with funding to send pupils to online school is quite gratifying.”
“We try to create an environment that says all minds are different, and that’s something to be celebrated. Your difference is not a disadvantage; there are many ways this can lead you to success.”
Technology Can Help
Ray says online school provides an egalitarian environment for SEND and ND learners, and it’s easier for them to be who they want to be. They can avoid the pressure to conform to society’s expectations. “You can portray yourself as you want to be seen, and expect to be well-treated,” he explains. “No one’s going to ostracise you if you feel you don’t fit in.”
In the future, he believes technology is set to help more young people with SEND and ND. “I’ve had interesting conversations with members of our Innovation team. With things moving so fast, King’s InterHigh is going to be able to stay on the cutting-edge of things that will help learners thrive.”
Ray believes these developments could help young people creatively articulate their emotions. “I’m quite optimistic about how technology can help us do innovative things for SEND and ND students.”
In the meantime, Ray continues to work on ways to help learners access knowledge to aid their learning. And he always welcomes feedback from students and parents on ways to improve the accessibility of King’s InterHigh’s online platform.
“At King’s InterHigh, you can portray yourself as you want to be seen, and expect to be well-treated.”