Priestley Smith School is a unique school in the UK. It is the first co-located special school for pupils with severe sight loss and shares a campus with 4 mainstream schools. The school is purpose built for students with visual impairment, and is very well resourced to meet their needs, providing the specialist equipment they require to access the curriculum e.g. large print and braille materials, specialist ICT software with speech, adapted technology etc.

Situated in Great Barr on the Perry Beeches campus, the school has not been placed in a corner away from the other schools but forms an integral part of the buildings and the schools within them, so that there is easy access for all its pupils to mainstream experience. The school has enjoyed this position for over 5 years now and, because of the links it has forged with the other campus and local mainstream schools, is able to provide pupils, aged 3-16+, with a curriculum which is diverse, rich and exciting.

In addition to the Foundation Stage curriculum, National Curriculum and accredited GCSE and Entry Level/ASDAN courses, the school also delivers a specialist curriculum designed to support the needs of students with visual difficulties. The specialist curriculum includes Braille teaching, specialist ICT teaching, touch-typing, mobility training and an accredited programme for the delivery of Independent Living Skills in order to prepare students as fully as possible for life after school. The school’s Mobility staff and braille transcribers also support visually impaired students across the city within mainstream schools.

Some Primary and Secondary aged pupils within the school benefit from working regularly alongside fully sighted pupils in mainstream Infant, Junior and Secondary schools while other students require greater access to the specialist curriculum, delivered by specialist staff, and a modified curriculum, adapted to meet the pace and learning style most suited to their individual needs.

Pupils at Priestley Smith School are drawn from a wide area which extends beyond the city boundaries into Solihull, Wolverhampton, Dudley and Sandwell. All the pupils at the school have severe sight loss and a number of them have additional physical or learning difficulties. The curriculum is highly differentiated to meet the needs of each individual student and ensures that every child progresses to his or her full potential. All teaching staff at the school are qualified teachers of the visually impaired, and both teaching and support staff have extensive knowledge of modifying concepts and tasks to make them fully accessible to visually impaired students.

Priestley Smith School believes implicitly in the value of first hand experiences as the key to real learning. Visits and visitors form an essential part of the routine of the school, with hands-on activities forming the major pathway to understanding. For example, students studying the Victorians do not just study materials from books or video but visit historical sites where they dress up as Victorians, spend time in a Victorian schoolroom, do the laundry and cooking as it would have been done in Victorian times. Students studying art and design visit Wedgwood, take part in textile work with artists in residence and work with puppeteers to design and make their own puppets. The students are fully engaged in the curriculum and thoroughly enjoy their learning.

A number of secondary pupils have achieved remarkable successes in GCSE results, with a mix and match approach to the delivery of courses, some being taught within a mainstream setting, others within Priestley Smith. In 2008 and 2009 two Year 11 students left the school with 10 GCSEs at A*-C, some of them at A grade. Five pupils left the school with 5-9 GCSEs each.

The school day is enriched by a variety of clubs and activities, some of them running outside school hours e.g. Sports Club, offering pupils choices in their leisure time. We have also recently started an ex-pupils support group which meets in school in the evenings and has proved to be very popular.

Headteacher, Helen Porter says, Priestley Smith School plays an essential role in providing very specialist teaching for students with visual impairment. All students are supported to progress to their full potential and the outstanding results obtained in all phases of the school reflect the very high quality teaching and learning that takes place. Priestley Smith is a fantastic school, which improves the life chances of all the students it supports. While all the pupils have a visual impairment, they are taught within the school to challenge any barriers placed before them and to realise that, while they might tackle a task in a different way to their peers, all things are possible. Their visual disability does not define who they are. The school aims to produce confident and independent young people, and as any visitor to the school can quickly see as they meet the students, this aim is fully realised.