Side by Side Integrated Nursery and Special School was founded by Mrs Rebecca Rumpler OBE, an Orthodox Jew, in 1997. Following her son’s diagnosis of Downs Syndrome, she realised that there was no school that could cater for his special educational needs in a supportive environment that encouraged the Jewish, religious ethos that was present in her own home. Mrs Rumpler envisioned a nursery that provided a specialist education for children with learning difficulties and disabilities learning alongside mainstream children, whilst maintaining Jewish ethos, culture and knowledge so that pupils could become contributing members in their local community and in the wider society.
What began 20 years ago as therapeutic play sessions for local neighbourhood children in Mrs Rumpler’s own lounge, has grown and flourished into a thriving integrated nursery and special school, recognised by OFSTED as ‘Good’ in all categories and praised for its ‘pupil-centred ethos’, that today educates over 80 pupils, accounting for each of their unique abilities. Mrs Rumpler has since been recognised with an OBE for her contribution to Special Educational Needs.
At the start of 2018, the school was inspected by OFSTED and the report highlighted the pupils’ outstanding behaviour, eagerness to demonstrate their learning and the tangible and vibrant way in which they ‘love their school’. Additionally, the inspectors noted the deep trust that parents and carers placed in the school and how the school management were determined to celebrate every achievement through attractive displays on the school walls. The inspector noted how all the children are ‘made to feel special, successful and safe […] yet at the same time, leaders balance this excellent level of care and nurture with high expectations of pupils’ learning, behaviour and progress.’ The running theme throughout the report was Side by Side’s mission to champion each child and treat them as a unique and worthwhile individual.
The school and Integrated Nursery is structured in three tiers. The first being the integrated nursery for children aged 2-5, which offers an inclusive and supportive environment for children with special needs, some more complex than others, and children who could be educated in mainstream schools. Acceptance, understanding, patience and tolerance are not abstract ideas which we teach to our pupils, rather they are principles by which they live every day through the nursery’s structure and curriculum. .
The Primary school department offers specialist educational and therapeutic intervention for children aged 5-11, whilst the Senior school educates the older pupils. All pupils have an EHCP and the programmes are designed to meet the specific needs of each child.
Small class sizes, high staff-pupil ratios, a broad and thorough teaching curriculum, with an emphasis on numeracy, literacy and social skills, as well as a comprehensive Judaic Studies programme, all delivered by highly qualified and caring staff, creates an unparalleled educational environment in which pupils thrive.
From the start of the day right up until one rests their head to sleep, the Jewish day is structured according to Jewish practice and traditions. At Side by Side, this is reflected in whatever the children are doing, whether during secular studies or Jewish lessons. Parents send their children to Side by Side with the expectation that they will benefit not only from the special educational programmes and therapies, from the Jewish environment and be educated in accordance with this.
To this end, the management coordinate and design programmes to enable the pupils to experience and develop a deeper understanding of the Jewish culture which underpins the school and their lives. Since the Jewish year is structured according to a yearly cycle of festivals and a weekly cycle of Shabbat, the school curriculum reflects this calendar and it our priority to utilise each opportunity to create an engaging and spiritual experience for our pupils.
As part of the Judaic curriculum, pupils learn about the weekly Torah portion ahead of its reading in Synagogue on the coming Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. During their family’s festive Shabbat meal, pupils are proud to share their knowledge of the key events of that week’s Torah portion and they are able to participate in discussion. The school’s curriculum emphasises the experiential aspect of Judaism, so we replicate the Shabbat meal during school on Friday.
In advance of each Festival, pupils produce artistic creations covering different themes connected to the Festival and learn about the different aspects. The emphasis is on both knowledge and experience so that our pupils can become active in their family and communal life.
The festival of Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabean army over the invading Greeks and the rededication of the light in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. To commemorate the miracle of the light lasting eight nights, it is customary to light an 8- branched candelabra, called a menorah for the duration of the eight days of the festival. Every day during the festival, we conduct a Menorah lighting ceremony where we sing traditional songs and eat the foods associated with the festival. Through this, our pupils recognise their family’s celebrations and are involved in the process.
In addition to the strong Jewish cultural experience that is intrinsic to the school, teaching of British values is also essential to the curriculum. According to the OFSTED report, ‘the curriculum is well designed to meet pupils’ needs and has a positive impact on their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. It includes all the required areas of learning as well as daily Jewish studies.’ Our teachers incorporate British values and reflect the diversity of the community within the UK as part of the curriculum so that our children can become well-rounded citizens.
As part of the school’s commitment to ensuring its pupils can live as independently as possible, pupils work towards achieving nationally-recognised qualifications such as ASDAN in employability and social and personal development, and work experience placements are coordinated according to pupils’ interests. Educational visits, including to museums and wildlife reserves, are scheduled into the learning schedule so that the children can contextualise their learning. As part of their timetables, certain pupils have created a library from scratch which they manage as a team on a weekly basis. Initiatives such as these instil confidence in our pupils as they witness their ideas and creativity coming to fruition.
These are just some of the ways in which Side by Side provides a specialist, dual curriculum, focusing on Jewish and secular studies, for children with special needs. Our lessons and activities are differentiated according to the level and ability of each child, and for children with more complex needs, the sessions are sensory-based and aim to link the Jewish aspect to daily skills. Every activity, lesson, workshop and presentation are planned with the hope of ‘preparing pupils well for their futures’ (OFSTED 2018).