Inside our specialist school – by deputy head Laura Smith

Laura Smith, Deputy Head of Hillcrest Shifnal specialist school, answers our questions on her school and the education it offers pupils…

Could you tell us a little about the history of Hillcrest Shifnal School?

Hillcrest Shifnal School is a Department for Education-registered independent school operated by Outcomes First Group – a leading specialist provider of education and care services to children, young people and adults with autism, complex needs, learning disabilities and SEMH (social, emotional and mental health needs). We have been based in rural Shropshire for just over ten years and during that time have extended the number of students on roll and the range of needs we meet. 

How old are your pupils?

We cater for students from 7-19 years old with our designated primary and secondary departments, in addition to a specialist sixth form that offers post-compulsory education.

What kind of needs do your pupils have?

Our pupils have a variety of needs – many have Education, Health and Care plans in place stating that they have SEMH and/or other associated learning difficulties. Our clinical team also supports young people who have had traumatic childhoods or difficult beginnings. Laura Smith, deputy head at Hillcrest Shifnal specialist school

Do pupils live on-site?

Although we have some day pupils, most of our students live in our Hillcrest residential homes based near the school. Our residential homes range from rural, highly supportive environments to more urban semi-independent environments focused on developing life skills.

What facilities and expertise does the school offer to help children and their families?

We are incredibly blessed here at Hillcrest Shifnal with superb surroundings, facilities and staff expertise. We base our specialist support on the PACE approach (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy) and we pay close attention to previous life and school experiences. Our small class sizes (averaging four per class) mean that the teacher and support staff can give each student the individualised attention and education they require. It is important to balance pupils’ development by teaching functional as well as academic skills, and our vocational and outdoor approach to learning is crucial here. Working partnerships are vital for our students’ success, so we maintain close contact with parents and carers. Our on-site multi-disciplinary clinical team work with students to reduce potential barriers to learning and maximise personal achievements.

Could you provide a case study of a pupil who has achieved well at the school?

‘D’ - Year 6 student


D joined as a Year 5 pupil in March 2017 from a residential SEMH school. He had not been in full-time education for some years and was educated with a cohort of much older girls. Initial assessment showed huge deficits in D’s subject knowledge, very poor engagement and low level literacy difficulties. To add to this, he was intolerant of peers and regularly aggressive to staff and himself, which resulted in a negative perception of him as a learner and a friend. 

D had a restricted timetable on the basis of CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and clinical advice due to his disassociation; he received an hour of education on a 2:1 basis daily which focused on social skills rather than academic subjects. 


D is in class full-time and makes academic progress across all subjects. Instead of full-time one-to-one support, he may have additional support allocated dependent on the lesson task. D is much calmer and often chooses to go to a quiet space and use developed strategies and sensory objects rather than resort to self-harming behaviour. At a recent PEP (Personal Education Plan) meeting D stated he loves school and feels part of a team. 

What plans does the school have in store for the 2018/19 school year?

This is an exciting school year: our Access and Transitions Centre is due to open which will offer additional pastoral, behavioural and academic support to meet more intense needs. We also want to maximise the potential to return students to mainstream provision before completing primary, so we are hoping to lower our age of registration to five years old. 

In terms of teaching, staff are introducing A.R.R.O.W. (Aural – Read – Respond – Oral - Write) a highly evidenced literacy intervention, as well as Catch Up Literacy and Numeracy that both have positive research bases amongst Looked After Children. 

In secondary, our gym is due to be completed shortly and will be used as part of the GCSE curriculum. We will also offer BTEC level 1 and 2 in Animal Care thanks to major developments in this department. Our well-established outdoor education department has been extended via the opening of an offsite provision which will allow students to study for a John Muir Award.

For more information on Hillcrest Shifnal ​specialist school, see


January 9, 2019

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