Charlton Park Academy
Situated in a leafy part of Charlton just by the park, Charlton Park Academy is the Special Academy for students with 'complex, low incidence' special educational needs in Greenwich. With numbers of children needing a specialist place growing locally, Jo and Viv decided to take a closer look at the school and what it has to offer.
We've visited many times for parent events but this was our first full guided tour. Easy parking on pleasant streets nearby meant the visit got off to a good start. Our first impression was of low purpose built buildings right next to a riding school, and a short distance from street to entrance. There's a nice human feel about the place, a warmth which sets you at ease straight away when you reach reception. Headteacher Mark Dale-Emberton met us at the door and we set off on our journey on the school, meeting young people, staff and teachers along the way. Mark's been building and improving this school and atmosphere now for 18 years. It's a commitment which shows in the very stable staffing, many teachers have been working there for years.
There's plenty of space; it feels easy to move about and of course, very accessible. Children moving here from mainstream primary schools will notice the difference! The walls are colourful with many images of students enjoying school life. Activity and business are evident, the students' work appears in every space; little garden areas, art, children on physiotherapy programs circuiting the passageways, the start of lunch preparations. It all feels very lively and friendly, with a strong sense of purpose, and of children going places.
We were lucky enough to visit some of the classrooms to see teaching in progress. The level of focus on activities was striking. We met a class working on metals in a fully equipped Technology lab. We were impressed by the way students in this higher ability class talked about their work and engaged with their teacher. It seemed the sort of class anyone would want to join in! Moving into the areas for children with a higher level of need, we saw evidence of the great care that's taken with supporting physical and medical needs so that they can get on with learning. There's a carefully planned IEP for everyone and the resources and equipment to deliver it.
Although teaching groups are small and highly differentiated according to ability there's no sense of segregation. Everyone mixes happily and seems to know each other. In the sunny lunch hall Mark introduced us to catering staff who have been there since the school first set up. The commitment and passion of staff seemed to be us the most striking aspect of the school, and perhaps why there's such a noticeable family atmosphere. Speaking to parents outside of the visit, it's something that gets mentioned again and again.
We saw a good example of this in the Art Room. Professional artist and teacher Grant Watson was supervising a small class of impressive students, some of whom may be taking art up to AS level. The young people were focused on creating simple prints using glass and drawing, and by the time we arrived had made many beautiful images. We looked around at the fantastic bronze sculptures made by past students. The quality of the artwork was outstanding and worthy of any art college display.
Then on to visit the cafe, where some students also take part on preparing lunches as part of their learning. Lively and well organised, and most of all a cheery place which accommodates everyones needs, diets and personalities.
We noticed during our visits, and by talking to Mark, that children are constantly engaged with projects and organisations outside school. From taking part in local art shows, to work experience schemes, to participating in the latest London-wide initiatives. This is partly a product of the strong links fostered over time by this well-established school and also of the initiative of Mark and his staff - who are always on the look out for great opportunities for their young people.
The last stop was the nurses' room. Parents of children with medical needs will be reassured by this well-equipped medical facility and fully trained Oxleas NHS nurses, available all day. It's like stepping into a doctor's clinic. It's great that children can get on with their school day safely with this level of support onsite.
There isn't space here to list all the aspects of what the school provides, and all the great things that children get up to as they prepare for adulthood. However our impression is of a really safe pair of hands for our children, wonderful staff, forward thinking, lots of incredible opportunities and above all a real sense of family. We think you need to go and see for yourself!