An all-inclusive culture
As the largest provider of English-medium education learning support in Hong Kong, ESF offers a comprehensive range of support structures for children whose individual learning needs range from requiring minimal support to complex learning and developmental disorders and physical disabilities.
Believing that all children have the right to an education appropriate to their needs, Special Education Needs (SEN) programmes are an extensive and integrated part of the ESF’s commitment to helping all children fulfil their full potential. The Foundation currently offers 105 primary and 120 secondary school learning support places, as well as 70 places at the purpose-built, Jockey Club Sarah Roe School (JCSRS) for children with profound and multiple complex learning difficulties.
JCSRS offers a dynamic and balanced curriculum that aligns with the learning experiences in other ESF schools. The school is named after Sarah Roe, an occupational therapist who ran the predecessor of the JCSRS.
"One of the many rewarding aspects of being a therapist at JCSRS is seeing the students make progress and achieve their goals," says Bianca Brown, Physiotherapist. She believes JCSRS is unique in that it is the only international school in Hong Kong that provides a full team of therapists to support the education of each student. In line with leading practice the teachers and therapists work collaboratively to plan, deliver and assess learning.
Nicki Holmes, ESF’s Inclusion Team Leader explains that there are different levels of SEN support depending on each child’s individual needs. For example, many students can attend regular classes with additional support; some may also participate in small group learning with modified curriculums, and some students receive personalised programmes and more extensive and individualised support.
Nicki says ESF is working on increasing "inclusive classroom learning” where children with and without SEN learn and participate together. "It’s an area where we have made a lot of progress over the last few years," she says. "Because the philosophy of inclusive education is aimed at helping all children learn, everyone benefits. The children without SEN, in particular, learn about the positive aspects of diversity and respect for others."
This inclusion-based philosophy is made possible through exceptional levels of commitment and coordinated teamwork. SEN professionals work closely with students and their families, teachers and ESF's network of classroom educational assistants (EAs), who work under a teacher's supervision to provide students additional attention and instruction.
In addition to on-going networking opportunities, every year ESF designs and delivers in-house continuous professional development (CPD) courses for SEN professionals, teachers and EAs. They can also attend workshops, seminars and special focus courses throughout the year. "Because of the size and scale of the ESF's SEN programmes, experts and therapists are able to share insights and practices with the wider Hong Kong SEN community," says Nicki.
Gail Wright, Head of Individual Needs at West Island School takes pride in her school’s motto, "strength through diversity".
"Whether they are arts, music, drama or English teachers, they support the needs of SEN students and adjust their teaching methods for all learners," says Gail, stressing that ESF’s support for students with SEN extends beyond the classroom. The Work and Life-skills Pathway programme, for instance, allows students to gain some real-world work experience. "Our students work in many sectors across all facets of the community," says Wright.
Meanwhile, John Brewster, Kennedy School Principal says ESF is proud of the fact that non-differential school fees for SEN students are as they are for everyone else. "SEN is not an add-on, it is inclusive in what we do," says John.
Belinda McLaughlin, ESF Kindergarten and Primary SEN Adviser says ESF kindergartens have a designated SEN co-ordinator to ensure that students with SEN are catered for at an early stage. "A key aim is to support students with additional learning needs throughout their education journey, which includes a well planned transition from kindergarten to primary school," she says.