Getting a feel for numeracy: haptic numbers in SEND teaching practice

Over a 9 month process, as part of the My Creative School Programme, Martine Bruce-Linton and artist Tash Cossey collaborated on a Creative Catalyst Project for Priory Special School in Upper Norwood, Croydon. Here they reflect on the specific context of the school, the project process and learnings in conversation.

13 June 2018

(Photo credit: Lou Barnell)

Over a 9 month process, as part of the My Creative School Programme,
Martine Bruce-Linton and artist Tash Cossey collaborated on a Creative Catalyst Project for Priory Special School in Upper Norwood, Croydon.

Their project explored how new approaches to teaching numeracy could support pupils to develop meaningful connections with the passing of time. Below they reflect on the specific context of the school, the project process and learnings in conversation.

Martine: Priory is a special needs secondary school- 11 to post 19 and we
have a cross range of students with complex needs, it’s a new
build school, built on the old site. It has a wide range of facilities
to support the students.

Tash: it’s a big school

Martine: Yes! Three floors, playground, a forest school, art block and a sensory lodge.

Tash: What range of staff do you have? - I have noticed on my visits there is a big body of staff

Martine: as well as teachers and normal body of staff that you would find in a school we have on site therapists and a nurse.

Tash: I have also noticed there are lots of varied and large school events
Martine: We have built up a large body of events and now have an arts
calendar - it’s a lot of work but the students and staff really enjoy
the events, we are just coming up to ‘Glasto Priory’ which will take
place in July.

Tash: We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the importance of finding
meaningful ways to support student’s connection with numeracy.
This involves considering their present and future needs in real ‘applied’ ways. Could you explain a bit what you mean by ‘applied
ways’, Martine?

Martine: Sure. In SEND teaching the curriculum has to be bespoke to the
student and wherever possible it is life skilled related to support
students to become as independent as possible.

Tash: We have discussed that curriculum is actually a bit of hot potato for discussion in SEND settings…

Martine: Yes! at the moment we are thinking of total restructure for our
classes, moving more into learning pathways so that we can
support students’ different learning styles. The idea is that this
would make the subject content of the lesson accessible to every
student whilst allowing the student to be as independent as
possible in each activity.

Tash: So, with this in mind, why is it important for the school to explore new approaches to numeracy?

Martine: Numeracy cannot be taught in a traditional way with our students, Learning recognition of numbers or handling amounts is very
important however, for this to be a meaningful learning process,
these skills have to be applied to everyday living and topics of
importance to our students and their lives. We do try to do this as much as possible but there’s always room for improvement and this was the perfect opportunity to think outside of the box to make our maths curriculum more exciting, emotive and impactful for our students. For me it was really interesting working with someone who doesn’t normally work with special needs to do this. Being able to bounce ideas around and explore new, sensory materials that our students can access has been really great.
In fact this was the starting point of our investigation, using new,
sensory, accessible materials to explore numeracy and time.

Tash: We spent some time exploring this with just the two of us and
then worked together to recruit a team of Creative Pioneers -
Teaching and Learning Support Assistants who have an interest in
arts-led approaches or a personal creative practice.

Martine: I thought it would be a fantastic idea to choose four staff members, from across the school to work on 4 individual projects.

Tash: Why?

Martine: We don’t have many CPD opportunities within the school- we do
send staff on courses and also arrange visits to museums and
galleries but we never have in house training so this was a unique
opportunity to help more people (not just me!) to flex their
creative muscles - to explore, experiment and develop their
teaching practice.

Tash: Some of the feedback from the Creative Pioneers has definitely
evidenced that Martine – they have been reflecting on how
valuable it is to plan with another person, to have someone to
bounce ideas around with before having to take it straight into the

Martine: What I found quite interesting is that we were able to start with a
brief but then the Creative Pioneers were able to develop their
initial ideas through working with the students. This made the
activities really responsive and accessible for a wider range of

Tash: I thought the discussion around sharing ‘works in progress’ and
allowing things to change was really useful too. It was a really key
part of the learning curve - allowing the catalyst project to grow
and building in space for it to be much more student-led.
Sharing works in progress asks for real bravery and I think that this
part of the process was really influential in increasing the
Pioneers’ confidence.

Tash: The 4 ideas were developed with each Creative Pioneer over the
course of a series of one to one C.P.D sessions. This gave us opportunity to discover an individual’s passions and points of interest and then to encourage these to evolve into class-based explorations with their pupils. The Pioneers chose to work with Performance art/installation, photography and movement, sensory living tapestry and creative timelines – using what I thought was a surprisingly wide range of mediums and techniques.

Martine: This was the most interesting bit for me. Each Pioneer was invited
to make a creative response to the theme, something like a mood
board which represented their personal connections and
inspirations to the theme. We were then able to help ‘match’
these with potential sensory based art materials through our
follow up meetings.

Tash: I then went away and sourced the materials for them… The giving of the resources gifts was a great joy for me and I know that the pioneers left that session feeling that they had been listened to and that their ideas had value for the students and the wider school community.

Martine: It was interesting to see how enthusiastic the pioneers where
about the resources and the ideas that they were generating to
plan the use in their projects. One pioneer reflected, after her project was well under way, that one of her student’s was now able to comprehend seconds passing- as a result of the salt pouring movement workshop.
Another reflected that the passing of time had been clearly
understood by watching the Cress grow, spread, go dry and then
die on their ‘living tapestry’.

Tash: Looking back, how do you think that the Creative Pioneers benefitted from the opportunity?

Martine: I really hope they will use what they have learnt in their planning
as an alternative approach to cross curricular planning-setting and
also in relation to their students’ targets. This would be a fantastic and meaningful way of achieving targets and of evidencing and
recording progress in learning.

Tash: What I have noticed whilst working in Priory is that creative
teaching approaches seem to underlie all SEND curriculum
teaching but that often there isn’t enough time/space/resource to
be able to explore new possible techniques, connections or
materials. It has made me think that the beauty of teaching
creatively is that the possibilities become endless.


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