Treloar school for disabled young people recently marked its 100th year. It aims to help pupils thrive, not to “hide behind their disabilities”. Amy Taylor reports
With its gleaming shrines to capital and sharp-suited high flyers, the City of London is not often associated with social care. But with its ancient traditions of governance and welfare the area has links to many charities.
Treloar’s school and college for disabled young people is a fine example. Set in the Hampshire countryside near Alton and run by charity the Treloar Trust, the school was opened in September 1908 by William Treloar, the lord mayor of the City of London in 1906. One century later, the organisation’s connections with the Square Mile continue with every lord mayor being an honorary trustee of the school.
The school has about 100 pupils aged between seven and 16 with complex and sometimes multiple physical disabilities. Some also have a communication or sensory impairment and associated learning difficulties. Cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy are the most common conditions. There is a medical centre on site and three quarters of the children are boarders.
Graham Jowett, head of education at the school and college, says that in previous years pupils had conditions including haemophilia and disabilities relating to thalidomide. He adds that the number of children with complex needs is growing.
“Treloar has always developed to meet the needs of people whose needs weren’t being met elsewhere,” he says.
The school is non-maintained and the vast majority of the pupils are referred and funded by local authorities. Many parents have to battle for their children’s placements due to the expense involved and because some local authorities think the child would be better served in a mainstream school or a special school run by the council itself.
Jowett says that these may be the right options for some disabled children but that for others highly specialist provision is required. He adds that mainstream schools are often unable to fully integrate some disabled children in lessons such as PE.
“There are some children whose needs are so complex we feel it’s better to have all the services and expertise in one place so you can treat the child in an individual way,” he says. “One student said to me how [at mainstream school] she had a middle-aged woman carrying her laptop round and opening doors for her – everybody thought she was her mum.”
Alongside education, pupils’ health and therapy needs are also met on site. Each one has their own physiotherapist, while occupational, speech and language therapy is also provided. Medication is administered by paediatric nurses based at the medical centre and doctors and consultants come to the school rather than vice versa.
Jowett says this not only keeps children in an environment they know, it also cuts out travelling to appointments preventing interruptions to their lessons.
Each pupil has a programme tailored to their needs, such as receiving physiotherapy each morning before school, and attending lessons in line with their ability. This means some pupils do GCSEs and others carry out activities to develop life skills.
Having so many facilities on site, including accommodation, can be a double-edged sword with pupils potentially having few reasons to engage with the outside world. But Jane Headford, assistant headteacher at the school says that the pupils and the staff “don’t just sit at the top of this hill” (where the school is located instead they mix with the local community and regularly visiting Alton.
Sport is another area in which pupils are encouraged to take part – this year three former pupils won medals at the Paralympic Games in Beijing. Ben Rushgrove took silver in the 100 metres and David Smith and Dan Bentley were part of the gold medal winning boccia team, a sport for disabled athletes similar to boules and pétanque. Smith was also the BBC’s disabled sports personality of the year in 2007.
The school has an elected head boy and girl, Habib Cham and Jessica Rutter. Both attended mainstream school before coming to Treloar and feel they are better served by its specialist provision. Their role is to listen to the pupils and represent them on any concerns or issues they may have.
“People tell me about anything that is worrying them and I will try and help them,” Cham says.
Social workers are often accused of failing to allow disabled people to take risks and as a result not allowing them to lead full lives. Jowett says because staff at the school know the children’s conditions so well the opposite is true with young people being encouraged to be as independent as possible. He says that the young people also spur each other on.
“Because we know so much about the young peoples’ disabilities sometimes we can take more risks than in other places,” he says. “It’s not a place where you can hide behind your disability.”
This article is published in the 30 October 2008 edition of Community Care under the headline “100 years of fighting solitude”