When we talk about leadership, educators are leaders within their own right. Their role is to innovate, motivate, manage, and above all: lead by example. This week, the Leaders Council has reached out to SEND school and bespoke alternative education provider, Riverside Education, to explore how its unique approach to teaching and leading those with complex special educational needs can provide its pupils with the best chance of succeeding in life.
Riverside Education is a Birmingham-based SEND school that caters for 100 young people in the 14-to-19 age range who all come with a diverse set of special educational needs. These include Asperger’s syndrome, autistic spectrum disorders, behavioural, emotional, and social difficulties, anxiety, mental health disorders and more. Others have neurological processing problems such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia, which severely affects their ability to retain rudimentary reading, writing and mathematics skills. Students also have issues that affect higher-level skills such as organisation, time management, abstract reasoning, long or short-term memory and attention.
The philosophy of how to teach and manage these pupils, that underpins everything that Riverside does, is borne out of co-founder and headteacher Dr Abide Zenenga’s [pictured] own personal experience of parenting a child with complex special educational needs.
Indeed, inspired by his experiences, Dr Zenenga established Riverside with a commitment to explore innovative teaching methodologies and push boundaries in order to challenge detrimental educational barriers and ensure those with SEND needs can lead as fulfilling a life as possible.
Speaking to The Parliamentary Review, Dr Zenenga explained that Riverside promotes the traditional family values of honesty, integrity, and respect in its teachings, and strives to ensure that the education provided to its pupils is a bespoke one and leads to real-world opportunities after they leave.
“We work with students in and around the city of Birmingham, the majority of whom have been permanently excluded from mainstream education and other alternative learning provisions due to issues with social interaction, communication, behaviour and disaffection”, Dr Zenenga outlined.
“Our flexible and autonomous approach works to support and remove disadvantages by providing our young people with a range of bespoke academic, vocational and technical curriculums, autonomous and flexible timetables, a range of stimulating learning environments, small-group teaching, personalised one-to-one mentoring and therapeutic and academic interventions, to enable students to overcome daily challenges and to achieve success not only in school, but also at home, at work and in the community.”
A young woman known as Alice, who first came to Riverside in the year 2018, is one of Dr Zenenga’s pupils who has gone on to achieve success in her career and enhance her life prospects, all thanks to the Riverside philosophy.
Alice, like many of Riverside’s pupils, came to the school after struggling to settle in mainstream education. Since year 8, her life in standard education has been sporadic, with her induction into Riverside offering some much-needed stability for the first time.
Dr Zenenga recalled: “Upon arriving at Riverside, Alice was instantly made to feel at home thanks to the school’s bespoke programmes and she was able to finally settle into her education.”
Having quickly become accustomed to her studies in Psychology and Art at Riverside, Alice was soon able to showcase her talents in the subject and blossom into an excellent student. Her settling in was helped by the Riverside mantra of ensuring all students feel a sense of belonging and are actively taught and encouraged to participate in all decisions that affect them and their education.
Alice would go on to complete two years of full-time education at Riverside and was supported by her tutors and the school’s dedicated mental health team throughout her course.
Through her hard work, dedication, and the support of Riverside, Alice flourished in her education and attained an AS level in Psychology and a GCSE in Art.
What makes the Riverside way unique, however, is that Alice’s journey with them did not end once she had grades in hand. The next task for Alice and the school was to seek out her next big opportunity in life.
As well as helping its pupils access qualifications, Riverside Education ensures that it provides its pupils with employability skills training through its sixth form and offers opportunities to take part in designated work placements built around their personal requirements.
In one of the school’s most recent expansions, Riverside Education acquired a farm provision in the rural setting of Kings Norton just outside Birmingham. The farm uses agriculture and the natural environment to reach out to young people experiencing serious issues and plays host to a new work-based learning initiative that the school has rolled out.
“The Riverside Education Work-Based Learning Programme provides disaffected young people with new and exciting opportunities to acquire competencies such as positive work attitudes and other employability and transferable skills by actively working on our school farm”, Dr Zenenga explained.
“This unique programme has been designed to help remove social and emotional barriers faced by many young people today.”
The launching of the programme came at an ample time in Alice’s professional life. With volunteers needed to help run the scheme, Riverside saw fit to approach her with the offer of a role at the farm.
Gladly accepting, Alice has since flourished as a member of the Riverside team and become a valued volunteer member, impressing so much that she has now been offered full-time employment with the school as an Education Mentor.
For Alice, Riverside has not only delivered a stable education and work experience, but also full-time employment itself.
With a smile, Dr Zenenga said: “All it takes is a little time and encouragement for those who struggle to ensure that they reach their full potential. At Riverside Education, this is our passion.
“Our drive and ambition is to create a rich educational approach that tries to remove the detrimental educational barriers faced by many young people in Britain today, and we believe we are doing that.”