Venturers’ Academy (VA) has been shortlisted for the Alternative Provision School of the Year title at the Tes Schools Awards 2021.
The national accolade is welcome recognition for the special school, which opened five years ago and has grown rapidly.
Venturers’ Academy has the motto ‘Where Everything’s Possible’. Students regularly surpass expectations: taking part in a tall ships voyage around Britain and participating in national talent contests, for example.
The Tes awards are for 2019-20, when all schools were forced to send most students to learn at home. This was challenging for many pupils and families, but especially so for children with autism, who find changes in routine difficult.
At Venturers’ Academy, which at the time had 140 students aged from four to 15, all of whom had autism, with speech, language and communication difficulties, the Covid-19 crisis meant working with each individual, whether in school or at home, to ensure that all their needs, including high quality personalised learning, were met.
During the first lockdown, the school, which is part of Venturers Trust, was also keen to make sure that everyone had enough to eat. More than half of VA children are from disadvantaged backgrounds and travel to school from across Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset, so staff drove minibuses for 200 miles a day to deliver food hampers and stimulating learning resources.
Head of School Steve Hobden said: “The biggest challenge of lockdown was implementing remote learning for complex learners – but our staff are used to being flexible and adaptable and they met the challenge head-on with innovative solutions.
“We continued to deliver our child-centred curriculum, providing students with cultural capital and promoting community cohesion. In addition, all therapeutic interventions including speech and language, occupational therapy and dance – moved online, so children didn’t miss out.
“Lockdown created many positives too. For example, staff learned new skills and our relationships with parents grew stronger and more collaborative. We supported clinically vulnerable children who had to remain at home, while for many, a blended approach of some days in class and some learning at home worked really well.
“I’m immensely proud of the model of good practice we achieved. It’s carrying us forward as we strive for further transformational impact on the lives of our young people.”
Trystan Williams, the Trust’s Executive Lead for Special and Primary Education and Principal of Venturers’ Academy, said: “It’s wonderful that the dedication and commitment shown by our staff and pupils has been acknowledged by this shortlisting for the prestigious Tes Alternative Provision School of the Year award.”
Venturers’ Academy opened in 2016 with 54 pupils. From this September, it will have 220, including the school’s first sixth-formers. It has recently moved into £13.2 million new premises in Gatehouse Avenue, alongside Merchants’ Academy mainstream primary and secondary school. It also operates from a site in Withywood Road and another in St Anne’s Park, next to The Kingfisher School. Venturers Trust is sponsored by the Society of Merchant Venturers and the University of Bristol.
David Watson, OBE, Chief Executive of Venturers Trust, said: “We firmly believe that all children from all backgrounds can succeed when they have access to a high-quality education alongside potentially life-changing opportunities. The pupils and staff at Venturers’ Academy bring their motto ‘Where Everything’s Possible’ to life on a daily basis and they are nothing short of an inspiration. I’m delighted that their hard work and innovative approach to teaching and learning is being recognised on a national platform by such a well-respected organisation.”
Tes Editor Jon Severs said: “It is more important this year than ever before to celebrate the fantastic work schools do, because in the past 12 months they have gone above and beyond to ensure pupils were able to be educated and be kept safe in extraordinary circumstances.
“We were inundated with entries that demonstrated just how hard the pandemic made the work of schools, and just how amazing the response from staff has been. We are looking forward to showcasing, as we do every year, just how vital our education professionals are to every facet of this country.”
The awards ceremony will be held online on Friday June 25. To see the full awards shortlist, visit tesawards.co.uk.
Photo caption: Pupils and staff from Venturers’ Academy taking part in a sailing expedition around the coast of the UK.