Did you know that horse riding offers tremendous benefits for pupils with severe learning difficulties? This article considers an innovative approach to widening education access to include more pupils, including those who struggle with a real-life horse, and those with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).
To begin with, it is useful to consider the benefits of horse riding. “The therapeutic benefits of riding are numerous and as well as the physical benefits of improving posture, becoming stronger and helping riders to become more supple, exercising with a horse is great fun! You can improve your awareness, communication, confidence and decision making, as well as enjoy activities with a community of like-minded people.” (RDA, 2018).
There is such a wide range of benefits to horse riding that it is easiest to provide some bullet points!
Within an educational setting, it is always important to consider the impact of an intervention, and this is no different.
“In addition to providing cardiovascular benefits, decreased physiological stress is associated with animal interaction, contributing to better overall health.” - Pets Are Wonderful Support, 2007
With regards to the outcomes for pupils the photographs speak for themselves with reference to the therapeutic impact of horse riding “...offering stable work and riding to adolescents in an environment with a supportive adult and peers may benefit their psychological development.” - Hauge, H. Et al (2013).
A member of staff reflecting about one pupil commented that, “She benefitted by starting to overcome her fear of the horse. On the last visit she actually entered the sand school and was coaxed up to the horse to touch it. She has been desensitised”.
Riding also provides an additional opportunity for that all important increased physical activity to manage a pupils weight and therefore can be important part of a pupils PE package. There is also a more formal aspect to horse riding; the opportunity to gain some recognition for their achievements! Pupils have achieved a number of AQA Pre-Entry level awards that are available including:
The majority of these awards were achieved by pupils with severe learning difficulties. Very few pupils with PMLD were able to access the horse riding, and for some pupils the prospect of engaging with a live animal was a step too far (though there were some who conquered their fears over a few weeks, and this had been their target). Barriers for pupils with PMLD included the inability to hoist pupils, the limited physical support available from the saddles, and the less controlled environment that provided specific risks for some pupils.
“Many studies have indicated the beneficial effects in the rehabilitation of patients with diverse disabilities… The combination of a horse riding simulator and the concept of hippotherapy led to a new form of rehabilitation.” - Baillet, H. Et al, (2016).
The idea of buying a mechanical horse simulator was born. This would be indoors in a more controlled environment (and with hoisting available), would provide an introduction to horse riding to those who had a fear of the live animals, and would enable the school to find ways of providing access to pupils with more complex needs. There was a problem, though: horse simulators, used by professional horse riders, are rather expensive. A fundraising initiative - ’Tonto’ - was born, and the riding simulator along with a horse riding instructor were all set up to hit the floor galloping for the start of the 2017/18 academic year.
There are now in place a number of AQA Pre-Entry level awards for a horse simulator, including:
Here is an example of one of these awards:
To achieve the introduction to riding a horse simulator, the pupil will have demonstrated the ability to:
Improved access. The horse riding sessions continue, but in addition there are now at least 30 pupils accessing weekly riding lessons with a qualified riding instructor on the simulator. These pupils are now able to access many of the benefits considered at the start of this article. Some of them will progress to the real horse riding lessons.
Increased accreditation. In addition to the awards achieved through horse riding, at the time of writing pupils are working towards the awards relating to the horse simulator.
Therapeutic benefits. With regards to the outcomes for pupils the photographs speak for themselves with reference to the therapeutic impact of the simulator. Anecdotal evidence, however, includes comments from staff, parents and pupils, including:
“When he first got on Tonto he was very nervous, and did not want me to let go of his hands and back. By end of first session, he was riding independently. He had a further four sessions and wanted to try a faster walk. This lasted about 20 seconds, then he asked to go back to a slower walk. Then he went off-site horse riding, and actually rode the horse for the whole session, with only the horse leader for verbal support. These were great achievement in such a short space of time.”
This was especially impressive as during the home visit, his mum said that he was scared of horses. The family own a horse, and he had fallen off of the trap and refused to go near the horse or ride again!
For two pupils, “it helped them to be focussed and calm upon returning to class. Attention and focus has improved over the course of the term within the riding lessons. All of them now remain on for the whole lesson, developing their riding skills, and also their focus and ability to follow verbal instructions.”.
Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on Posture in Children with Cerebral Palsy. Paper presented at the 6th International Therapeutic Riding Congress,Toronto, Canada, 23-27 August. Bowlby, J. (1969).
Energy expenditure of horse riding. European Journal of applied psychology, 82, 499-503. DCMS (2007)
Equine-assisted activities and the impact on perceived social support, self-esteem and self-efficacy among adolescents – an intervention study, Hilde Hauge, Ingela L. Kvalem, Bente Berget, Marie-José Enders-Slegers & Bjarne O. Braastad (2013)
The health benefits of companion animals. Pets Are Wonderful Support, 2007
The health benefits of horse riding in the UK. The British Horse Society, 2010
Human Energy Expenditure and Postural Coordination on the Mechanical Horse, Journal of Motor Behavior, Héloïse Baillet, Régis Thouvarecq, Eric Vérin, Claire Tourny, Nicolas Benguigui, John Komar, & David Leroy (2016)
Riding, http://www.rda.org.uk/taking-part/riding/ accessed from RDA website, February 2018.
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Why do you need to know about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) for the school year ahead? It is the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK for students and staff. 21,000 children and young adults in the UK have the condition. You will have encountered an ME sufferer in your working life as an education professional, but do you understand what ME is?
To fully support students and fellow staff members achieve their potential, you need to understand that ME is a unique condition. Unlike many other disabilities, ME patients are unable to ‘push through’ or do ‘mind over matter’. Our bodies are lacking the essential life source that is energy. As hard as we attempt to fight against it, our bodies simply don’t cooperate because we don’t have the energy required to function properly.
What is ME? It is an invisible, severely debilitating neurological condition that affects 250,000 people here in the UK and 17-30 million people worldwide, and there is no effective treatment. ME is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The name given to each individual patient is purely dependent on who the GP is or where they live in the world. It is exactly the same illness. Personally, I refuse to use the name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. as it doesn’t adequately represent my condition. Extreme fatigue is only one of over 60 symptoms that come under the umbrella of the condition. In the same way that you wouldn’t call Parkinson’s Disease ‘Chronic Shaking Syndrome’, I don’t believe our condition can be summed up as fatigue.
Symptoms include: post-exertional malaise, pain, cognitive issues, brain fog, memory loss, inability to control temperature, skin rashes, painful glands, and ‘flu-like’ symptoms. ME has a spectrum of severity ranging from mild to severe. This means that it is hard to judge what each individual sufferer is capable of. In addition to this spectrum, ME fluctuates. Our fluctuations can change by the month, week, day and hour. What we can manage at 10am may not be possible at 3pm. We don’t know when these fluctuations will happen, and that makes planning anything incredibly difficult and frustrating. This makes the condition very easy to misunderstand and disregard.
To the best of my knowledge, when a school encounters a student with ME they contact the school’s GP to ask for advice. The problem with this is that GPs receive zero medical training on ME. This was discussed by Parliament in June 2018 MPs agreed that training was urgently needed as students - and the M.E community as a whole - are suffering due to the inadequate knowledge of ME of healthcare professionals.
GPs are currently likely to recommend that students be encouraged to push themselves and attend school. This advice comes from a ‘treatment’ known as Graded Exercise Therapy (GET). GET has been proven to be extremely damaging to the health of ME patients, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have declared they are reviewing their guidelines in 2020. GET was debated in Parliament in February 2018, and Ms Carol Monaghan SMP, a former Science teacher, told how “the impact [of GET] on those with ME has been devastating” and her view that “when the full details of the trial become known, it will be considered one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century.”
GET is currently still recommended on the NHS Choices website. This is the website GPs use when researching ME and advising schools on supporting students with the condition. The ME community as a whole are heaving a sigh of relief that these guidelines are being reviewed, however it is worrying that so many more sufferers will be told to push themselves between now and 2020.
This notion of being able to ‘push through’ has caused students to be expelled, been told they are not allowed to go to the end of year prom, and fail qualifications because of the amount of school absenteeism and lack of appropriate support.
I have been an ME advocate for four years and have spoken at length to headteachers, heads of departments, and teachers who are worried that they are not offering adequate support to their students. Do they send work home? Would the student be able to attend school one day per week to keep up personal contact and relationships? How much work would they be able to cope with? Should they be given extended deadlines?
I can’t offer definitive answers. Only the ME patient can say what they can and can’t manage, and even then they may have unexpected bad days when all symptoms flare and make them bedbound. I have recommended offering a tailored approach. Flexible learning is a necessity, and allowing a student to work at their own pace is the only way they will leave school with qualifications.
I had ME myself aged 13-15. I was never diagnosed but - with hindsight - after contracting ME a second time aged 30, I know I had ME during my school years. Luckily, my school were very understanding and sent work home every week for me to complete. It was extremely difficult, but fortunately I am self-motivated and was happy to work with minimum instruction. I walked away from Secondary school with 9 GCSEs over grade C. I believe that there are many ME patients who are currently in school but are underachieving because their school isn’t as supportive as mine was, and who are having to battle for additional support when they should be concentrating on their health.
Post-exertion malaise is the defining characteristic of ME. Any activity can cause our symptoms to worsen - ME sufferers often call this ‘payback’. Our bodies are paying us back for using energy we don’t have. This could be an afternoon out with friends, or simply sitting and chatting over a coffee. It takes a lot of cognitive energy to hold a conversation; only people with limited energy understand that. Perhaps you have a student in your class whose parent has just called in to say their child is too sick to come to school, but you know they met up with their classmates socially the day before. This would be due to ‘payback’, but it is understandable that many would find it hard to believe that the student was genuinely sick.
It takes an incredibly long time to get a diagnosis if you are an NHS patient (mainly due to waiting lists). Patients undergo years of tests to rule out other conditions before getting a diagnosis. ME is basically what’s left at the bottom of the barrel. You may well have a student who has been ill for over 18 months and has high levels of school absence without knowing what is wrong. This is very common with ME. Our fluctuations and levels of severity make the condition incredibly difficult for GPs to diagnose.
My advice to teachers who this year have a student, or students, with long-term fatigue and long-term sickness absence is: support them, as soon as you can, irrespective of whether they are diagnosed or not. Quick and effective support increases the chances of ME patients going on to recover - or at least be able to maintain - a manageable level of severity. So many students have battled to attend lessons but have ended up making their health worse. Why battle to attend classes to get exams if you are so sick once you leave school that you are unable to work or are bedbound?
You can read more about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis on the ME Association website: www.meassociation.org.uk.
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Seating plans for a classroom are even more complicated than organising who sits where at a wedding reception. Like so much else in education, you need to define your objectives. It is not just about making sure sworn enemies are not seated side-by-side. Instead, you have to think about the individual needs. Is the child with ADHD better sitting right in front of you, where you can keep an eye on them, or by a wall where they only have a child on one side of them? Is it best to have a child who experiences sensory overload in a quiet area, on a separate single table, or should you put them with a small, sympathetic group who may be able to provide support?
All children need support both at home and at school, feeling happier and more secure when the two work collaboratively as one. This is when effective learning takes place; pupils grow in confidence and self-esteem and feel fulfilled. So, how do we as schools achieve this partnership and make it work effectively for our children?
Managing the school’s budget is arguably one of the hardest tasks a headteacher has to get to grips with. Children’s education is on the line, and more than that, people’s livelihood is also at risk if the head cannot manage their budget successfully. With ever decreasing funding available to schools, headteachers have had to become increasingly creative in order to fill the gaps in their budget.
For children with special educational needs (SEN), one of the toughest barriers to accessing the curriculum can simply be how intimidating the classroom can feel. With 70 per cent of those permanently excluded from school also being registered for with SEN, we need to do more to engage students to maintain their attendance and ensure that functional skills are developed among all students, no matter what their situation or environment.
After blowing away the Bett Show crowds last month, Minted Box are on a mission to help schools make 2018 their most disruptive year yet. The innovators behind technology used by Tesco, Vodafone, Royal Mail and hundreds of other companies are perhaps most widely known for their seating planner MINTClass, but it’s their new facial-recognition platform that’s likely to steal the spotlight this year.