As a regional resource, the MSI (Multi-Sensory Impairment) Department provide a specialist curriculum tailored for deaf-blind learners with unique sensory and learning needs, developing their ability to understand and interact with people and the world around them.
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Children with multi-sensory impairments (MSI) have both hearing and visual impairments (deaf-blindness), often with other disabilities, which hugely affect their learning and communication. At the Victoria School MSI Unit, pupils follow a specialist curriculum to help them learn to understand and interact with people and the world around them. We have very high levels of staffing - 1:1 or better for many activities. We also have high levels of expertise, with ongoing specialist training for all staff. Our curriculum was developed at Victoria to meet the complex needs of pupils with MSI. It was published in 2009 by Sense, and is now used nationally in a number of other settings and services for children with MSI.
The Unit is a regional resource, established in the mid-1990s and educating up to 15 children with MSI from Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull and Walsall. We take pupils from 2-19, with varying combinations of hearing and visual impairments and other difficulties which mean they need a specialist environment in order to thrive. Our pupils all have some degree independent intentional movement enabling them to explore and act on their environment.
MSI UNIT: PROVISION STATEMENT 2019-20
Victoria School MSI Unit is a regional resource serving five local authorities. It takes up to 15 pupils who have a dual visual and hearing impairment (MSI); many have additional physical, sensory, medical and/or learning difficulties. MSI is a very low-incidence disability creating multiple complex needs and affecting all aspects of learning and development.
The Victoria MSI Unit Curriculum was developed to address the complex and specific barriers to learning caused by deafblindness. It is designed to provide pupils with the learning skills and concepts they need in order to access modified National Curriculum programmes of study successfully. Developed at Victoria and published in 2009, it is now used in a range of other settings nationally.
The Deafblind Unit (MSI) is recognised locally, nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence. This is evidenced by:
The Unit currently has 12 pupils. The age range is 4-19 and all pupils have multiple and complex disabilities including sensory impairments.
All pupils follow the specialist Victoria MSI Unit Curriculum. Most pupils have 1:1 support and individual teaching programmes.
There are 3 teachers, and 1 higher level teaching assistant (HLTS) in the MSI Unit, supported by a team of teaching assistants.
Staff are Team Teach trained and have or are working towards at least BSL Level 1. All receive ongoing specialist training on the impact of MSI and best practice in educating pupils with MSI. This includes training on new approaches in the MSI field, on tracking and interpreting challenging behaviour and on supporting and assessing progress through the MSI Curriculum.
The Victoria MSI Curriculum gives guidance on structuring and managing students’ learning through staff behaviour and expectations, the range of teaching environments used, teaching objectives and strategies, timetabling, the complexity of information provided to pupils and the balance of group and individual work.
Teaching activities are cross-curricular because of the specific difficulties with generalisation created by MSI. Teachers decide the content of activities based on students’ needs and current learning targets. Consistency of planning and recording between teachers is supported by the use of an online Planning and Recording Pack including a timeline, templates and examples.
Students follow individual timetables, working through the four Phases of the Curriculum. Each student has individual annual targets (long-term aims) for each curriculum domain, drawn from the MSI Curriculum profiles and detailing their learning priorities. Their individual learning objectives for each teaching activity form steps towards these targets. Staff and pupils use a range of specialist equipment and environments in meeting pupils’ sensory needs, as well as the facilities available in the school as a whole.
Staff are trained and experienced in a range of strategies to help students learn, including the use of cueing and routines; the ‘van Dijk approach’ (movement-based learning through resonance, coactive movement, modelling and imitation); Intensive Interaction; responsive pace; the interpretation of functionally equivalent behaviours; and the use of communication modes including BSL; speech; object, photo or picture symbols; print, graphics, gesture, and non-verbal communication.
For many of our students, access to learning is affected by sensory processing difficulties and/or behavioural issues in addition to their other disabilities. Strategies to address sensory processing difficulties are developed by staff working closely with specialist OTs (who, unlike physio, SALT and medical staff, are not based on site). Positive Behaviour Management Plans are supplemented by bespoke risk assessments and behaviour tracking systems, developed within the Unit to support our students’ communication, security and autonomy. All staff are Team Teach trained.
Students’ progress is recorded both through the Victoria Engagement Model, Pre Key-Stage and Key Stage Assessment and through the MSI Curriculum profiles. The profiles list typical achievements for each curriculum domain at each of the four Phases of the Curriculum. For each profile item, three levels of mastery are recorded: aware, achieved in specific contexts and generalised. The MSI Unit Curriculum Profiles have been transferred to SOLAR, allowing the recording of progress across the school on one platform. There have been a number of requests from other schools for access to the SOLAR version of the MSI Curriculum Profiles.
Evidence of achievement and progress is collected through a range of approaches. Each pupil has an individual Progress File with detailed evidence of their achievements, including the tracking of behavioural episodes and contextual factors for pupils with Positive Behaviour Management Plans.
To ensure the quality of our achievement and progress data, we use a range of approaches including collaborative working; triangulation of method, context, assessor and data source, and moderation. We have detailed criteria for different levels of progress.
Behaviour tracking systems allow us to map students’ episodes of challenging behaviour against known triggers and setting events. This in turn allows us to identify any changes needed to students’ programmes. Termly reports are provided to Governors and show trends over time.
Outreach, links and other provision
The MSI Unit has a formal partnership, supported by an MOU, with the University of Birmingham MQ MSI course. It also has strong connections with SENSE (the primary voluntary organisation for people with MSI) and other specialist providers for students with MSI, both in the UK and overseas. We use these connections to help our practice stay live and constantly evolving. We also have strong links with the Birmingham Sensory support teams for HI and VI.
The Unit hosts visits from parents of prospective pupils, other parents of children with MSI, professionals from schools using the MSI Unit Curriculum, other professionals working with pupils with MSI and seeking ideas and advice, local support services and voluntary provision involved with our pupils and the cohort of students from the University of Birmingham MQ MSI course (this group for a virtual visit at a weekend). In addition the Unit hosts 3-week teaching placements for University of Birmingham MQ MSI students.
Staff linked to the MSI Unit liaise with the Birmingham Sensory Support Service to provide support for other students with sensory impairments at Victoria School.
The MSI Unit is represented at the local Sensory Support Service meetings, the national MSI Education Group and at NatSIP.
Evaluation of provision and practice
The provision and practice of the MSI Unit are evaluated both within the Unit and school, and by other specialists in the MSI field, through a range of means. These include
Each pupil has an individual timetable and teaching programme, based on their specific learning needs and interests. They work with a limited number of staff, who are skilled in 'reading' their signals and encouraging their communication and curiosity. We use whatever communication approaches best suit each child – speech, signing, object or picture symbols, switches, gesture, movement signals – presented as clearly as possible. If signing is used, for example, it may be on-body or accessed visually or through hand-under-hand touch. It depends on the child’s needs and preferences.
Some pupils are regularly included in main school or other local special schools for specific sessions; all have the opportunity to participate in school-wide art and music workshops and performances. We also use community facilities, with regular trips out to extend learning.
We have strong links with the local sensory support services, with the University of Birmingham, which provides a mandatory two-year specialist qualification in MSI for teachers, with Sense and with specialist MSI services elsewhere in the country. These links help us to stay up-to-date and to contribute to the wider MSI field.