Participation & Engagement

As part of the Whole School Approach to wellbeing, Compass Go… runs the Peer Wellbeing Project offering age-appropriate training and pupil engagement and participation activities that put pupil voice at the heart of improving wellbeing across the whole school. This work has taken place in mainstream schools for some time, but we wanted to find ways to support pupil voice in our SEND schools and approached Humberston Park School, a Special Academy, offering day provision for young people aged 3-19 with Severe and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties, Autism and/or neurological conditions and associated complex special educational needs, medical and physical disabilities, to see how this might look.

Using art as a means of non-verbal communication, we decided to trial a whole-school, whole-day art event, allowing pupils to communicate emotions, thoughts or feelings where using speech is not an expectation. Starting with huge sheets of paper (on the floor, on tables, on easels), paint, traditional paintbrushes, balloons & ribbon on sticks, squeegees and sponges, pupils were invited to investigate the materials – and they did that with great intensity and focus. For those who found the sensory aspects of the wet materials too much, or wanted a quieter space to work, we also set up a dry materials table, with compressed charcoal, oil pastels and paint pens.

By the end of the day, the activities had generated a huge amount of positive energy amongst the pupils and staff. Some observations from the day are as follows:

  • Pupils were seen working intensely on a piece of work for a significant amount of time – they were seen to be focused and regulated, often in very different ways. Some would work very vigorously, splatting paint with a balloon or ribbon on a stick or rubbing paint into the paper with their hands, while others worked slowly and deliberately, repeating lines on paper using different colours or painting an image using identifiable motifs such as flowers, circles or hearts. One young person used his arms and body weight to squeeze and rub a balloon to smear paint across the same large piece of paper whilst another was shown how to make marks with a balloon by dipping it in paint and hitting the paper (which he then continued to do vigorously for a significant length of time). One of the TAs commented how he is never usually this energetic and when asked how he felt, he said “calm” which is something he said he didn’t often feel.
  • When asked how they were feeling, several other young people responded that they felt “good”, “happy”, “cheeky” and “fun”. One young person said squeezing the sponges with paint felt “good” and enjoyed this.
  • Several young people were initially reluctant to get messy but grew in confidence through taking time to watch others (including supporting adults) and began to test the different tools available to them and sometimes even using their hands. One young person said they felt “scared” at first due to getting paint on themselves, but by the end of the session, they said they felt “better” because “you helped me”
  • A lot of young people were laughing and smiling and often their eye contact and/or verbal communication increased after spending time painting (some young people who had not initially spoken, later shared how they were feeling after spending some time painting).
  • Pupils were supported in several ways, at the level that was appropriate to their need. Some were able to explore the activity completely independently but might be introduced to a technique or idea and invited to try it (some tried these new techniques and stuck with them, some tried the techniques and quickly discarded them in favour of a new way to explore the materials); some pupils worked alongside adults who could model ways of using the materials without the direct instruction to try it for themselves; some pupils with limited mobility were supported by loading their paintbrushes and allowing them to apply the paint to a surface; some pupils moved around the room, others stayed close to or on the paper areas, some sat at tables, others stood at them; everyone was able to access the activity based on their own needs and interests.

At the end of the day, feedback from staff was also hugely positive and there are hopes to repeat a similar day in the summer, on the school field, with water balloons filled with paint, powder paints and other materials.


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