St Mary’s RC Primary School, located in the Lochee area of Dundee, is committed to providing an environment conducive to the educational, social, emotional and spiritual development of all children. With around 300 pupils, the school supports its young people to develop the skills to be confident individuals, effective contributors, responsible citizens and successful learners.

Mrs Alison Curran, Head Teacher, said, “The partnership between pupils, staff and parents is at the heart of the school community, and we are committed to working together to ensure that pupils gain the very best experience they can.”

Like any school, the community is mixed, with a number of pupils with additional needs.

Mrs Curran explained, “There’s a perception that ‘additional needs’ involves a condition or a diagnosis. However, additional needs can be a moment in time when the child might benefit from some additional support for whatever reason, for a brief period rather than throughout their school life.

“Or it might be a health and wellbeing issue, which is one of our main focuses. If we don’t crack that, pupils struggle to partake in learning, so their health and wellbeing is super important and exploring their creativity, imagination and free play are integral to that. We have other pupils who are working towards their own milestones rather than the mainstream curriculum, and they need a little bit of extra support with social issues.

“Although we are extremely passionate about meeting the needs of each and every child, we also recognise that we, as a school, also need that bit of extra support to enhance the curriculum and create further opportunities for our pupils. Schools are part of their wider community and don’t work in isolation, and that’s where community assets like The Yard come into play, complimenting what we’re already doing within the school day.”

With The Yard Dundee already on her radar, Mrs Curran decided to contact Gill Thomson, Service Development Manager, during lockdown when the traditional school format changed and many pupils were learning from home.

Mrs Curran said, “During lockdown, we saw the children through a new lens. Because they were no longer one of 25 pupils in a physical class, we were able to see and better understand how complex some of their needs were. We were keen to find something that complimented what we were already doing and the fact that we could visit The Yard was just brilliant. Their parents were delighted too.”

With The Yard resuming bespoke school visits from August 2021, ten children from the school (primary three and upwards) started attending The Yard for a ten-week block, split into weekly, two-hour visits.

Supported by the school’s Learning Care Assistant and School & Family Development Worker, the sessions provide the children with a range of interactive play experiences in a non-judgemental play setting, improving their motor skills, confidence and communication.

After identifying the children's needs, activities vary week by week with pupils enjoying messy play involving everything from sand, slime and water to foam and feathers, as well activities with building blocks, puzzles and other games.

Gill Thomson added, “By working with small groups, we’re offering a service that mainstream schools simply cannot provide in the classroom. We can do whatever suits the school, whether providing activities within the school, the pupils spending time at The Yard, or a combination of the two. We can also tailor our activities to what the rest of the class is doing, adapted to those who struggle a little. These small steps can be quite life-changing, with children realising they CAN do something, enjoy it and learn from it.”

Mrs Curran continued, “Working with our teachers and parents, we identified a small group of pupils who would really benefit from The Yard. We involved a range of pupils, from a child whose father has a hearing impairment and enjoys 1:1 with staff, to a girl with speech and language difficulties. We also have a couple of children who struggle to start the school day in the traditional way and who we felt would benefit from a softer start.

“For children who are sensitive to noise or struggle with their motor skills, it can be difficult to play in a larger, mainstream setting like a playground or even just operate within a normal classroom environment. It‘s been amazing watching the children interact with The Yard team in a smaller group setting – they’re still with their peers but also mixing with children from other stages of the school, forming friendships they wouldn’t normally form – all supported by experts who spend their days supporting and playing with children with additional needs. Yes, it’s disguised as play, but it’s almost like a sub-curriculum that makes a huge impact on their health and wellbeing. It’s also a form of escapism from routine - you can see the difference in them when they return, even just in the way they carry themselves – they’re full of enthusiasm and more receptive to learning.”

St Mary’s RC Primary School is also gaining some brilliant ideas and strategies from The Yard team, which they can take back and replicate within the school, including a ‘soft start’ and ‘soft end’ for pupils who struggle with the confines of a conventional school day.

Mrs Curran continued, “Not every child can turn up at school at 9am and be ready to start learning. For a whole host of reasons, they might need a more gradual and informal start to the day. We’ve learned so much about how we can do that operationally from our visits to The Yard.”

Having enjoyed a block of ten sessions, St Mary’s RC Primary School has now booked a second block at The Yard, including sessions shared with another local primary, Our Lady’s. St Mary’s has also enjoyed a number of sessions within the school itself where The Yard bring their staff and resources into the school.

As a result of the collaboration with the schools, a number of parents are also now taking their children to The Yard at weekends, creating wider benefits for siblings and other family members.

For more information, or to enquire about booking school sessions, please email [email protected]. If you would like to visit The Yard for the first time with your family, please email [email protected] to arrange your free taster session.