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Hi everyone! This blog will be about the cultural differences I experienced during my placement at New Bridge.

Firstly, some background information about me, I am Gwyneth, a first-year international student from the University of Manchester. I was born and raised in Singapore. Prior to University, I did a Diploma in Early Childhood Development and Education, where I took on Early Intervention modules in my final year. This allowed me to intern and work part-time at inclusive preschools.

Growing up in a slightly traditional Chinese family, coming to the UK, I experienced quite a bit of culture shock. Thus, after my first week at New Bridge, I remember speaking to one of my friends from Singapore, who worked at one of Singapore’s biggest autism schools, where I realised how much more advanced New Bridge was.

Despite having experience working in an inclusive preschool, it was still very different from what I expected when I entered New Bridge School. The first scene I remember when I entered New Bridge was the staff wheeling a student on an Acheeva bed. I remember thinking about whether it was an emergency, however, after getting a tour around the school, I realised that it was just one of the many mobility and assistive devices that the school provides. This was something that I had not seen in the schools in Singapore.

Moreover, the indoor pools in New Bridge used for hydrotherapy were very interesting to me, as Singapore did not have hydrotherapy within school compounds. The majority of the time, hydrotherapy would be carried out, out of the school and it would be additional charges that the parents would have to pay.

Additionally, New Bridge School are very open to inclusive topics. Allowing inclusive topics like LGBTQ+ to be discussed amongst students and teachers. When I entered the Lumenus class and the students were talking about the different types of gender and sexualities, I was taken aback at how knowledgeable the students were about the topics, as well as how the teachers just stood back and allowed the students to discuss it so openly. Coming from a traditional society like Singapore, topics like LGBTQ+ would not be open for discussion in schools. Thus, students in Singapore are not well informed about such inclusive topics. On top of that, New Bridge also carried out an event for Pride this year during Pride month. Upon hearing about that, I was pleased to see how open the school was.

New Bridge School also focuses more on holistic development and helping the students live as independently as possible. New Bridge School has different pathways for the students to excel in what they enjoy and what they are good at. Whereas, in Singapore, the curriculum is more academically focused, where most students are put through examinations. How this works is that it would take a special need student will take 3 years to complete 1 year of a typical student’s academic content. Needless to say, this was stressful for the students and my friend told me that during the examination period, the students at the special need school would have an increased number of meltdowns and self-harm.

During my first session with the Lumenus students, we observed how the students carried out the talking mats sessions. We were also told about how the teachers were planning to let them be the listener and lead the sessions, to gain the views of the other students in the school on the topic of “How I feel about school”. I thought that this peer interaction plan was good as it enables the students to get a chance to lead, and at the same time, they will get to listen to the other students’ views.

Through this placement, I definitely learnt a lot from New Bridge and its approaches, and I will definitely take this knowledge alone with me to my other placements and also back to Singapore if I decide to practice back in Singapore.

P.S. Singapore definitely has a lot of development and positives, but this blog was just mainly focused on the parts where I thought New Bridge was better developed. (I still love Singapore very much ♥︎)

By Gwyneth Teo

Hi everyone I’m Maryam, a first-year speech and language therapy student studying at the University of Manchester. I have spent a month with total communication services CIC who are commissioned to provide a service for New Bridge school, a special needs school in Oldham.

I came into placement with no previous experience of working with children let alone children with special educational needs so I was slightly anxious before I started. But the last month has been very enjoyable. I’ve learnt a lot about speech and language therapy but also built on my interpersonal skills and learnt how to communicate well with children with impairments and communication partners (such as the teachers and even the parents.)

I‘ve had the best month and learnt so much along the way all which I wish I could share with you. However, I’d like to dedicate this blog to the most inspiring class I met in New Bridge filled with the most talented and lovely pupils. This particular class is called Lumenus and they are a class on a dance and drama pathway. I had the honour of working with them whilst on placement and supported them in their pupil voice, self-advocacy project based on the use of Talking Mats. Talking Mats are a communication tool used to facilitate a topic of discussion using Velcro cards and a mat. You would place a topic at the top of the mat and then offer 3 choices for example, “I like”, “I’m not sure” or “I don’t like”. This communication aid can be used in so many instances and helps you to find out more about that particular person and their views.

Lumenus were previously working with Alison, (an SLT with Total Communication services) on this project before I came to the school. The project focused on developing their role as communication advocates, so they could work with peers to capture pupil voice for education health care plan. They were now experts at the whole Talking Mat process and being the “listener” (asking the questions on the topic) and being the “thinker” (answering the questions). Their next job was to create their own mat based on “This is me” and inclusivity. This mat, alongside others, would be used by Lumenus and they would then be going to other classes and using the Talking Mats on other students with greater communication difficulties.

The class started off the process by brainstorming the words that came to them when they’d hear ‘identity’. After this, myself and another student on placement, worked together to bring this mat to life by using software called Boardmaker, to design these cards. We found pictures to correspond to the words they’d thought of, keeping in mind this was a co-production project and pupils voice and opinions were the most important element. We therefore created alternatives for all the cards so the students could choose which pictures they preferred the most. The next week we presented these draft cards and they chose the designs they found most suitable and requested any small changes they wanted made to the set.

The pupils in the Lumenus class put their all into this project and it was an eye-opening experience to work hand in hand with them to create such an interesting set of cards for their upcoming Talking Mat session. I felt this was a very powerful lesson to be working on with the pupils as they showed their vast knowledge on the importance of identity and also how important inclusivity was, and how everyone was entitled to their own voice regardless of sexuality, race, religion or disability.

I personally learnt a lot from the students but also extensively learnt more about SLT throughout my placement. I’m really looking forward to implementing what I’ve learnt and maybe pursue a career in this particular field in the future.

By Maryam Bham

Starting placement as a first year student after only eight weeks into the Speech & Language Therapy course at the University of Manchester was quite daunting. For my placement I was assigned Total Communication Services CIC with Alison and Emma who were working at New Bridge School, New Bridge College and New Bridge Learning Centre.

My placement was with three other students from the University of Manchester and I was really looking forward to it.

Our placement timetable assigned us with equal time at the school and college and from the first week onwards we were immersed into the daily routine at New Bridge.

One of the many projects we worked on during our time there, was working on the pupil voice project.

Total Communication Services CIC had been asked by the school to explore ways of capturing the views of pupils who have communication needs. These views are then shared, for example at the pupil’s annual meeting to look at education health and care (EHCP meeting). One approach which lends itself well to hearing the views of others is the use of Talking Mats. Alison had been teaching the some of the pupils in the Lumenus class how to use Talking Mats with the view to them becoming pupil advocates, spending time with other pupils to hear their views about school. At New Bridge, students are able to choose the pathway they want. It may be either sports, technology or dance and drama. The dance and drama pathway leads to the Lumenus Class.

One of our tasks was to plan a lesson on Non-Verbal Communication for the Lumenus Class. We had worked with Lumenus and we were aware of how enthusiastic they are about acting and drama. The class was also very interactive and they did not shy away from speaking out. Keeping this in mind, we tried to plan a fun yet informative session.

Non-verbal communication is an integral part of Talking Mats and the pupils needed to be clear about other ways their peers may express themselves. Talking Mats can work well as a decision -making framework.

Talking Mats can take the form of a door mat to which pictures or symbols can be attached and re-arranged as required.

It may be in the order of whether you like or do not like things or whether they are important or not important.

The top-line may vary based on the topic. The top line is the way questions are phrased, for example I like it or I don’t like it. It can also be more abstract and include it’s important or not important. Talking Mats has two roles, the thinker and the listener. The idea is that the pupils from Lumenus will become communication advocates using Talking Mats with other pupils, with them playing the role of the listener and other pupils invited to be the thinker. It is important to keep in mind that sometimes the thinker might not verbally communicate with the communication advocates (listeners) and in this case it is very important for them to be aware of the forms of non-verbal communication.

I came up with the idea that since non-verbal communication is all about actions and no words, we could incorporate the idea of charades into the lesson. We prepared a presentation going through the forms of non-verbal communication and examples of each. We tried to act out the examples and encouraged the students to come to the front of the class and act out the examples of each form of non-verbal communication with us. At the end of the class, we played a small quiz where the students watched video clips from the movie Despicable Me and tried to figure out which form of non-verbal communication was displayed. Lastly, we ended the session with a game of charades and could confidently say that the lesson was a success.

Apart from this session, we have been involved in a wide range of activities and projects at the school and college, all of which have given us an insight of what being a Speech & Language Therapist entails.

Even though we have just begun to scratch the surface and there is still much to learn, I know that the skills I've learned from this placement will be with me for the rest of my career.

Tiara Fernandes

First Year Speech & Language Therapy Student

University of Manchester

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