Q&A: K’Dee Bernard

The director of SEN at Riverston School in London talks about her fascination with the mind

Having joined Riverston School in May, what has the experience been like so far?

Joining Riverston School (part of Chatsworth Schools) mid-term has allowed me to see the school in full action and afforded me the opportunity to get straight to work and witness just why Riverston is so effective at enabling outstanding futures for all the young people who attend it.

What is the best and most challenging thing about being a director of SEN?

Getting to know the children is without doubt the best part of the job. I enjoy building a rapport with pupils, supporting them as individuals, watching their progression and seeing their personalities shine through. The most challenging element is probably the pressure that I put on myself to meet the needs of all the children that want to attend Riverston.

What was it about Riverston School that made you accept the job?

Riverston has a different type of SEN setting to my previous school and this intrigued me. I also wanted to get to know more about the ‘parallel curriculum’, which is unique to the school.

This curriculum is designed to meet the needs of pupils working significantly below their age-expected norms and it allows them the space, time and content to ensure they are learning at the right time, right pace and, crucially, do not feel judged. The parallel curriculum model groups children by ability rather than age and instead of labelling each group ‘Key Stage 2’ and making the children very aware of their level of learning and demonstrating their progression.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Art and design. I’ve always enjoyed a number of different elements of design and creativity, and I like coming up with a concept in my mind, sifting through the ideas I think will work and then putting it together.

In sixth form I began studying psychology at AS and A-level and this sparked a new passion for me. It started me on my journey into wanting to understand more about cognition and how the mind works; it really fuelled my route into SEN.

Riverston School is a co-educational day school, with particular provision for students with moderate learning difficulties and autism spectrum disorder


What are you currently reading?

I am currently re-reading The Reason I Jump written by Naoki Higashida. My specialism within SEN is autism and I am always intrigued to learn more about autism. This book is written as a memoir of a non-verbal 13-year-old boy with autism and gives a first-hand insight into how an autistic mind thinks.

What issue in education are you most passionate about?

I always think with my SEN hat on, so I am passionate about making sure that young people with special educational needs are having their needs met and hence being given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

I think it is important that all educators supporting pupils with SEN know this potential takes a number of different forms and not just academic success – which, of course, is something we want for all young people but that is not the only way success can be measured.

If you weren’t in education, what would you do instead?

If I hadn’t been so intrigued by the mind and cognition I think I would have pursued something to do with interior design as I really enjoy the creative element of it.

What is your best piece of leadership advice?

Utilise the strengths of your team. I work with some fantastic staff members, including therapy specialists, and they support me with making decisions about how we can meet needs, strategies we can implement or just to bounce ideas off each other.

K’Dee joined Riverston School from Treehouse School, where she was curriculum lead. She has worked with children with special educational needs from pre-school to sixth form for over 10 years and previously worked at the Sandringham Primary School and Phoenix School, Bow. She has a BA (Hons) in psychology, PGCE and is currently studying for her master’s.

Twitter: @RiverstonSchool

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