Reflections on 30 years at school

Sarah Ffoulkes Roberts, who was Head of Early Years at the Dame Vera Lynn Trust School for Parents - picture submitted
Sarah Ffoulkes Roberts, who was Head of Early Years at the Dame Vera Lynn Trust School for Parents - picture submitted

Transporting furniture and equipment in an old Silver Cross pram was to prove instrumental in establishing a life changing service for children in West Sussex.

The memory was recalled by a professional who has committed her working life to helping children with cerebral palsy and their families on her retirement from her school.

Sarah Ffoulkes Roberts from Amberley and Pulborough said she had enjoyed a very rewarding and meaningful career at the Dame Vera Lynn Trust School for Parents and Ingfield Manor School, at Five Oaks near Billingshurst.

“The School for Parents and Ingfield have been and always will be hugely important to me and I feel truly privileged to have known such inspirational children, caring and dedicated parents and wonderful, professional and highly committed staff.”

She thanked all the families and her colleagues for their kind thoughts and heartfelt messages sent on her retirement. “I will miss everyone but very much look forward to staying in touch with future developments at both School for Parents and Ingfield.”

Sarah worked there for more than 30 years rising to Head of Early Years at the School for Parents.

Sarah began working at Ingfield Manor School near Five oaks in 1978 and started to learn the principles and practices of Conductive Education. This is a system of learning developed by Professor Andras Peto in Budapest which teaches those with movement difficulties (such as cerebral palsy) to learn actively to achieve purposeful movement which can then be applied throughout daily life and learning.

Four years later Sarah was selected to join a group of staff who travelled to the world-famous Peto Institute in Budapest where Conductive Education originated in post-war Hungary. This trip was funded by some of the families of children attending Ingfield Manor School at the time and enabled Sarah to learn more about the Conductive Education approach for children as young as 4 months.

Following the visit to Budapest Sarah set up a ‘School for Mothers’ in 1983. Initially no classroom was designated for this service and Sarah recalls how she ‘had to transport furniture and equipment in an old Silver Cross pram to wherever there was a classroom free in order to deliver sessions!’.

Sarah developed the Service further which became known as ‘School for Parents’.

Sarah left Ingfield in 1984 to train as a Montessori Teacher and after completing her training was invited to continue working as a member of staff in the London Montessori Centre. She was persuaded to return to Ingfield Manor School as a Team Leader in 1988.

A couple of years later Sarah was promoted to Senior Team Leader and also joined the Senior Leadership Group of the school.

During this time The School for Parents had gone from strength to strength. This in part was due to the generous help of Dame Vera Lynn and her friends who largely financed a purpose built building which opened in 1992 and continues to this day to be the School for Parents. Although still working in the main school Sarah continued to take a keen interest in School for Parents and recognised the need for support to families of young children with motor learning needs.

The Dame Vera Lynn Trust began funding the School for Parents on site at Ingfield Manor School in 2001 and in 2005 Sarah was appointed to the post of Head of Early Years. Since that time she continued to develop the School for Parents service into the highly respected early intervention service it is today. A key factor in the success of School for Parents has been Sarah’s work in building effective staff teams and fostering strong partnerships with parents and other external professionals. Many testimonials have been received from parents for the work which is carried out in School for Parents.

“Our 2 year old child had a stroke and was paralysed down one side of her body…We saw an advert for The Dame Vera Lynn School for Parents and we phoned immediately and set up a meeting. We were bowled over by Sarah, the head of early years, and her knowledge, understanding and experience of our daughter’s needs and how to help. Luckily for us a space became available the following term. The day Lottie started at this school was something of a watershed moment for our family. I was left awestruck by the facilities, but more importantly it was the first time I felt that professionals outside the Children’s Hospital really understood what our daughter had been through and had a clear understanding of how to help her.

“We can never thank this talented group of teachers and therapists enough for all their hard work, honesty and support. Somehow it is always the children who leave me most inspired as they take on all their challenges with good spirit, bravery and humour every week.”

Another parent wrote: “All credit should go to the staff for their outstanding positivity, their enthusiasm, and their “can-do” approach, coupled with their genuine desire to see our child progress and reach her milestones. It’s this positivity and eagerness to see her do well that is so infectious for me!”

In 2006 the Ingfield Manor School Preschool and Assessment Service opened with Sarah playing a key role in its planning and delivery.

Since then Sarah has continued to develop both the Preschool and School for Parents and has supported countless families to have positive expectations for their child and ensure the best possible outcomes for them through the active learning that is at the heart of Conductive Education.

In 2012 Sarah’s work in the field of Conductive Education was recognised nationally through her being awarded Honorary Conductor status through the Foundation for Conductive Education at the National Institute for Conductive Education in Birmingham.

Hazel Darby, Principal at Ingfield, said: “Sarah’s wealth of experience and knowledge and her positivity of approach will be missed at Ingfield by the staff team, the families, and the children.”

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