Erasmus Plus partnership “Communicate with us”


Thornfield House School & Outreach Services feedback report


Visit 1


Location : Thornfield House School N Ireland


Date September 24th – 28th




Thornfield School hosted the visit and it involved our teachers and classroom assistants and speech & language therapists.


Our Austrian colleagues attended with 3 participants and our German colleagues attended with 6 participants.


At our initial meeting we exchanged information about our school and agreed a number of key structures for project delivery. These included:


  • Website construction and management responsibilities

  • Reporting time frames following exchange visits (1 month)

  • Shared responsibilities for a programme of rolling activities throughout the project cycle,

  • The need to forward programme schedule prior to all exchange visits

  • Specific dates for follow up exchange visits during the first year


From the start of our planning meetings and at the first exchange visit the atmosphere was very positive with all partners willing to share the responsibilities, our German colleagues agreed to manage the project website and our Austrian colleagues agreed with the reporting structures, having managed the website during our last project.


Thornfield arranged a range of class visits for the group and afforded them the opportunities to see how we manage our communication support. During the visits the full range of classes were viewed and the group saw first hand the combined efforts of our teachers, classroom assistants and our speech and language therapists.


Designated training sessions were also organised to show the group the specific programmes we use to support student communication, some of these programmes were commercially produced and contact details share across the partnership.


Our project has a rolling series of cultural and social events linked throughout the year to encourage a development of student communication and enable pupils to communicate more with their European counterparts, eg Autumn and winter festivals and activities. With students sharing their own experiences with each other via a number of communication platforms eg e-mail


Thornfield took the group to a world heritage site “The Giants Causeway” and shared a wide range of cultural interest sites with the group. Our partners seemed to enjoy this visit very much and we hope it will enable our partners to share these experiences with their own students to raise interest in exchanges with our students.


The group also met and had lunch with the Mayor of Newtownabbey and Antrim he shared his own experiences with us recounting his recent visit from his counterpart in the Germany region of Munster. During the lunch hosted by the mayor he outlined developmental plans for the area and the regions aim to be part of a developmental hub which prioritises the area boosting facilities and commercial activity with funding from the UK government equivalent to 20 billion pounds.


A focus took place later in the week on e- safety and Thornfield secured the services of Mr Brian Herron a retired police officer who gave a very detailed presentation to the group on the need to ensure students are using the internet safely, as he outlined the opportunities and the dangers. The focus of this training was to review social network platforms and to raise of the dangers and difficulties that can arise through misuse of social media. The intention was clearly that all our professional colleagues should be sharing this information across our school communities, including with the students themselves and also their parents. The training whilst startling and at times shocking certainly opened the debate on the need to try to protect our students and make them more aware of the dangers these communication platforms can present.


The visit finished with a tour of historical Belfast enabling the group to share these experiences with their students upon their return, raising interest levels in the area and encouraging the desire to communicate and make links with their European counterparts. It also promoted a sharing of our common European traditions and builds bonds of trust and co-operation between all our students and professionals.




The visit finished with an agreement to continue the very positive start to our project and send written reports too Katherina within the next couple of weeks for inclusion on the project website.




Kind regards




Colm Burns (Project co-ordinator)


Thornfield House School





Erasmus Plus partnership “Communicate with us”


Thornfield House School & Outreach Services feedback report



Visit 2



Location :  Vienna Austria


Date December 10-14th 2018




Our Austrian colleagues hosted this visit and organised a wide range of strategic approaches with a focus on Drama and Dance as a medium to enhance pupil communication.


At our initial meeting we followed the set agenda which included an overview of the week`s activities and a tour of the school. This was followed up with a more detailed summary of the school development and the approaches used on a regular basis by our Austrian colleagues.


As part of our project agreements we also review project progress at the start of each exchange visit. Mr Burns began this discussion outlining the successes we have made since the last exchange which included the construction of our project website and a review of the current pupil exchanges and communications.


As part of our focus on improving the quality of our project further discussions took place on the teething problems we were encountering in exchanging communications. It was agreed that future communications would include correspondence would be signed off so that all recipients would know the source and author of any updates. It was also agreed that the drop box facility would be updated so that we could use it more effectively.


There was also discussion on the need to follow the agreed itinery in our initial application to ensure the project remained on track and communications were continuing to improve and progress. It was further agreed that Torsten would be the contact point for inclusion earmarked for inclusion on the website. All our contact details were reviewed and any errors in the initial contacts list we adjusted.


As the week progressed we were shown some of the wonderful work undertaken by the school through the medium of drama and how the services of a specialist drama teacher is put to good use for the benefit of all involved. Thornfield has a lot to learn from these structures and the benefits to the pupils self confidence and esteem were clear for all to see.


It was also interesting to discuss the funding structures and mechanisms that are available in Austria to apply for outside expertise and source such expertise. At present these sources of support are not available to us in Northern Ireland but I will raise the issue with our own Education Authority next term.


We also witnessed how dance is used to engage pupils and support their learning, self awareness and communication skills. The school put on a dance session for us all and the joy, enthusiasm and exuberance of the dancers was very obvious. Whilst we use dance in our own school we were very impressed by the level of its usage in Vienna and much discussion took place after that session as to how we could further develop it in our own school.


As the week progressed we also learned about the support programmes available to all students whereby any difficulties that students were experiencing between each other could be resolved by staff and students trained in pastoral type support where students could sit down and resolve their differences within a 6 point arbitration structure. It seems to work quite well and improves the students skills in communication and also improves their self confidence. This was a very useful model and whilst we have a pastoral system in Thornfield it does not go as far as the Austrian structures and the additional training of students as arbitraitors.


A further programme was presented to the group outlining various funded programmes available to the school with staff trained in developing student choices and a summary of the strategies used to improve student awareness and choices, again these programmes are applied for and if successful the school benefit from this input funded by the local education authority. Its benefits were apparent and all agreed it would be a useful structure to have available in all our schools.


Class visit were also organised and we all saw first hand how staff relate to and support their students. It was note worthy that most Classes had 2 teachers present (no classroom assistant) and on one occasion three teachers (one student teacher). This support level was above the average level in our classrooms and viewed as being of considerable benefit to all students.


There was also some discussion between the school Principals about the challenges of recruiting and retaining high quality staff, it was mentioned about the pressures of teaching in a large city with many students not completely familiar with the language. Our support services in NI was discussed and each country had differing forms of this type of support eg EAL services.


This visit finished on the Friday, and all agreed it was an involved and useful week. We reaffirmed our commitment to follow our agreed schedule and all looked forward to our third exchange visit in March 2019 in Germany.




Kind regards




Colm Burns (Project co-ordinator)


Thornfield House School