The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Miranda Galloway

Using history to support children with SEND

Miranda Galloway, from local social enterprise Dig Discover Enjoy, explains how engaging with archaeology can encourage pupils with SEN to be creative and learn new skills. Our mission is to enable people to get involved in archaeology and heritage.

Example of home-made Roman plates Getting creative with Roman plates


We realised early that our public engagement work offers so much, sometimes the fact that we promote archaeology is almost irrelevant – it’s doing something that is engaging people and communities that is important. Making a simple 'Egyptian necklace' (from cut up multi-coloured plastic straws and wool) can give a child a huge sense of achievement. We’re also big believers in letting children handle real archaeology rather than it being stuck behind glass in a museum, after all it’s their history and heritage. One of our most popular games is ‘What’s in the box?’ (simply a shoe box full of finds) which asks people to use only one sense - touch - and their imagination.

How to host a workshop

Knowing that one of his students with autism had an interest in archaeology led Gareth Morewood, SENCo, to ask for our support in working with the student and his pupil premium grant (PPG) achievement mentor. This was to form part of a formal plan to re-engage the student in school life and improve his attendance. Without any details about the student (skills, literacy levels, communication levels etc.), we designed workshops that we hoped would be flexible enough to be successful. We decided on a mix of activities - reading together, discussion, word searches, imagining, designing, and creating. The creating aspect used different media including clay, paper, paint and food.

Examples of Roman food The pupils tried eating some Roman food


The first workshop was an introduction to archaeology where we looked at real finds dating from different eras and how a young person might get involved. I then asked the student about his favourite historical eras and designed the remainder of the workshops based on his interests Our workshops were varied and included:

  • the Vikings and their runic alphabet
  • the Aztecs and their food and art
  • the story of the Trojan Horse
  • ancient Greek pottery
  • Roman food and drink.

We explored, discussed and created, chatting informally as we went and found conversations ebbed and flowed naturally. The focus on creating was a new experience and we had freedom to design our own creations with just a nod to the original.

Cardboard Trojan horse models The pupils could build their own Trojan horse


In reflecting on this work, I wondered whether comparisons could be drawn with a well-constructed Education, Health and Care Plan. Our workshops were all about what the student could do rather than their labelled need or disability, they were created with the student at the centre, based on their requirements and moved at a pace that was right for them. We are very proud of the workshops we designed and what the student achieved both in terms of engaging in each session and producing a finished product from the creative process.


The feedback on the workshop series from the PPG achievement mentor was very positive; the sessions had supported the aims of building the students confidence, self-esteem and building positive relationships. The student said that the workshops were fun, enjoyable and informative.

What did I learn overall?

  • To let the student lead the way during the session, don’t rush them.
  • There is great value in asking what they want to explore.
  • Time spent on detailed research, planning and preparation was worth it every time.
  • Don't try and cook four Roman dishes AND a drink at the same time ever again – too much pressure! I was a swan on the surface but…
  • There's no harm in quiet moments, they let creativity in.
  • The creative process is a positive distraction for the brain and provides a sense of achievement at the end of the session.
  • Schools shouldn’t be afraid of trying something different to engage their students - archaeology is not on the curriculum but we used a lot of skills that are, with a positive outcome.
  • Most importantly - we had fun!

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