Ernesford Grange Community Academy is a secondary school in Coventry with 850 pupils on its roll. It is in a disadvantaged area so has a higher than average number of pupils in receipt of free school meals and pupil premium funding. There is also a higher than average proportion of pupils with special educational needs (SEN). Following a 2016 Ofsted inspection, the school was rated as ‘inadequate’ and placed in special measures. Since then, the school has been on a mission to turn things around with many changes introduced as a result. At its latest Ofsted inspection, in 2019, the school was rated ‘good’ with particular praise for its approach to personal development, positive behaviour and effective leadership. The Thrive Approach® was introduced to the school in 2019 as part of Coventry Council’s Virtual School scheme which aims to provide focused support for looked after children (children under local authority care who may be living in residential homes or with foster carers or relatives).
As part of the Virtual School initiative, Learning Mentor, Carly Cannings (pictured above) was selected to train as a Thrive Licensed Practitioner® (Adolescence). She has been working with looked after children at the school, and those identified as having attachment issues, ever since. This is her first job in education, having previously worked in finance, and the training and support she has received from Thrive® has helped to build her confidence in her new role.
“I absolutely loved my training. It’s the most valuable thing I’ve ever been on,” she said. “It was more in depth than I thought it would be, and it was hard going at times, but it really made sense and I could see that a relational approach makes a big difference. Everything clicked into place for me when I did the Licensed Practitioner training.”
Carly has found the ongoing support she has received from her local Thrive Relationship Manager, Pam Carpenter, particularly valuable.
“Pam has been fantastic. I have asked her so many questions and she has dedicated a lot of time to me. She checks in with me on a regular basis and is always there to help,” she added.
Ernesford Grange is at an early stage of its Thrive® journey. Carly currently works with the school’s looked after children on a one-to-one basis, spending up to an hour a week with each child, depending on their age. She uses a Thrive room with fairy lights, comfy chairs and blankets as a welcoming, calm space for students to use. Mindfulness and meditation practices, as well as watching TV and films together, are used as ways of opening up conversations around emotions with some of the older children while younger pupils tend to prefer arts and crafts activities.
Attendance is good for 83 per cent of the children she is working with and, for some individuals, using the Thrive Approach has led to some breakthrough moments.
“Before half term there was a year 11 pupil who sought me out because she was upset. She cried and really opened up to me. She told another member of staff that she felt comfortable with me. There are also some of our younger pupils who have sessions with me before lunchtimes for mindfulness and guided meditation sessions. They are having a more successful afternoon as a result and are better able to focus and engage with class activities. Thrive is really working here,” said Carly.
The Thrive Approach has also helped Carly to support pupils who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the school’s looked after children can only have contact with their parents via online video sessions at present while others have found a lack of consistency caused by staff absences, as teachers isolate or quarantine, difficult to deal with.
“I think Thrive has helped our students to feel listened to during what’s been a difficult time for everyone. I have found that by attuning to them and their needs, they go home and they feel that someone has listened to them. That’s made a massive difference,” she said.
As part of the Virtual School initiative, Carly presents data on how the school’s looked after children are progressing to the local authority. She has also shared the good practice established at Ernesford Grange with other settings that are part of the scheme. Following its success to date, Ernesford Grange is now working towards expanding its use of Thrive. Over the last 12 months Carly has introduced the school’s inclusion team to Thrive techniques such as the Vital Relational Functions (VRFs) and Dan Hughes’ PACE model. The school’s recently appointed Mental Health Lead is about to start her Licensed Practitioner training with a view to embedding the Approach across the whole school.