By Becky Wilson, Executive Headteacher at Palladian Academy Trust
My first experience with Thrive was during my previous role as a headteacher in a village primary school that had a large number of dysregulated children unable to cope with the day-to-day school and classroom environment. The negative impact this had on the rest of the children and staff was significant and being a small school run by a small team, at full capacity, we sought help from our local authority.
We worked closely with the local authority’s behaviour support team who were using the Thrive Approach as a way to unpack what was going on with our children and to look at how we could best support them. As someone who came into teaching to support all children, I was really pleased to have this level of expertise and was curious about this holistic approach regarding behaviour. I knew we needed to look at our children’s behaviour through another lens and immediately saw the benefits of Thrive. In our profession, we know that children are not just ‘naughty’. In essence, the Thrive relational approach helps you understand that children displaying dysregulated behaviour are simply children with an unmet need. The team was really supportive and encouraged me to undergo the full Thrive training myself so that I could share my knowledge with my school team and ensure this approach was fully integrated into all aspects of school life. Our governors supported this idea as they all liked the ethos of Thrive and so I embarked on the Licensed Practitioner course in 2018. Not only did the training give me a deeper understanding and the skills and language to communicate the benefits of this approach but, as headteacher, this knowledge helped me to form a strategic overview of how we implemented Thrive and how we moved forward as a Thrive school.
‘Thrive is part of our DNA’
Our school joined the Palladian Multi Academy Trust in 2019. The Trust is currently a family of 11 schools, with 10 infant, junior and primaries and one secondary school. Whilst the majority of schools used Thrive, they were working in isolation. One of the benefits of being part of a trust is that you get to spend time in other schools. Having seen the improvement in behaviour – and the management of behavioural issues - at our school, I could really see the difference Thrive had made and I wanted to share best practice across our trust. In September 2021, Palladian Academy Trust appointed a new CEO, Donna Tandy. Fortunately for me, Donna was familiar with Thrive and decided, along with the wider executive leads, to make a MAT-wide commitment to the Thrive Approach. This long-term commitment was announced at our September trust-wide inset day with all 620 staff (pupil-facing and non-pupil-facing) in attendance.
Thrive is already so much part of our trust’s DNA that we expect any new settings interested in joining Palladian to fully embrace this approach. We make it clear to all of our new schools that embedding Thrive is part of our trust-wide expectations.
In terms of practical strategies, the Thrive Approach helps you notice the children that are often overlooked. A simple solution to this problem has been to introduce a daily school gate ‘morning meet and greet’ at the school gates and an ‘afternoon end and send’ where every pupil is acknowledged. This has been really powerful in terms of stopping children from slipping under the radar. Just taking this time to say a direct hello and goodbye to every child has had a hugely positive impact on our whole school, particularly on our children who were often coming into school dysregulated. This contact allows us to make a quick assessment of our children’s mood as they arrive at school. This simple strategy means we can nip things in the bud so that our children start the day calm, content and ready to learn.
Raising standards and bringing consistency
I lead on Thrive across the trust, with support from the Licensed Practitioner, Sarah Bubyer, in our secondary school. Part of my remit is to create a certain standardisation across all of our schools to ensure there is consistency and also so that we can measure success. I’m also working on an application for Palladian to become a Thrive Multi-Academy Trust of Excellence. This will be a two-year trust focus for us which we’ve entitled ‘Thrive Together’.
To help bring unity across all of our schools in terms of Thrive, I’ve created a network for Palladian’s Licensed Practitioners so that everyone can share best practice, seek advice and ask questions. This network will create a sense of community and a shared support system that will develop confidence and expertise which will help to raise standards across the trust.
Bringing all Trust staff on board
An important element of making sure Thrive is a success is ensuring that all of our staff at Palladian are on board. We really want to embed Thrive into our culture and this means everyone needs to understand and feel comfortable and confident using this approach. To help with this, our Relationship Manager at Thrive, Eva-Marie Ford, delivered a training session for all staff at the start of this term – including staff members who don’t routinely have contact with our children or young people.
This term, all of our schools are revisiting what we used to call ‘behaviour policies’ but are now called ‘relational policies’. This key language change, as well as the updates and alignments, has started to have a profound impact on the relationships in our schools. I know that changes like this can be a little daunting to some people at first, but as the knowledge and understanding grow and the ‘why’ becomes obvious, it’s really encouraging to see how adaptable people become. Changing from a culture that applied sanctions to a more relational approach which ensures a restorative conversation is part of the process may seem troubling to some who are used to controlling behaviour through enforcing sanctions, but this can be exhausting and soul-destroying for all concerned. Alternatively, how wonderful to create a culture where building good relationships with children is key and good behaviour is encouraged.
To fully embed Thrive, all of our schools are creating class profiles using Thrive-Online (TOL) twice a year so that we can collate and analyse the data together as a trust. We can then pick up on common themes and intervene appropriately at an early stage to prevent problems gaining momentum, rather than waiting until there’s an issue and managing them reactively. If common themes are identified, i.e., should there be an area where many children are struggling, we can use our resources wisely across the group and put the right interventions in place quickly. Whereas our smaller primary schools may have struggled on their own to access this level of support if at all. The data we get from TOL allows us to assess pupils against age-related expectations for social-emotional development and create action plans to support them as needed. It allows us to evidence trends to internal and external stakeholders, such as our Governors, parents, and OFSTED, and show the impact of what we’re doing around mental health and wellbeing.
Making a difference
During an inset day, I involved all of our classroom staff in their own ‘whole class profiling’ assessment. I wanted them to be directly involved in unpicking the results. We could immediately see the positive impact of TOL particularly in the way it highlighted the areas of need that we could implement right away – this made such a huge difference to our children and staff.
We share TOL data widely with all of our colleagues and they find it useful to have this but I think it’s the skills and training our appointed Licensed Practitioners undertake that really help our children.
Our children are curious beings, and we encourage this. One of the massive positives we’ve found is that Thrive empowers our children as it helps them to understand their own brain development and their zone of regulation. This helps them to make sense of their struggles and to see how they can use coping strategies as additional support.
We’ve also found that using Thrive allows us to really support our community of parents and carers through the Family Thrive course. Across our trust, our parents and carers have a range of different needs for support. Some have a pupil premium rate considerably higher than the national average and, similarly, some have a high proportion of children with a social care plan and additional SEMH or SEND needs. The Thrive Approach will help us to better meet the needs of all of our pupils in all of these areas.
This is the start of a really exciting journey for us. Thrive is, and will continue to be, the golden thread that runs across all of the schools to support our trust vision ‘to provide excellent and equitable opportunities for everyone to flourish’. We’re committed to this, and we believe ‘everyone’ includes all of our children and all of our staff and we look forward to sharing our progress.
Over to you
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