How I introduced Thrive at a new setting – which went on to be rated Outstanding in its first year
by Leah Roberts, Family, Inclusion and Wellbeing Coordinator at Dovecote School, in Somerset, explains the steps they took to effectively embed Thrive into a new setting, which was rated Outstanding by Ofsted in its first year – as well as gaining Thrive Ambassador School status in two areas.
Dovecote School opened its doors for the first time in September 2022. It is a mixed, independent school for young people with SEND, aged 5 to 18. There are 57 students on roll with capacity for 75. We recognised, right from the start, the importance of phased transitions for young people; many of whom have huge school trauma and anxiety and who haven’t accessed school for several years. Some of our students felt able to engage from day one while others have needed help for longer. We achieved 91 per cent attendance in the first six months – a significant achievement given the difficulties some of our students have had with education.
We welcomed staff to Dovecote School in the middle of August 2022 for a full and comprehensive Induction to the needs of students. I undertook a whole school induction for a full day, exploring the main areas of Thrive and looking at a relationship focus with students and families. We approached the first term as Dovecote’s Being stage for everyone in our school community - developing safety, value and ensuring everyone had their needs met. We achieved this through relationship building, Occupational and Speech and Language support and observations, working with animals on our little farm and finding ways to hook students in to learning using their special interests. In our first term there was no expectation for academic learning if students were not yet ready.
'A basis for the curriculum'
Thrive has been part of our pre-admission discussions from the start. We knew it would form the basis of our therapeutic approach and it has subsequently become a basis for our curriculum, allowing teachers the awareness of interruptions to facilitate creative engagement and helping them to ease students in gently and in an individualised way. We have developed our Relational Policy (Behaviour) with Thrive at its heart. This is enabling us to be clear about negotiables and non-negotiables and how we maintain structure and nurture to promote containing relationships which enable safety in learning.
We then went into our Doing term, exploring and experimenting with relationships and learning in a range of ways, with teachers understanding young people and the way our community was evolving. Students experienced options in timetable choices and learning styles and some staff moved into new roles within the school having experienced new opportunities. We initiated a student council who organised focus days including a pet competition for Children’s Mental Health Week.
The predominantly SEMH students in my previous school were very different to our autistic students at Dovecote School. Thrive works differently but still meets interruptions and right-time experiences well for students with a diagnosis of autism and pathological demand avoidance (PDA), as it allows space for non-challenging expectation and for giving young people choice in their education. Interruptions may be for different reasons and our student and family community are supporting our growing understanding of this.
Our relationship with families
A big win was our relationships with families - we started delivering Family Thrive courses as soon as we could. As a result, we have parents who actively promote Thrive as an approach; having deepened their own knowledge and understanding of their child’s needs and presentation.
Summer term was about Thinking for us. At Easter, we saw our Being, Doing and Thinking Thrive pods being developed. These now offer additional space for Thrive activities, safe space for connecting and relationship building. With a forest school, small farm, outdoor education and Duke of Edinburgh awards, we were delighted to meet the criteria for two Thrive Ambassador Schools awards - Excellence in Relationship and Environment and to be judged as Outstanding by Ofsted. Our Ofsted report says: “Pupils quickly feel safe and secure. They excel, fuelled by the strong relationships staff build with them. As a result, pupils develop exceptional attitudes to learning and make impressive progress from their starting points.”
Getting an Outstanding rating in our first year means that we now really have to work to drive our vision and to sustain the progress we have made. We are still growing and aim to get to the point where Thrive feeds into everything we do. We’re excited about the new academic year and to continuing our journey at Dovecote.
Over to you
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