Social and communication skills have improved at a Northampton special school which has been named as a School of Excellence for the role it plays in supporting the mental health of its pupils.
On Track Education, in Northampton, is a not-for-profit, independent special school which has 45 pupils on roll, aged from 11 to 19. Young people are referred to the school by the local authority and have a high level of need including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder as well as wider social and emotional problems or a history of non-attendance at school.
It has been named as a School of Excellence after going through a rigorous assessment process with Thrive, an organisation which trains teachers and other education professionals to support the social and emotional development of children and young people.
'Our students know we are here to help them'
“Our staff know that when there is a problem, it’s not about being naughty. It’s about understanding how emotions drive behavior and seeing it as a communication of unmet need. Our young people know that we are here to help them and they want to be in school – it's their safe place” said Lindsey Parkes, the school’s Pastoral coordinator.
School Manager Sally O’Connor added: “We were very excited when we heard we were a School of Excellence. I keep telling people about it because there is a real sense of pride at what we have achieved. It’s not uncommon for our students to have not been in school for more than a year before they come here. But when they come in and are properly settled in, they want to be here. They are given a voice and their parents are given a voice. A lot of our young people have already been rejected by schools and professionals but they know that we want to help them feel safe and that we won’t reject them.”
Time in, rather than time out
On Track Education prides itself on having a high staff to pupil ratio, with 41 members of staff. The school has a last resort approach to suspensions, and in most cases use intervention days with staff to give pupils “time in” rather than “time out”. This enables young people to remain in school or with staff to get the support they need in order to fulfill their potential. The school offers a range of activities to support pupils’ mental health including a wellbeing garden, forest school sessions, kick boxing, swimming and fishing. It also has a wellbeing dog, Diego, the Cockapoo, that students can spend time with to help them feel calmer and less anxious.
Thrive’s School of Excellence award recognises extraordinary schools which are making a positive impact on their pupils, and on the wider community, by prioritising emotional wellbeing. The award is the highest level of achievement in Thrive’s Ambassador Schools scheme, which was launched in 2020 as a way of recognising excellence in member schools. There are five areas in which schools can evidence how they use Thrive to support children’s social and emotional development: Environment, Leadership, Right-time, Reparative and Relationship, with the School of Excellence award reserved for schools that achieve the highest standard across all five categories.
'Strong and trusting relationships'
As well as submitting an in-depth evidence and impact application form, the school was visited by Thrive staff to observe and assess the way that teachers and other staff implement the Thrive Approach to help build the emotional resilience of children— so they can better manage the ups and downs of life and be more open to learning. This visit was conducted during an Ofsted inspection and the report included the following observations
“Leaders and staff know each pupil well. They build strong and trusting relationships. They continually support pupils to reflect and develop positive attitudes and behaviours. Pupils learn to understand and regulate their own behavior” “Staff provide a high quality of pastoral care. Leaders provide pupils with support”
“On Track Education feels special from the moment you walk into the building. Staff members create a warm, nurturing and authentic atmosphere. Young people are met at the level of their needs and are supported to develop their social and emotional skills. On Track takes full advantage of Thrive’s capacity to track and monitor targets and progress and uses this to inform development. Their School of Excellence Award is richly-deserved thanks to the hard work and commitment of staff in putting their relationships with young people at the heart of everything they do,” said Elizabeth Brais, Thrive’s Relationship Manager for Central and North Central.