"Education plays a crucial role in enabling a child to develop the skills required to make their way in the world with success once they have left school," says education director Mathew Hargreaves. "This will include nurturing social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing as well as gaining the academic knowledge and understanding required."
The majority of children who enter the Restorative Parenting programme have negative experiences of school. Hargreaves says that the main job of its schools, which are situated alongside the four Halliwell Homes, is to get children to enjoy attending school and motivate them to learn.
The schools offer a nurturing and holistic environment and teaching methods designed to assist in the care of traumatised children, aged from six to 14 years old, with the aim of re-introducing them into mainstream schooling.
Each child's emotional and academic needs are assessed on entry by educational psychologists so that they have a programme tailored to their needs with both short and long term aims. The school timetable covers the Key Stage 1 to 3 curriculum.
"Children can walk to school with their therapeutic parent. They register with a character picture which displays how they are feeling that day so that staff know whether they are ready to do two sides of A4 Literacy or have a game of Monopoly because they are not in the right mental place for formal learning," says Hargreaves.
He recalls a nine-year-old who would run off on his way to school. "We realised that it was his reaction to sensory overload first thing in the morning so we built it into his curriculum that he walked for 15 minutes before school to get it out of his system. We can be flexible and do whatever gets the child into the right frame of mind for learning," he explains.
The schools are small, with up to nine children, and have high staff ratios. Initially some children receive one-to-one teaching and gradually engage in classroom activities to enable them to become familiar with their environment and peers. They are placed in groups according to emotional and academic ability.
Routine is reassuring for traumatised children and valuable to their recovery so an important aspect of the schools is structure and the use of visual timetables. Even playtime and lunch breaks follow a familiar routine so that uncertainty and anxiety is removed.
It is recognised that all children:
- are to be valued as unique and productive members of society.
- can succeed and should be encouraged to ever-greater
- appropriate challenges in all areas of experience.
need to be nurtured.
"Even though we are special schools we need to be as close as possible to a mainstream school so that when children move it's not foreign to them. So we still have school uniform, assemblies and the children address staff formally," says Hargreaves. "The main difference is that we don't exclude children, regardless of what they do."
The qualified teachers and teaching assistants also receive training in the Restorative Parenting programme and work in close partnership with the children, care staff and social workers to provide a seamless approach to care and education.
Hargreaves describes the school staff as demonstrating high levels of empathy, massive levels of resilience and being very flexible in order to meet children's needs. "They are good teachers who can also demonstrate all the soft skills and be there for the child," he says. "These teachers can be kicked, bitten, punched, spat at and still come back to school the next day. They are aware that the behavior is the child's way of expressing themselves so instead of disliking the child they continue to be there for them."
Children's emotional, social and behavioural progress is monitored and used to assess when they are ready to move to mainstream school. The target is to have all children placed in a mainstream school after 12 to 18 months of entering the programme. A teaching assistant will often accompany them to their new school for a few weeks to be a "friendly face" and provide support for the child and, importantly, others in the class to avoid stigma.
While it may be thought that a child moving to mainstream school could create envy or resentment among the other children, Hargreaves says that it actually raises aspirations. "Children see them coming back in a different uniform or from school clubs and it makes them realise that they want to create that life," he explains. "At first they are too busy with fight or flight tendencies but with time and the right care they start looking to the future."