Smallbrook School Case Studies
(Names have been changed)
John is 13 and attends Smallbrook School
He has the following difficulties in Education:
- Problems understanding long or complicated sentences.
- Difficulties learning new vocabulary, new words need to be specifically taught.
- Difficulties understanding higher-level language such as reasoning, problem solving
- Difficulties putting his thoughts into words.
- Problems knowing when he doesn’t understand
- Difficulties knowing which style of language to use – so he can be too casual with teachers or inappropriate with his classmates – so he can have problems keeping friendships
- Behaviour difficulties associated with his relational trauma and attachment difficulties such as aggression and violence, excessive controlling behaviour, and often presents as oppositional.
The Pastoral team act as the first point of contact with the care home, the school and home ensure 2 way communication to ensure a consistent approach to John from all the team around him.
In the classroom John is positioned near to the teacher, and the teacher always makes sure that they stop speaking when they are facing away to write on the whiteboard. The teachers and teaching assistants in all of John’s lessons understand the things to do that that are helpful to him when they are teaching and support his individual learning style and can refer to his student centred plan or positive behaviour support plan if they if they need reminding. Teaching staff make sure that they all use the same approaches for John using the attachment aware school model that follows the same principles as the house model of parenting employed in the home to have a consistent and reliable response to John’s needs. All staff give John a plan of what will happen in each lesson which he can refer to, with clear lesson objectives and John is developing awareness of his own learning through the use of SWANS to encourage visible learning in his classroom.
The teaching staff encourage all pupils to seek help if needed so John feels comfortable when he does need to ask. There are regular ‘question pauses’ in lessons when all pupils can ask for more information, often pupils talk with each other before starting a task or answering a question. Sometimes staff need to check with John that he has understood as he is not always sure, they ask ‘do you know what to do?’ and then follow up with ‘tell me’. What a pupil will be learning in that lesson is always displayed and this gives John something to refer back to when he needs it. To help John learn to self-regulate his emotions he has through consistent life space interviews begun to be self-aware when he is heightening and has a range of agreed calming strategies that he is beginning to use resulting in significantly reduced numbers of outbursts and instances of physical aggression.
Peter is 15 years old and attended Smallbrook School. He has had a traumatic past and as a result is a complex and challenging young man. Whilst pregnant with Peter his mother was in an abusive relationship. From birth she has struggled to develop a bond with and provide good enough care for Peter because of struggling with her own trauma surrounding the relationship with his biological father. Being taken into care was a very negative experience and the process has been seen as rejection by Peter who has also had several short term placements that unfortunately broke down as carers were unable to manage his behaviour.
Peter presented as challenging in school displaying several main triggers, one being peer pressure. Peter liked to be popular and joined in with negative behaviour of particular peers in order to use them to gain want he wanted (often cigarettes), Fear of achieving/failure Peter displayed toxic shame and believed that he was not good enough/stupid/worthless, feeling a task was unachievable or pointless can be a trigger. Peter also struggled with change of routine without pre-warning, however with suitable pre warning of changes to Peter’s routine he had time to process and therefore accept and cope with the change and in order to support him all staff ensured a consistent approach to his school day and communicated any change in a sensitive way. We also found Peter responded well to fun, use of humour and laughter could be effective with him. Another approach used was that staff spoke to him in a soft calm tone of voice when he was heightened as when voices are raised or harsh Peter would shut down and/or become more heightened. These approaches are ingrained in the PACE model we use across both Care and Education.
Peter also had significant gaps in his learning resulting in further shame in lessons when he thought the work he was doing was ‘for children’ and he would often refuse rather than admit difficulty. Peter wanted to work in the fire service in the future and remained committed to this. In order to help Peter achieve this school staff adopted several approaches. In terms of gaps in academic progress we carried out various assessments to then develop targeted top up interventions to help fill the gaps, we involved Peter in careers advice and ascertained the grades he needed for the fire service to help develop intrinsic motivation in his studies. By arranging taster days in colleges we worked to remove the fear of the unknown for Peter when he moved on from Smallbrook. Peter did achieve success in his exams and achieved sufficient grades to secure a place on a uniformed services course at a local college and is now on the way towards achieving his dream job in the fire service. Peter has kept in touch with the school and we still provide support for him in his studies when he needs it as we work with the care home in the transition process to ensure success for Peter.
Holly is 14 years of age and has been resident with us for the last 2 years and a pupil at Smallbrook school. Holly has had a difficult childhood suffering serious sexual and physical abuse and rejection by her mother who suffered with mental health issues. Her father was an alcoholic who came and went in her life as he was also often in Prison. Her mother provided unreliable and ambivalent care giving to Holly leading to her presenting with insecure attachment, low self-esteem and poor internal working model. This background has led to Holly struggling with self-regulation as her default stress response is one of flight and then fight if unable to get away from the trigger. Holly struggles to remain in a classroom for more than 20 minutes especially if she perceives any sign of danger being hyper vigilant.
Given her multiple placement breakdowns and issues in schools Holly was subject to numerous exclusions, periods of being missing in education and a perception of being unable to achieve anything positive. All of this led to Holly initially struggling in Smallbrook, she would refuse lessons, attempt to absent herself from school and climb up on the school roof sometimes encouraging other young people to go with her. In order to begin to make progress with Holly the school looked at her interests; these being music and horse riding. We arranged for a placement at a therapeutic riding centre in order to give her positive experiences and build self-esteem. We also ensured she had music on her timetable and as time has gone on she has become an accomplished piano player and writes her own songs. It was through these she began to disclose incidents of abuse and of how she felt. Holly was resistant to formal therapy but by the school counsellor joining her music lessons she built a strong link and now has regular sessions and also attends sessions with our clinical team as the school counsellor works hand in hand with the therapists. We worked with Holly to identify a lead adult for her that can support her in school, through this we have been able to see a marked upswing in the time she can spend in lessons and she will also use her agreed strategy to take appropriate time out if needed. Holly had huge gaps in learning and also lacked some of the skills required to be able to learn. We worked on this with targeted handwriting intervention, encouraged reading and linked numeracy to her music and other interests. Holly is beginning to make consistent progress with soft skills, and as evidenced by regular data collection, lesson observations and book trawls in her core subjects.