By Ray Burrows
In September 2008, following much encouragement and a successful bid for funding from The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, The Mulberry Bush School began a three year action research project with three local mainstream primary schools and one foundation school. The encouragement to undertake the project came from recognition of the school’s successful 60 year history of provision, and was in line with the school’s charitable objectives of sharing the skills and expertise developed throughout this time. The project’s challenge was to see how established methods of working at The Mulberry Bush School (underpinned by psychodynamic theory) could be transferred to mainstream primary schools. The task was to take the core values of a residential therapeutic special school and translate these into practical ways of working (which represented these underlying principles) in a completely different setting. The core values of the approach (see previous article) are:
- Psychodynamic thinking
- Reflective Practice
- Collaborative working
The project also aimed to achieve sustainable developments within the schools.
The experience gave us a valuable insight into developing an adaptive model and its relevance in other settings, and we received some very positive feedback which encouraged us to pursue the possibility of future collaborative projects. Staff appreciated an initiative that had clear, underlying concepts and that was ‘very different to other county/government led initiatives’ (Head teacher) and that fitted in with long term developments in schools. Even at the end of the first year on Head teacher commented on the potential for the work to ‘be very powerful for encouraging reflective practice and to empower staff to realise they have the knowledge and understanding…to plan support for individuals and groups of children’. At the end of the project one Assistant Head teacher wrote ‘I therefore applaud the call to have closer links between specialist schools and mainstream’.
We began to consider how best to build on this experience, focusing particularly on offering support to other schools in our local area, and developing our links with Oxfordshire LEA. Our Training department oversaw the school’s outreach work, and in January 2012 set up MBOX, a dedicated outreach service, employing two new members of the team (see previous article).
Although the work has diversified over time, much of the core work continues to be with schools, and the following brief case study illustrates some aspects of the work that the team does. The case study was written as a presentation to Ofsted inspectors as an example of a school’s work with a child and his family. I shall call the school ‘school A’ and the child ‘B’.
A case study
At the time of our first contact with school A the staff team had received no Common Assessment Framework (CAF), Team Around the Child (TAC) or Positive Behaviour Management training. A review of their behaviour policy demonstrated a lack of consistent response coupled with a low level of staff confidence in preventing or responding to challenging behaviour. The default response was to call the Headteacher, with an expectation that she would (in her words) ‘play bad cop’.
MBOX was asked to support because a young child’s (B) already disruptive behaviour had escalated when he changed year group. The Headteacher had to use physical restraint and was the only member of staff appropriately trained in when this response became necessary.
In addition to some statutory training for staff, the Head looked for and evaluated packages of training and support for individual pupils. MBOX was commissioned to provide a package of support which, in the Headteacher’s view, would give ‘the holistic approach (for) whole staff training that would benefit the whole school’.
The Focused Plan
- MBOX completed an observation of child B
- A training session was delivered to staff which focused on understanding behaviour as communication. This supported the staff team to begin to reflect on the challenging behaviour they were experiencing and to try and understand how this communicated something about the child’s experience and needs
- Team Teach training, which focused mainly on de-escalation, but also provided training in safe holding should that be necessary. Child B’s behaviour management plan was reviewed in the light of this training.
- A child focused Workshop with all staff who worked with child B, including the Headteacher, facilitated by a member of the MBOX team.
In the presentation to Ofsted, the Headteacher describes what the outcome of the work was, what they discovered and what worked for them as a school/team.
- The workshop was the main turning point in the use of a positive, nurturing approach to supporting Social, Emotional and Mental Health at the school
- Why? Because the ground rules were set in the meeting so that each member of the group was safe to be honest about how they were feeling. No judgement would be made about their professional ability if they stated they lacked confidence in working with child B. An emotionally safe environment was established.
- Not only did staff lack confidence, the school was not providing a consistent response to child B, which mirrored his experience outside the school, where there was little consistency over the week, with wrap around care, a child minder and alternating nights staying with separated parents.
- What worked? The team focused on what the child was communicating through his behaviour and felt that he did not feel safe as he didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing from one day to the next. They understood how easy it was to replicate in school his experience outside of school.
- Because of the whole school training it was easier to put in place a whole school approach based on the learning in the workshop, resulting in consistency across the team and the school. The Headteacher was also able to work with the parents to establish a consistent pattern outside school.
At a follow up meeting the team reported striking changes, not only in child B’s reduced disruptive behaviour but also in the team’s morale and their developing relationships with child B. Communication had improved greatly within and without school, and it was commented how much safer and more secure child B seemed to be. Behaviour no longer got in the way of a full assessment of SEN needs. He no longer needed an Individual Behaviour Plan.
In the staff team it was noted that professional dialogue regarding Social, Emotional and Mental Health had altered and improved greatly, and there were regular staff meetings to focus on the needs of children receiving nurture provision. The school were planning further training on Attachment.
And finally, Ofsted commented very favourably in the report about the quality of the school’s work with vulnerable children and their families based on the case study presentation.