by Andy Howard
As we emerge from the Pandemic, and life returns to normal, it is becoming increasingly clear that normal is not what we thought it was. This is doubly so in education and even more so in specialist education provisions such as the one I am proud to lead, Nugent House School. Throughout the pandemic, like most schools and educators, we worked tirelessly to support our students, provide them with a sense of routine and safety, and help them keep on learning through these extreme times. Now we are looking more deeply at our systems and structures and clearly see that there is so much more ground to cover.
Education should always be about educating the whole person, and before the pandemic struck, there was a definite global sense that things needed to move away from an almost singular focus on measuring academic results to a more holistic approach to learning, supporting the development of the ‘whole’ child. But seeing the impact the isolation, the fear, the anxiety caused in young people as a result of the world’s response to this new virus, it is even clearer that this now has to be an imperative in the entire educational system.
At Nugent House School, we provide support and education to young people aged from 7 to 19 who have additional social, emotional and/or mental health conditions that make it difficult if not impossible to be in a mainstream school. We provide a nurturing environment, where we put the emotional needs of the young people front and centre of everything we do:
“Nugent House is a place where pupils are ‘loved fiercely’ and helped to overcome their considerable barriers to learning. Pupils’ personal development is nurtured, and they thrive in the care of dedicated staff”. – Ofsted Inspection 2020
For us, we consider everything we do, from the layout of classrooms, to our behaviour systems and our curriculum, from the perspective of the young person. There is no separation of pastoral and curriculum and we work as a team, supporting our students in every aspect.
We have recently introduced a Positive Behaviour System (PBS) approach and this is challenging us to reflect on all our systems so we create an environment that is trauma informed and encourages and teaches positive behaviours through reward and recognition. This is all about helping our students understand their behaviour, see the impact it has and then learning new ways to be next time; it’s the old quote about teaching someone how to fish.
What we sometimes see as a failure to behave might actually be a failure to communicate. And the same is true of our students. Due to their backgrounds, their lived experience, their development, there is often more to their responses than what we see on the surface. We shouldn’t punish them for doing something we consider wrong, because to them, it’s the only way they know to get a response. We need to listen to the message they are sending us and respond with kindness and support, not punishment.
And so, we are so excited to be partnering with Captains & Poets to introduce their ground-breaking curriculum into the school. The Captains & Poets model introduces a fiendishly simple approach to support young people in gaining a sense of self-awareness and an inner compass that can help them in navigating social situations effectively. For our young people, Captains & Poets is going to be pivotal in supporting them to develop the essential skills they need to reach their potential by becoming the most authentic versions of themselves possible.
The Captains & Poets curriculum is going to be woven into our curriculum, forming a mainstay of our pastoral programme, units supporting across all curriculum areas, and to support our learning mentors, who are crucial staff who support our young people in the restorative processes when their behaviour has become dysregulated. The Captains & Poets model helps us send the message to our students that we are here to support and encourage them. To ‘love them fiercely’ as Ofsted recognised.
Andy is a highly experienced school leader, with over a decade working as a headteacher in a wide range of settings, from mainstream secondary to specialist provisions. He has also worked as a consultant in the UK and internationally, providing leadership expertise in both new school start-ups and supporting schools requiring additional leadership capacity. Andy has also worked for a number of years prior to this in senior leadership roles and has expertise in leading in both curriculum design and behaviour management systems as well as special education and safeguarding.