Vincent asks: I was hoping to see some scenes where the children were being taught basic subjects. How are academics taught in this environment?
John Diamond, School CEO: The children are taught in three stages: The first is the foundation stage which supports their social emotional development through co-operative group work and play with one to one access to basic literacy for those children who have emotional blocks to cognitive learning. We also engage with the national ‘basic skills’ programme at this stage. As the children grow emotionally and their cognitive abilities improve they go up to the middle stage where they are becoming more independent learners and finally to the top class where expectations are in line with UK Year 6 teaching. High levels of teacher and teaching input support this process. Classes are up to eight students with one teacher and two assistants.
Debbie asks: Is there a psychiatrist who is a staff-member at the school? Are any of the children on antipsychotic or mood-altering medications?
Diamond: We have a consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist as part of our team. Many children arrive on Ritalin or psychotropic drugs, but we always work to get them off these within the first six months as we believe in working with the ‘authentic’ child and his or her emotional problems.
Samantha asks: How are children selected for admission?
Diamond: Children are referred by local authorities. We then have our own referral process, reading papers, meeting with professionals and the child, and finally a 12-week assessment on arrival. We are clear about our primary task of working with children with severe emotional behavioral problems. The referrals are usually appropriate. Our 61-year reputation helps.
Pam writes: What is the rate of successful transition into adulthood for past students? How many actually become successful adults?
Diamond:We are not exactly sure of the success rate as we have no longitudinal study. The anecdotal stories and contacts we have from ex-pupils from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s are usually very positive — they often regard their stay at the school as their first experience of a childhood. We have some very moving testimonies from former pupils.
Vikki asks: Working with the children must take its toll. What training does the staff receive? How extensive is the training and who conducts it? What kind of support does the staff have at the site?
Diamond: Yes, the work is very emotionally and physically challenging. Staff selection processes are very thorough. Each staff member has induction training for year one, then join our foundation degree ‘therapeutic work with children and young people.’ All staff have regular individual and group supervision, team reflective spaces underpinned by psychodynamic theory and regular team meetings, and access to psychotherapeutic consultation. All staff have ‘proact scipr UK’ physical intervention training. We place a strong emphasis on supporting and training our staff.