Our vision - a therapeutic school
What do we mean when we say that Castle School is a therapeutic school?
It's a place where...
Pupils’ learning is the best it can be because they feel happy, safe, and accepted.
Pupils are never made to feel that they are lacking or behind in their learning, because we work hard to provide lessons that meet their learning needs at exactly the right level. We do not use punishments or other sanctions.
Staff prioritise positive personal relationships with pupils, because these are the best foundation for teaching and learning.
We know that some children’s needs mean they will have had difficult times in their past and they need to be nurtured so they can feel a sense of connection with others, a sense of optimism and a greater belief in themselves.
We aim to support all aspects of a child’s development – academic, emotional, mental health, social, physical, life skills, sensory, and communication.
What do children learn in a therapeutic school?
Children learn what would be considered an appropriate curriculum in any school, but this general curriculum is also used as a vehicle for delivering another curriculum which is personalised to each learner. Every learner has a set of personalised targets which are worked on through the delivery of the more general curriculum. These targets are set in consultation with parents.
The personalised curriculum is based on detailed assessment of each learner’s needs. Teachers know that the greater the match between the curriculum and the learner’s needs, the more learning will take place. Challenging behaviour, by which we mean any behaviour which prevents learning, is seen as an indicator that we need to review what and how we are teaching.
Do all children receive therapy sessions in a therapeutic school?
No. Some children do receive 1-1 support from our in-house art, music, or occupational health therapists (or from our partner agencies), but in general our therapists are there to work alongside our teachers, providing expert guidance and support to provide a therapeutic learning experience in the classroom for the whole of each and every day.
So what do we mean by the word therapy anyway?
Therapy is any experience which promotes greater personal growth through learning about oneself and the world. What does it look like in practice? Well, it can of course be having a session with a therapist, but it can also be engaging any experience which promotes personal growth in any area of development.
So it can be talking things through with someone, but it can equally be horse-riding, doing something creative, making music, to learning to say or spell a new word, or even something as brief as making eye contact or accepting a smile at the start of the day, as well as many other activities. The more we guide children into and through these experiences, the better. Our ways of supporting children can be divided into two categories:
- Top-down therapeutic support, where pupils are taught to reflect on the world and their place in it. This kind of support can include staff giving guidance on how to act, or how to understand what is happening, and takes place throughout the day and across all the activities pupils engage in, and it is taught in many lessons but especially in Personal, Social and Health Education.
- Bottom-up therapeutic support, where we seek to help children learn new skills and understanding through direct experience. This is why for many of our younger pupils, for example, play is such a significant part of the curriculum. Play ensures high levels of engagement, and provides the positive emotional experiences that are such a fruitful context for learning in an effective and embedded way.
Does the therapeutic approach mean letting pupils do whatever they want?
Absolutely not, for two reasons. Firstly, we all have common developmental milestones and it is important that children are guided towards those milestones as effectively as possible. So although we pay a great deal of attention to listening to each pupil’s likes and dislikes, we play an active role in ensuring they are exposed to the activities that we know will help them develop. And secondly, none of us grow up in isolation; we are a part of a community, and the greater the role we take in that community, the greater the benefit will be for us. So we need to learn to be safe around others as well as connected to them, and therefore learning about boundaries is an essential part of the curriculum.
Which extra topics does a therapeutic curriculum cover?
At Castle School we aim to give pupils all the skills and knowledge of a conventional curriculum, but we provide extra support to help children to become the best versions of themselves. How to be yourself, and how to act in the world in as positive a way as possible is as important as anything else children can learn at school, and so we help children in a whole range of topics that relate to this. This includes:
How to connect and build relationships, be assertive, listen, develop healthy personal boundaries, resolve conflicts. How to recognise, understand and manage emotions in oneself and others. How to regulate yourself. How to cope with anger, fear, shame, self-harm, and positive emotions too. How to cope with stress, triggers, difficult times. How to establish a healthy daily structure, sleep well, eat and drink healthily. How to relax, negotiate and be creative. How to look after our mental health.
The most fundamental aim of a therapeutic school is an educational one. We aim for our pupils to become independent learners, confident communicators, and resilient explorers. The therapeutic approach, with its focus on challenge rather than threat, on promoting mental health, and on learning the most appropriate lessons in the most positive way, ensures that this aim is met.