Springwell Learning Community in Barnsley is celebrating being named one of the first schools in the UK to receive a ‘Trauma and Mental Health Informed School Award’, presented by not-for-profit The Centre for Child Mental Health (CCMH), and Trauma Informed Schools UK (TIS UK), providers of trauma and mental health training for teachers and education staff nationwide
Springwell Learning Community is a partnership providing special and alternative education for some of Barnsley’s most vulnerable children with emotional, social and mental health difficulties who struggled to have their needs met in mainstream settings. Comprised of Springwell Special Academy and Springwell Alternative Academy and catering for four to 16-year-olds, Springwell is a mixed academy school partnership with approximately 165 pupils on roll. Springwell Special Academy received an Ofsted rating of ‘Outstanding’ in 2018 and Springwell Alternative Academy was awarded ‘Good’ with ‘Outstanding’ features in 2017.
To address their unique challenges, Springwell Learning Community implemented a relational approach to challenging behaviour and interventions to support whole school cultural change ensuring improved school bonding for pupils, optimizing feelings of belonging, and actively supporting psychological as well as physical safety for all. Through this personalised approach and strong values linked to unconditional positive regard, Springwell has become a haven to young people who previously struggled within the school system.
Springwell’s intervention resulted in significant improvements in behaviour, academic attainment and staff wellbeing; as well as reduced disruptions and exclusions. The environment provides a sensory-rich experience for children, with access to green space, quiet rooms and beautifully decorated classrooms. Staff emotional wellbeing is also of paramount importance, with the school’s warm atmosphere meaning adults are supported and look out for their colleagues.
Director of education and training at the CCMH and co-director of TIS UK, Dr Margot Sunderland, said Springwell Learning Community had met a very high proportion of the ‘mentally healthy school’ criteria evidencing key interventions to support the very best staff–pupil relationships known to markedly improve learning and academic attainment.
“You can really feel the sense of emotional well being as you walk around the school and the calm caring yet playful relationships that adults engage in at all levels promotes emotional regulation across the whole school culture,” said Suzie Franklin, education consultant and TIS UK Awards assessor. “The school’s ethos is focused around learning as the foundation for life, rather than league tables or exam results. Underpinning this is a comprehensive vision for students’ social, moral and cultural development. There is relationship policy (for staff to ensure that interactions with pupils are reflective regulating and warm) and the school really understands the evidence-based role that relationships play in shaping daily experiences.”
Commenting on their award win, Vikki Hazell, assistant principal and executive SENCO at Springwell said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive a Trauma and Mental Health Award for our ongoing care for the emotional wellbeing of our young people. The approach has transformed our school’s culture and reduced incidents of disruption, conflict and internal exclusions. It is a key strategy for facilitating school improvement and has been at the forefront of our work in terms of behaviour and wellbeing. Receiving this award continues to validate our approach and we are extremely proud to be recognised as a Mentally Healthy School.”
Schools can apply for a Mentally Healthy School Award or a Trauma and Mental Health Informed School Award by demonstrating that they have met a range of mental health and wellbeing-focused criteria. The implementation checklist centres around four key values which underpin mentally-healthy relationships between school staff and pupils: protect, relate, regulate, reflect – and schools are marked on evidence, awareness, emerging practice and embedded practice in a range of measures under each section. The overall score determines whether the school is deemed ‘Mentally Healthy’.