Thomas Keaney, CEO and Schools’ Proprietor of TCES Group, on the goal of delivering exceptional outcomes for exceptional pupils
Earlier in the school year independent research by Goldsmiths University of London found that TCES Group schools and services – which share a policy of never permanently excluding – have transformed the life chances of our exceptional pupils, who have complex and co-morbid SEMH needs and/or an ASC.
Researchers interviewed past pupils – 90 per cent of whom are in education, employment or training up to five years after leaving us – to get to the heart of the pupil experience.
The researchers found that: ‘an emphasis on attachment, along with a diversified and differentiated curriculum, with group process at its core, allowed these young people to feel understood, to feel welcomed and to learn the social and academic skills to engage with all aspects of life more positively.’
They went on to say that TCES Group, through our inclusive philosophy of never giving up, provides ‘authentic, therapeutic education at its finest’, which ‘is effective in transforming the lives of its pupils educationally, emotionally and socially’ within our inclusive schools.
The findings were an excellent boost for our schools, services and staff, and for the families who have put their trust in us. As importantly, they pinpoint the key ingredients that have gone into the creation of our inclusive educational settings. In the foreword, our Patron Dame Esther Rantzen states, “I believe that this policy of never permanently excluding, along with other interventions could and should be used as a template for the educational sector as a whole.”
The most significant ingredient, the one that cascades through everything we do, is our determination to deliver exceptional outcomes for our exceptional pupils, whether learning in school or remotely. By embedding a ‘never give up’ philosophy we challenge ourselves to manage, contain and respond to difficult and disruptive behaviour, rather than retaliating and/or resorting to permanent or fixed term exclusions. We know that this inclusive approach has a deep and lasting influence, contributing to our pupils’ stability and security. Our pupils’ cycle of previous exclusions is broken by our staff’s refusal to be pushed away or to give up.
Children and young people whose previous experience of school has been one of feeling rejected or let down by adults, need to be met where they are. Every one of the pupils Goldsmiths researchers spoke to described in their own words how healthy attachments and relationships with our staff were key to unlocking their potential. Those relationships provided them with a secure base to move on from and, along with our Group Process, provided regular opportunities for pupils to practise their empathy within a safe, reciprocal relationship.
High expectations means different things for different pupils and meeting children where they are means that success for those with significant and debilitating anxiety is simply having the courage to walk into the classroom. From that point onwards we can explore their interests, their talents and create a set of leadership opportunities that allows them to build a strength-based perception
Ofsted data released in March this year found a drop in schools rated Outstanding since the introduction of their new Framework in 2019, which puts more focus on assessing whether a school has a well-designed and ambitious curriculum with the same high ambition for
Person-centred curricula, rooted in high expectations, is another of the key planks of our approach.
We were therefore delighted, but not overly surprised, to retain our Outstanding grading at our North West London Independent School (NWLIS). One of the ways we engage pupils at that setting is through a rich, individualised Art curriculum. Previously disruptive, violent pupils have had their overall outlook positively transformed by being supported to develop their interests and achieve subject success at both GCSE and A Level. Notably, a recent student achieved a Grade C in their Art GCSE, despite being in a place of security for most of their final year and being supported remotely by their teacher. The student was anxious to take the GCSE and do well because he didn’t want to ‘let his teacher down.’
Goldsmiths researchers were struck by the way that all the TCES Group alumni they interviewed had a clear sense of identity, pride and purpose, and were able to talk about who they were, and what they wanted to do in the future (their ‘Journey of Change’). Within each school our L.I.F.E (Leadership Skills, Independence Skills, Future Outcomes and Empowerment or Employability or Enterprise skills) Programme provides opportunities for pupils to prepare for a successful, independent life outside of school by developing their skills and understanding in a deliberate and forensic way. At NWLIS for example, art-related work experience within industry and inviting accomplished artists into school (including those with ASC like many of our pupils) is one of the ways we encourage pupils to conceptualise ideas about first having a future (daring to dream) and secondly a
For us, that is our dream too. A virtuous cycle starting with leadership roles and mentoring curriculum in our primary classes, leading to levels two to four mentoring qualifications and more senior responsibilities in our secondary classes. It then ends with Traineeships and Apprenticeships in teaching and care for our graduates who return as volunteer mentors or apprentice mentors. Then finally, we have homegrown talented neurodiverse employees who start the virtuous cycle again. We are working hard to introduce the same virtual cycle for the parents of our pupils.
In 2020/21 our practice will continue to develop, but our underlying approach will remain constant. SEND pupils thrive through a combination of being listened to and understood by well-trained professionals and being encouraged to have an active voice and role in their school community; through receiving support to develop their sense of identity around their strengths and their future. Underpinning all of this has to be the knowledge that their teachers and their school will never, ever give up on them and quite simply never resort to exclusion, either permanent or fixed term.
Thomas Keaney has 30 years’ experience of educating children and young people with the most complex and wide-ranging special educational needs. He is CEO and Schools’ Proprietor for TCES Group, which operates two schools in London, plus a parallel service, Create, for young people with multiple overlapping and complex needs who need more intensive adult and clinical support in a range of non-school settings.