TCES’ Group work philosophy
There is in my view in every child irrespective of previous experiences a wish to integrate into society and to be successful.
This wish may well be blocked by the multiple barriers of early life trauma and poor primary experience, often resulting in ongoing attachment difficulties and poor self-esteem.
Our children may well be locked into a never-ending cycle of unsuccessful attempts to communicate their inner needs, wishes and desires, whilst not yet having the tools to overcome speech, language and communication difficulties.
They will experience the adult world as suspicious, unfriendly, uncaring and will have this experience confirmed throughout their young lives by secondary trauma through the multiple exclusions and losses of the (all too often) small numbers of caring and understanding teachers, carers, social workers and other adults. Their suspicion and distrust of all adults will turn into a very healthy and understandable attachment disorder where they reject adults who will inevitably let them down in their experience.
Communications will often be unconscious expressions of their inner world and will reflect their experiences of rejection, loss, inconsistent and unreliable caring and multiple exclusions due to neurodiversity, all resulting in trauma and secondary trauma. These communications, often behavioural will appear as misunderstood and misdirected anger – usually outwards, but often inwards – through depression or self-harming, controlling behaviour or passive acceptance of their lack of control.
The primary task is to provide these pupils with adults who can emphasise with their experiences and who have the emotional intelligence to recognise their own responses to the pupils’ inner states, whether these responses are conscious or unconscious. We need these adults to be self-reflective practitioners in order to ensure that they are not drawn into the children’s inner worlds inappropriately, and instead can maintain healthy and appropriate relationships with our pupils. These adults will need to accept that the work requires them to make an emotional investment to meet the pupil’s unmet needs through the formulation of reliable, consistent and empathetic relationships.
The risk in the work we do is that all too often we can over identify with our pupils’ past experiences and miss what is the essential ingredient in their treatment – their own capacity for healing themselves through their strengths, resilience and extraordinary talents.
We can often see our pupils as incapable of change and needing rescuing from their circumstances, while missing their own strengths and talents for surviving challenging early life experiences and secondary trauma and for withstanding enormous difficulties that would break most adults. In other words, we can often as adults place additional barriers to learning on our pupils by not having high enough expectations and instead assuming that our pupils cannot be fully successful because of their early life experiences.
This low expectation can often be played out in the acceptance of poor behaviour and the view that pupils cannot learn to modulate their feelings in a school setting. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In a school which expects the highest standards of behaviour and respect both within and outside of the school community, the pupils will always rise to the challenge. They will demonstrate loyalty to their school, a positive community spirit and will work hard through peer mentoring and leadership training to support all other pupils to successfully meet the aims of the school.
They will do this when the school outlines clearly its aims and gives their pupils and staff a real voice and real participation in every element of the running of the school with everything managed within a framework of community and British Values.
In the past 20 years of TCES Group I have come across the view several times that due to many of our pupil’s increasingly complex needs and behaviours, they cannot be educated in groups. Whilst this may be initially true for a small number of our Create Service and for our Home Learning pupils as part of a step-down process, our motto of “Every child in full time group education or working towards this” is a vital part of our belief systems.
We do not see the value or success in working with our pupils individually in the medium to long term, and we insist that where this must happen due to risks, it must be reviewed on a half-termly basis, with a clear Pathway plan for full integration in place.
There is no part of life post-secondary school that encourages individualism and all aspects of successful citizenship requires participant in groups in further education, employment or training. This therefore with very occasional exceptions in Create and in Home Learning must be the focus of our schools and services.
As indicated earlier, the often unnoticed pathway to removing barriers to learning and increasing self-esteem and success lies within the pupils themselves. We must allow our pupils to discover their own voices by giving them a real voice to begin with. This challenge cannot be symbolically met by our organisation but must be the central tenet of everything we do.
Our pupils must feel empowered to have a strong voice and this voice must be listened to. Evidence of this voice must be seen in the full participation of our pupils in the running of the school and their involvement in every aspect of school life through relational education.
Initially as a preparation we must give our pupils a real voice, through individual speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and academic and social and emotional assessment and healthy attachment. This involvement will be strengthened through the Inclusion Model elements of relationship mentoring and the therapeutic milieu that we create across our schools and services.
Our pupils must be given a voice to ask for help, to tell us what they need and to tell us when we have got it wrong, through an open and transparent culture. We encourage complaints and suggestions as vehicles through which our pupils can recognise their influence, and where the school/service sees feedback as an opportunity to demonstrate democracy, the rule of law, and continuous improvement as a school/service.
The individual voice does have limitations and can often be a narcissistic cry for individual needs to be met whilst holding a scant disregard for the needs of the community. So, whilst this individual work is initially vital through various assessments, healthy attachment, relationship mentoring and therapy, there is a reality in a day special school for the needs of the community to be the vehicle through which we replicate societal structures and prepare our pupils for life in our wider communities. This is through real pupil voice and pupil participation:
Pupil Voice and Participation has several functions, and includes at its heart the following four ideas:
1. The empowering of pupils who often feel marginalised and who need to actively shape their lives and ongoing education as citizens and take an element of control in their futures
2. The promotion within staff of high expectations and the essential idea that pupils should not be passive recipients of their education and have within them the ability to own their voices, and demonstrate their skills, talents and ideas to shape their destiny
3. Inclusive communities where all pupils (not just the most able) are a vital part of promoting diversity and the breaking down of stereotypes that would otherwise promote division within our school community
4. The demonstration to pupils who often have significant speech, language and communication needs as barriers to learning that their voices will be heard, and the hope that real and not symbolic pupil voice will reduce the need for pupil behavioural issues as an inappropriate and unconscious form of communication
The work we do as a community in TCES Group is where most of our success lies. Our school community philosophy must be in the simple but empowering statement: ‘Together we’re stronger’
Schools Proprietor’s Vision
As TCES Group CEO and Schools’ Proprietor, my personal vision sees our schools as inclusive, thriving, socially and emotionally healthy communities - this vision is driven by my deeply held belief that human beings thrive in positive environments.
To enable this to happen TCES Group staff and pupils must be supported to own and deliver the community values of our schools and services, which are:
- very high expectations
- hard work
- mutual respect and acceptance of all
- authentic ‘real’ inclusion
- genuine pupil, parent and staff voice and participation
- a ‘we never give up’ philosophy for our pupils and staff.
Our inclusion model provides the opportunity for group work to facilitate pupil voice and pupil participation through:
Student Council: Opportunities for those pupils who struggle to have a voice to feel the transformative powers of joining a democratic student council. Pupils who would not normally be seen as engaging in our schools/services are transformed by being given an opportunity to have a significant role and responsibility and be seen by their peers as champions for their voices in successful and democratically empowering schools/services.
Anti-Bullying Council: A group of pupils chosen for their promised dedication to highlighting and delivering anti-bullying initiatives across the whole school community. These pupils will meet regularly with key senior staff to review anti-bullying initiatives for their effectiveness and impact. They will initiate positive experiences within the schools/services and across the company as a means of counteracting bullying and will lead on whole-school assemblies on the British values of ‘mutual respect and acceptance for those with different faiths and beliefs’.
Community Cohesion Group: A group of our pupils who form a ‘Charity and Good Neighbours Committee’ and engage the school and local community in raising money for local, national and international charities and other good causes. This group will ensure that our pupils deliver a helping hand to any neighbourhood initiatives, such as supporting the elderly or vulnerable with shopping, gardening or other appropriate support.
Group Process: The greatest gift we can give our pupils is the ability to self-reflect. Group Process is the vehicle where the school community meets together without an agenda to consider wider issues like British values, spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues as well as internal school community concerns. These discussions are set within a supportive atmosphere among a constant reiteration of the values of our school; very high expectations, hard work, respect and acceptance, real inclusion, genuine pupil voice and participation and an ethos where we collectively ‘never give up’.
Tutor Groups: An opportunity to instil pride and healthy Tutor Group competition in attendance, progress and success across our pupil groups, and where community shared values can be discussed and celebrated.
Teaching and Learning Groups: A shared group learning opportunity to transform pupils’ expectations about their own learning and success, where they can learn about the world around us and instil in our pupils a love of lifelong learning. Our classrooms is where our teachers through relational education can empower their pupils to have a voice and agency in their curriculum and their learning.
Group Assemblies: Where the community agrees its shared values, reiterates them and educates each other on what these values represent in the wider community and the wider world.
Celebration Assemblies: Where our high expectations, talents, strengths, creativity and school community spirit are collectively celebrated by the whole school community.
Leadership Group Curriculum: Where the talents brought about by our pupil’s experiences are reframed into positive leadership strengths and form the basis of a ‘Young Leaders’ programme, which motivates pupils to utilize their new-found skills across the school community through peer mentoring, roles and responsibilities focused on leadership and the service of our whole school community.
Alumni Mentors: Pupils who have successfully graduated are invited to return as Alumni Mentor Volunteers. Their primary role is to support younger pupils through their school journey. This demonstrates to pupils, parents and staff the effectiveness of the programme, and will be the primary means through which the TCES Group will recruit a significant percentage of staff in the future though our ‘Entrants to Employees programme’.
Group Therapy: Where healthy group functioning lies at the heart of the therapeutic work that we do.
Parent Voice, Participation and Parent Alumni: Our drive to ensure that pupils are given an empowering voice and influence will be even more successful if we support parents and carers to feel that they are fully included in our vision.
This support comes in the form of Parent Councils, which are particularly effective for parents who have previously been let down by the education system, and who would not normally participate.
Additionally, parents will be offered similar training to our staff to ensure that there is reliability and consistency both at home and in-school in the high expectations we have for our pupils’ success Following this training, we employ parents as volunteers in our schools. Previous parents who are Alumni of our parent council can also become volunteers in our schools and services.
We anticipate that through this level of parent voice and participation we can create a virtuous circle of well-trained and positive-thinking parents, who can support their children and young people even more effectively and support new parents who are joining a TCES Group school or service and reduce their anxieties significantly.
This group work, advocacy, empowerment and therapeutic education work lies at the heart of everything we do, and as Schools Proprietor I want to reiterate my passion for this work and to reconfirm my full personal support and the full resources that our company can bring to bear on this vital aspect of our work.