Eaton Hall Specialist Academy caters for children with a range of emotional, behavioural and associated learning difficulties of a degree which frustrates or seriously impedes progress in mainstream education. Many pupils have also experienced long-term difficulties in their lives outside school.
A large number of children admitted to the Academy exhibit behaviour characteristic of younger pupils (e.g. lack of self-discipline, temper tantrums, an inability to delay gratification, a deficit in skill areas necessary to functioning as part of a group). Others display more introverted behaviour (e.g. anxiety, over-sensitivity, solitariness, lethargy, unresponsiveness, obsessiveness).
In requiring a positive behaviour change to develop pupils’ full potential and capitalise on the range of opportunities made available to them, the achievement of ‘normalisation’ is equally as important as the need for therapeutic intervention.
As such the pattern of education at Eaton Hall Specialist Academy is not fundamentally different from that of good mainstream schools. Education is based upon the best practices of normal schools that the constraints and opportunities that a smaller staff permit, coupled with that which is significantly special in the delivery of the curriculum for pupils with particular and specific special needs. The educational process itself, both within and without the classroom, is central to children overcoming their difficulties. The entitlement to the National Curriculum for our pupils is seen as positive in this regard.
Where Eaton Hall differs from other schools is that it is able to provide access to a 24-hour curriculum, being as it is a residential establishment. Individually based, objectively structured programmes aimed at encouraging growth and remediating deficits are features of all aspects of the waking day. As such every adult is able to play their part in curriculum delivery in its widest and most appropriate definition. This cements and underlines the need for, the multidisciplinary nature of the staff team. Critically all progress with our children relies on the relationships they form with the adults they encounter. This also requires, therefore, that the Academy strives for continued quality development for its staff team.
In terms of the work of the Academy an eclectic approach is preferred, viewing a variety of techniques and methodologies as valuable therapeutic tools each having their place rather than one exclusive or dogmatic orientation. Aspects of the following can be seen in the operation of the establishment; individual and group counselling, behavioural reinforcement of positive and appropriate responses, social learning, verbal and written contracts and agreements, programmes to enhance self-esteem and confidence, group methods, stimulation, role play, solution focussed therapy, anger counselling, etc.
The desire to achieve ‘normalisation’ makes it crucial that high expectations of pupil behaviour are established and maintained. It is vital to the efficacy of the therapeutic intervention that children referred and admitted to Eaton Hall do not assume that they have been merely transferred to a more permissive regime. A structured environment and the provision of a secure, supportive regime is as important to the development of children established at the Academy as it is for newly admitted pupils and can still maintain sufficient flexibility to allow for the development of the individual child.
The need to avoid the effects of institutionalisation upon pupils in any residential setting, and actively promote rehabilitation is considered axiomatic to the ‘normalisation’ process. The continual assessment of pupils’ residential requirements and the ability to offer varied and flexible boarding arrangements to meet individual needs is of paramount importance. If behaviours learned at the Academy are to generalise to other environments and situations then every available opportunity to involve individuals and groups in the wider community have to be continually explored and exercised.
All children are initially admitted to the Academy on a residential basis and are all fully involved in making the decision to come to the Academy. During the initial assessment period (10 to 12 school weeks) children board on a weekly basis going home every weekend. After this period children progressively spend more time at home moving gradually to attending the Academy on a daily basis with no boarding element. The pace at which this happens is agreed by all concerned and obviously varies according to individual needs.
It is also acknowledged that children whose parents fully involve themselves with the Academy and its processes, make the most progress. As such Eaton Hall is committed to both the principle and practice of parents as partners and considerable emphasis is placed upon assisting, liaising with and listening to parents.
A similar and no less important partnership with pupils is also crucial in bringing about behaviour change. A primary focus for any educational establishment should be the needs and views of its learners. To this end, pupils are involved in discussion and negotiation with regard to individual programmes both of an educational and social/ behavioural nature and the wider Academy life, culture and ethos.