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Children’s Commissioner unlocks learning on Alternative Provision at The Pears Family School

Dame Rachel de Souza met parents, carers, families and pupils at the central London school, founded and sponsored by Anna Freud.

The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, visited The Pears Family School to learn from parents, carers and pupils how its family-centred approach to Alternative Provision helps excluded children return to education that’s right for them.


The Commissioner, whose remit is to promote and protect the rights of children in England within government, spent almost three hours at the school on Rodney Street, central London.

Dame Rachel met 11 parents and pupils. She also had a tour of the school and learned how it integrates families into the school setting while also giving them a voice in lessons through co-produced learning plans.

The Pears Family School, rated Outstanding by Ofsted in 2022, was founded by Anna Freud. Today, we sponsor the school and share much of its learning through our Schools Division, headed up by school governor and Anna Freud Director, Jaime Smith.

One parent who met the commissioner described the school as a life saver for their family. They said: “You can feel blamed as a parent when you’re getting daily calls from your child’s school about their behaviour, but it was totally different at The Pears Family School. It was an environment that suited my child and a life saver for us. Everybody was welcoming and kind and we didn’t feel we were ever being preached at as a parent. Instead, we could share our experiences with other parents, and learn.”

Another parent saw her child’s attendance increase from 6% to 92% following a move to the Pears Family School. She said: “I attended the school every day with my child. It was daunting at the start but, after a while, I got to see the children change and there was an incredible transformation. Pears Family School has been a safe space where parents can talk whole-heartedly. After two years, my child moved on and he’s now predicted Grade C at A-Levels.”

The Pears Family School was co-founded in 2014 by Anna Freud colleagues, Neil Dawson and Brenda McHugh. It works with pupils aged five to 14-years-old who’ve been excluded from mainstream education. The school uses an innovative family-centred approach and mental health curriculum to help pupils recover, reflect, rebuild and reintegrate back into full education.

Forty-seven pupils were supported by the Pears Family School in 2022/23. In total, 71% of those who started in September were reintegrated back into mainstream schools.

Learning from the Pears Family School is shared through Anna Freud’s Schools Division to help us achieve our vision for all schools and colleges in the UK to be mentally healthy. We trained more than 2,000 education professionals in the last academic year and shared learning with 40,000 members of our Schools in Mind network. The team also delivered training to staff in more than 400 mainstream schools to support student engagement, progress and inclusion.

Matthew Hillman, Pears Family School Headteacher, said: “The key to our success at the Pears Family School is being able to create an environment that nurtures and grows trust. We thank Dame Rachel for joining us to witness this first hand. Her approach of listening to children and families will help us to share our unique model and provide a platform that will enable more children and families to be supported and reached. Building trust, improving mental wellbeing and developing skills necessary to contribute positively to society remain the vision we have for all our children.”

Dame Rachel de Souza said: “It was really inspiring to see the incredible work being done at the Pears Family School. I heard from parents and pupils about the challenges they had faced in previous schools and how they had felt isolated and alone. I was deeply impressed to see the approach taken by the Pears Family School to re-engage children working in partnership with parents and their children.”

Visit the Pears Family School website for more information on its approach to Alternative Provision.

Learn more about our Schools Division and the resources and training we provide for schools. Sign up to our Schools in Mind newsletter.