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    Raising the voices of families and pupils at the Pears Family School

    The Pears Family School was founded by Anna Freud. The school creates a culture of trust to help families and pupils direct the support they need, as the Children’s Commissioner learned on a fact-finding visit.

    It’s been almost 10 years since the Pears Family School opened in London.

    Founded, funded and sponsored by Anna Freud, the school remains an example of leading practice for Alternative Provision for pupils who’ve been excluded from school.

    Teachers at the Pears Family School prioritise a family-first approach to education, so parents and carers get a meaningful say in lesson plans, culture and support. They strive to develop a culture of trust to help children who’ve been through the trauma of exclusion to reintegrate into education that’s right for them. And, finally, they’re committed to sharing learning with fellow teachers and school leaders so other schools can intervene earlier to reduce exclusions, improve training teachers and implement best practice support.

    We were delighted to provide these insights to the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, as part of a fact-finding visit earlier this month.

    Our priority for the day was to raise the voices of families and we’ll try to do that here, too. Read on to find out more about the school and learn what we’re doing in partnership with Anna Freud to keep making a difference.

    If you’re a school professional and want to learn more, contact the Anna Freud Schools in Mind team or sign up to our Schools in Mind newsletter. You can also contact the school directly.

    Creating a culture of trust

    “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. We didn’t feel we were ever being preached at as a parent.”

    Many of the children who are referred to the Pears Family School have been through trauma and experienced ‘social thinning’.

    Social thinning happens when a child is cut off from relationships and experiences as a result of their behaviour. Being the ‘naughty child’ and missing out on opportunities gives them less opportunities to develop and further increases their chances of psychological disorder. This can also happen to parents who feel the stigma of exclusion.

    That’s why the Pears Family School works so hard to develop a culture of trust between the child, family and school. Parents and carers are invited to regular parent learning accredited training where research and mental health ideas are shared. This gives parents the confidence to help to co-design lesson plans and sit in class with their child while they learn.

    All this work means we can increase the “dosage” of help for every child. The school also strives to question a child’s behaviour rather than apportion blame. As teachers, we constantly research what may trigger a child and examine better ways of managing moments of distress.

    We’d love to see this systemic care and culture replicated across all forms of mainstream education and Alternative Provision.

    Facilitating family peer support

    “The Pears Family School has been a safe space where parents can talk whole-heartedly.”

    One parent came to the Pears Family School every day for two years with their child. They saw his attendance rise from 6% in mainstream education to 92% with us. He is now studying for his A levels and has excellent predicted grades. They also saw their child drastically improve his diet and physical health as their mental wellbeing developed. But this parent did so much more to help others.

    They also spoke openly with other mums, dads, and carers. They shared their experiences and helped to create a place for others to speak. In their words, they went from feeling “desperate and scared” to helping “everyone to be truthful and honest in a real safe space”.

    At Anna Freud, we want all schools to embed a whole-school approach to mental health. Find out more in our Five Steps to Mental Health and Wellbeing framework for schools or check out the Mentally Healthy Schools website. You can also download guidance on addressing emotionally-based school avoidance.

    We’re proud that 40,000 people are now signed up to our Schools in Mind network and that our Schools Division trained more than 2,000 education professionals in the past academic year.

    Wellbeing as part of the curriculum

    “We want students to want to be at school because they’re happy and feel understood –”

    This quote comes from school headteacher, Matthew Hillman. Matthew has been at the school for eight years and, last year, he oversaw 71% of children who started that September being reintegrated back into mainstream schools or appropriate provision.

    Matt has helped to instill a mental health and wellbeing curriculum into the school day alongside family learning and academia. This focus allows pupils to recover, reflect, rebuild and reintegrate into an education setting that’s right for them. Matthew and the school recognise that families, children and the education system all go through trauma during and after exclusion. As such, it’s essential that school staff are supported to carry out effective intervention as early as possible to earlier to prevent exclusions.

    Importance of family voice

    “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.”

    This final quote came from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, after her recent visit. We’re proud that pupil and family voice is central to our work and we’re passionate that other schools and policy makers do the same.

    What’s next?

    We hope to share more updates soon from the Pears Family School, which was rated Outstanding by Ofsted in 2022.

    Reach out Anna Freud’s Schools in Mind team if you want to know more about our whole school approach to mental health. Alternatively, join 40,000 other school professionals and subscribe to the Anna Freud Schools in Mind network.