It’s the end of the school day and headteacher, Alton McDonald, sits quietly in a classroom at The Write Time (TWT) independent school in West Croydon.
His white shirt still looks pressed and his jacket is smart as he logs on to Zoom call to speak with the mother of an ex-student. He’s looking forward to catching up with her and to hearing how her daughter, Emma*, is getting on after leaving the school last year.
After a warm welcome, Alton and Helen* discuss their experience in providing Emma with a supportive family-style environment in which she could begin to enjoy learning at school. First, they had to identify and address several challenging issues which, at the time, appeared too difficult to solve.
“When Emma came to you it was after quite a quick downward spiral. We started off with a low level of behaviour and challenges which really escalated as she was excluded from school and ended up in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). We pretty much-hit rock bottom.” – Helen
Emma’s life became increasingly hidden from her mother and it was not unusual for her to just disappear, go missing at weekends and head off to raves outside London. She was thirteen and fourteen at the time and was supposed to be staying with friends.
Looking back, Alton said: “Emma was very, very defensive, as you know, completely dismissive, walking out of school, wanting to do things on her own terms, in her own way, all of the time. And when she was at school, punching holes in walls”.
Alton and his team began to spend hours and hours working with Emma. As with all students at TWT, she was put at the centre of everything they do.
Their activities were supported by the practical application of William Glasser’s Choice Theory, which emphasises an individual’s control over their feelings and actions and teaches the concept that behaviour is chosen.
It seems to have worked for Emma and her life began to change as a result.
“We got our beautiful girl back”.
Emma has now changed. She passed her GCSEs, has started at college, is studying health science and go on to be a vet.
As Helen’s face brightened into an excited smile, she said: “She’s in London now, although I’m in Suffolk. College is online and the big question is about what she will do next year. She’s definitely planning to go to university.”
Emma’s words clearly bring Alton happiness and his eyes moisten, he added: “We actually think the right formula is really quite simple. It’s about connecting with the child and letting them feel they have value.”
The video call comes to an end and Alton and Helen say their goodbyes. This completes another positive day at TWT independent school where the teachers and mentors encourage students to treat everyone with respect, feel good about themselves and, as Emma’s story has shown, finally experience success.
TWT is an independent school catering for up to 32 students with EHC plans as well as social, emotional and mental health needs.
Rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted, TWT works with local authorities across South London to educate learners in a long-term, permanent educational environment.
* Names changed to protect identities
Listen to the accompanying audio file from Andrew Cleminson here: