Embracing a Therapeutic Thinking Approach in a primary school

Therapeutic Thinking in Holmbush Primary Academy


Holmbush Primary Academy is part of the University of Brighton Academies Trust and is sited near Shoreham.

It is smaller than the average primary school with 198 pupils. It is single-form entry and has an onsite Nursery. The school has less than the national average Pupil Premium numbers. The proportion of children who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is slightly higher than the national average. The headteacher reported that the number of pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) is well above national average.

Their Ofsted report (Jan 2018), states that, ‘the behaviour of pupils is good and they behave well around the school. Pupils are polite. Pupils generally work hard and they have good attitudes to learning. Pupils enjoy school.’

The Headteacher, Susan Stickley and Inclusion Manager, Nicola Pilbrow talked about rolling out the Therapeutic Thinking approach following their attendance at the 3 day training delivered by Angela Wadham.

Why did Holmbush Primary Academy want to take part in Therapeutic Thinking training?

Behaviour in the school is good but post-Covid we started to see children struggling more. We wanted an approach that would support everyone in addition to key children. We already had some of the principles in place but wanted to solidify this and ‘tweak’ rather than overhaul to ensure a shared language and understanding across all staff, parents and pupils.

We participated because we believed in it, not because it was a West Sussex ‘thing’ and felt that it complemented approaches we already have in place, including Growth Mindset and Zones of Regulation.

What are the actions so far and how have they impacted?

All staff received three hours of training from the inhouse Therapeutic Leads. We then reviewed our Behaviour Policy, which was entitled ‘Encouraging Good Behaviour’. We wanted staff to be involved in this process to ensure it was comprehensive, clear and unambiguous. We renamed the Policy ‘Encouraging Prosocial Behaviour’:

At Holmbush we believe in a therapeutic approach to behaviour management. Our aim is that children leave our academy with the skills to be positive members of the community and an understanding of the intrinsic reward that prosocial behaviour brings.

Our amended policy has allowed us more cohesion across the school, with a shared language and understanding between all adults. We understand that all behaviour, both pro and anti-social, has a consequence.

Teachers have also had a further hour and a half’s training – using the Anxiety Analysis tools. They reported that it was helpful to have a structure to follow and to discuss.

We wanted children to understand that behaviour is not just about how you act at school but at home and in the community. This message is delivered through assemblies and everyday interactions. We wanted children to appreciate the intrinsic value of conducting prosocial behaviour.

"If you are showing more pro-social behaviours you get more responsibility, which is good" - Year 4 pupil

Children are wanting to behave pro-socially because of the intrinsic reward created.

We were previously using a visual red, amber, green system. We still have public praise systems including ‘The Awesome Award’ in place, but these are based on effort and character. We still give stickers to serve as a visual reminder to children about how the moment had been celebrated and how it had made them feel. They are also a great prompt for parents to discuss and celebrate alongside their child.

We know our children, those who can find public praise difficult, and those who need an adult to publicly praise and we can do that for them.

‘Team Triangle’ class rewards are used as a way of promoting collective responsibility. Staff ensure they talk about how doing something pro-social makes you feel.

We have removed all methods public ‘shaming’.

We take time to have discussions with children about the consequences of behaviours, both anti and prosocial. Very rarely is a child sat outside the headteacher’s office. It is a place they also come to celebrate or just to chat!

We have ensured that everyone is using a shared language and vocabulary. Children understand this and use the language themselves. This has been revisited with staff to embed and reflect upon their use of the language. We always start our training sessions with the Pam Leo quote, ‘You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better’.

We have seen the approach have a positive impact on individual children who had been struggling, including one who is now happy and confident to come to school.

What are your next steps going to be?

We are planning to create a video presentation to further share Therapeutic Thinking with parents and carers.

We plan to look further at the Therapeutic Tree in our next training session.

Top Tips

  • Involve your staff at all stages.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with bathwater. Keep the systems that work and fit the approach and do what is right for your setting.
  • Get the language embedded and understood by all.

Links to West Sussex Inclusion Framework

Links are to Aspect 3: Personal Development, Well-being and Welfare, particularly 3.1, 3.2 and 3.4.