Embracing Therapeutic Thinking in a junior school

Therapeutic Thinking in Maidenbower Junior School


Maidenbower Junior School is a larger than an average-sized Junior school for children aged 7 to 11 years, with 600 children and 90 staff. Pupils are taught in five parallel single-age classes in each year group.

The proportion of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds is below average. A very small number of pupils speak English as an additional language. The proportion of pupils known to be eligible for the pupil premium (additional funding to support children in local authority care and those known to be eligible for free school meals) is also below the national average. The proportion of disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs is just above the national average.

Maidenbower Junior have a Special Support Centre (The Launchpad), managed by the governing body. It provides specialist learning support for pupils with a diagnosis of Autism. It has spaces for 17 children.

What were you trying to achieve and why?

Following a 3 day training course, key leaders were convinced that the therapeutic approach to behaviour was the right journey to take and reflected our school values and vision. Our intended outcomes were to support our most vulnerable pupils and to develop children’s intrinsic motivation to make the right choices, taking away visual reward systems. We wanted to work with individual children to use consequences as a learning opportunity and to eliminate punishments that result in negative feelings.

What did you do?

After the training, two school leaders immediately set about developing an action plan that focussed us on the priorities and the longer-term plan. We started by talking to some of our pupils about our current behaviour policy and systems and gathered some vital feedback from them which clarified our direction and gave evidence that has proved helpful in ‘selling’ some of the changes to staff.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we rolled out initial training to small groups of staff. We prioritised our Launchpad staff (our autism unit) and a specific year group who consist of some of our most challenging pupils as we felt some of the tools could be used straight away, e.g. the anxiety analysis, and inclusion circles. Staff were immediately on board as they were given some tools that could support their work with pupils.

We held a half day virtual INSET and a virtual staff meeting to teachers to share the main information, vision and some useful resources. Hosting these sessions virtually meant that it lacked the discussion that face to face would have generated, but the overall feeling was that staff were on board, with a few concerns that teachers shared. We asked for everyone to have a go at what we were suggesting.

We held subsequent face to face training with groups of teaching assistants and PPA teaching staff. Although repeating the same training was time consuming, it was more personal, generated more discussions and added clarity and depth to our delivery of the sessions.

Our policy was then rewritten, taking into account our training and feedback from staff. One of the biggest successes was creating a video to share with parents and governors to explain our vision for behaviour, procedures and reasons, and we have received really positive feedback about this.

What difference has the practice made to staff, children and young people?

Our most vulnerable children have had increased provision in their most difficult times of the day. It is too early for data to show impact; however case studies of certain pupils show a reduction in anxiety levels and improved behaviour.

It is work in progress and some provisions or support have not had the desired impact, but there is clearly more support and awareness from staff. There has been a noticeably consistent approach from staff in this.

What impact has the practice had on ‘every-day’ operational practice within the wider school?

Quotes from children

  • ‘I hated seeing my name on the sun because I once got teased about being a goody-goody.’
  • ‘I got warnings then my name went on the cloud so that was it…what was the point of trying cos I knew I would be in.’
  • ‘My teacher spends more time talking to me now and I like that.’

Quotes from teachers

  • ‘I now spend time thinking about and talking to individual children more to help them identify potential triggers and verbalise their thoughts and feelings. I think they feel that I listen to them more.’
  • ‘Our children have been taught the language of equality from ourselves, from their families and from society in general. This approach is more about equity – a hard concept for the children to understand, nevertheless it has been a good opportunity to show myself modelling this to them all. I find I have become more flexible and I can spot when a child needs support through a more individualised approach.’
  • ‘My classroom is calmer. I would also say that anxiety levels have dropped simply because the sun and cloud visuals have gone.’

A parent Governor

  • ‘I wanted to mention that the new approach (to behaviour management) looks fantastic. What a lot of hard work for you all. When I spoke to my son about the changes, he said that he feels far less anxious not having names on the sunshine or storm cloud on display. Thank you MJS.’

What are the next steps for further development?

Our next steps are to refresh all staff with training in September so there is a shared expectation across the school.

Our new behaviour policy will be shared. Inclusion circles are going to be completed on a regular basis and be used as part of transition.

Staff will be given a glossary of language to use to ensure our language is consistent and clear.

Top Tips

  • Start with pupil voice – this tells you a lot, and it is hard to argue with changes that stem from children’s thoughts and experiences.
  • Don’t do too much at once. Prioritise based on your needs.
  • Being transparent with parents.

Links to the West Sussex Inclusion Framework

Within Aspect 3: Personal Development, Wellbeing and Welfare of Children, Young People and Staff, particularly 3.1 and 3.4.

Within Aspect 4: Quality of Education, particularly 4.5.