Supporting individual pupils with Thrive and Therapeutic Thinking

Practice at Milton Mount Primary School


Milton Mount Primary School is a large three form entry school with nearly 630 pupils aged 4 to 11 years. Each year group has a Team Leader and a team of teachers and support staff. Prior to attending the WSCC Therapeutic Thinking training, the school used a whole school Thrive approach and employ a full-time Thrive practitioner. The Thrive approach was introduced to the school through a whole school trauma and attachment training delivered by Beacon House, a specialist therapeutic services trauma team.

At the end of 2019, school representatives attended a one-day familiarisation training on Therapeutic Thinking and used their understanding from this to further develop their wellbeing provision.

For me it represents a safe learning space where the children can progress at the same speed and in line with the rest of the children, allowing them the option to return to class when they feel comfortable, knowing they have the learning group to go back to when necessary." - Class Teacher

Good Practice Explained

The school first identified a small group of learners who struggled to self-regulate and engage with their learning, which often impacted on the learning of their peers. These pupils did not have a special education needs and disability (SEND) profile. Their lack of engagement had a negative impact on their academic progress.

The Milton Mount team began to use the Thrive baseline measure and the Boxall profile to develop an understanding of what may be underpinning these pupils’ difficulties. The school used these baseline measures to identify the support the pupils needed.

The group continued through to the next academic year, with staff implementing Thrive action plans for each individual, identified from the social and emotional development needs highlighted through the screening tools. The aim of this approach was to develop the pupils’ emotional resilience and integrate them back into their classes.

Following their Therapeutic Thinking training, the team set up a dedicated learning group allowing the children to access core subject learning in a low arousal environment with high adult to child ratios (2:5). This approach allowed therapeutic interventions to be implemented effectively. Children follow a personalised timetable including scheduled sensory breaks and learning is chunked into manageable tasks. The group is supported with explicit work on managing anxiety and developing resilience, as well as inclusion in LEGO-based therapy groups.

A learning support assistant says:

"The children in the learning group gain confidence quicker in a smaller group setting. Each child’s individual needs are specifically catered for as we’ve learnt their requirements and triggers by being in a smaller group. The learning group children can learn at their own pace without the demands of keeping up in class. We can take regular breaks as and when we feel the children in the group need it. We can go off piste and work on other areas required like anxiety, friendships, resilience etc.
Children are coping better with difficult situations. They are:

  • able to work better with other children
  • better behaved generally
  • experiencing improved attendance
  • displaying less extreme behaviours
  • much happier to come into school."

The school SENCOs describe their changed approach to supporting pupils and its impact across the school

What difference has the practice made to staff and pupils?

The adults supporting the pupils in the learning group have mainly focused on developing the pupils’ executive function skills and teaching them self-regulation strategies. It has also enabled them to make academic progress as they are ready to learn. Teaching staff have been able to focus their time on teaching rather than dealing with dysregulated groups of pupils. Teachers have been able to build positive relationships with these pupils when relationships have previously broken down.

After over a year of trialling this way of teaching, we are pleased to see that unsocial and antisocial behaviours have reduced and that some of the group are making good to excellent academic progress. They are able to integrate back into the classroom and maintain emotional regulation.

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

Throughout the school, the implementation of the learning group has enabled other staff members to think differently about supporting children who present with unsocial or antisocial behaviour through the deployment of teaching assistants and the importance of quality first teaching.

This new approach for supporting these pupils has also freed up time for the Senior Leadership Team and SENCOs who were previously called throughout the day to support with antisocial or unsocial incidents.

We recognise that these learners still deserve the best from their class teachers and there continues to be a focus on developing positive relationships whether they are in the class or not.

Has the practice had impact on the school’s strategic development?

As a school our deployment of teaching assistants has changed and has become more focused on the needs of specific pupils and the skills of the teaching assistants. Our teaching assistants are more fluid in their approach to supporting pupils and there is no longer a culture of ‘1 teaching assistant per class’.

We recognise that all children have different needs. For some children progress can be made by quality first teaching in a calm and caring learning environment. For others, a bespoke timetable is needed to address their emotional needs, in order to make progress. By developing this method of teaching throughout the school it has enabled learners to develop at their own rate whilst allowing others to succeed in the classroom.

What are the next steps for further development?

The aim of the learning group has always been to develop safe learning behaviours so they can spend increasing amounts of time engaging with learning in their classroom, alongside their peers.

Throughout this summer term, the children are moving back to their classroom for core subject lessons where they feel comfortable to and the adults feel that this is a benefit for them.

The independent island is used when a member of the learning group begin presenting with consistent prosocial behaviour in the group room and are engaging with their learning. The children are encouraged to progress to the independent island just outside the learning room. This is a stepping stone towards returning to the classroom for lessons and managing potential over reliance on adult support.

As they move to the next academic year, the plan is for the children to spend the majority of their learning time back in the classroom but with the additional support of regulation activities, brain breaks, visual timetables and other mindfulness strategies learned through this year.

Top Tips

  • Quick identification of unsafe learners and assessment of their needs.
  • Identification of highly skilled TAs who are resilient, flexible and intuitive in their work.
  • Assess why the children are currently unable to engage with classroom learning – what is the function of the behaviour?
  • Plan provision based on supporting these emotional needs.
  • A regular review approach is absolutely necessary to move the children forward as their needs evolve and their response to approaches employed can vary.

Links to the West Sussex Inclusion Framework