The importance of pupil views in a Therapeutic Thinking approach

Therapeutic Thinking in Heronsdale Special School


Herons Dale School is a community special school located in Shoreham-By-Sea, West Sussex. It caters for pupils with a wide range of learning difficulties and associated special needs. All pupils have an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP). There are currently 142 pupils on roll.

At the most recent inspection in February 2023, Ofsted reported that ‘Leaders’ work to support pupils’ communication skills is impressive. Staff work tirelessly to find a communication technique that works for each pupil. The impact on pupils’ ability to express a view is significant and plays a central role in pupils’ growing confidence.’

Becky Colley, Assistant Head for Therapeutic Thinking and Children’s Mental Health, completed her Therapeutic Thinking tutor training in 2020. The school now has 7 trained Therapeutic Thinking tutors. Becky talked about how the approach is becoming embedded in the school.

Why did you want to take part in Therapeutic Thinking training?

We wanted a whole school approach that we felt aligned with our thinking. We had already invested in trauma- awareness training and had implemented a therapeutic policy so wanted to explore a framework to support our next steps. We are committed to the understanding that a therapeutic approach is the way to support children effectively.

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

We delivered whole school training following the initial tutor training. This has been followed up through INSET day sessions, bite-size training and refreshers. We wanted all staff to have a consistent understanding and approach. The training has had an impact on developing staff confidence and empowering them to make considered, therapeutic decisions.

Over time further staff have completed the 3-day training with Therapeutic Thinking, so we now have a total of 7 tutors. These staff all have different roles within the school so bring their own perspectives to the approach. We have formed a therapeutic team who can provide support and advice for colleagues.

We knew it was important to support our pupils to develop their emotional literacy.

‘Here at Herons Dale, we believe that our children are the most important
people and we endeavour to give ALL children lots of opportunities to share
their thoughts, opinions and play an active role in the decisions that affect
their learning and well-being.’ Pupil Voice – Heronsdale Dale Primary School

We developed a debrief board to support reflective and restorative conversations. The board is adapted to meet individual needs, for example if there are too many symbols we remove them. Pupils are supported through this process with a trusted adult. We talk about how they were feeling, what happened and what they could do differently next time, sometimes using an approach such as comic strip conversations alongside. It also allows opportunities to discuss the reason for a rule.

Through this process, children are starting to ‘problem -solve’ and look for solutions. For some pupils we might support them to make a safety plan, identifying what they might look and feel like in a crisis and safe people and safe places for them. Not only does this help them to understand their own signals and to plan next steps, but it supports them to feel listened to and heard by adults in school, thus nurturing relationships. This approach aligns with our school aim to provide all encompassing communication. If we, staff and pupils, don’t take time to reflect on incidents, nothing changes. The children know that reflection is part of the process and part of the learning. Through this process we can identify both protective and educational consequences to prevent further incidents and support children to move forward.

We have also recognised the importance of debrief with pupils who have witnessed events when appropriate, providing opportunities for them to feel safe and secure.

We have regular teacher meetings to discuss behaviour and to remind staff to update therapeutic behaviour support plans where appropriate. We have seen a reduction in physical incidents which evidences how the approach is making a difference.

We are committed to providing a stimulating learning environment in which all our children can feel happy, valued, safe, secure and confident.

Celebration assembly has evolved- we have a theme for the week and the children present what they have chosen to focus on that week. They add the theme to the shield and can choose to share this.  It is a collaborative celebration aimed at developing intrinsic reward and pride.

What are your next steps going to be?

Embedding the approach is an ongoing process and remains part of our school development plan. We need to ensure that all new staff are trained and are are also providing training for parents.

We are developing our use of the tools, such as use of the updated Early Prognosis with newer pupils to gather information.

We endeavour to keep up to date with new resources and tools through the termly newsletters and attending refresher training.

Top Tips

  • Be committed, you have to believe in the approach and keep going.
  • Take your time, don’t try to change everything at once, it is an ongoing process. We are still developing things four years after the training.
  • Carefully consider different ways to gather pupils views to support progression.

Links to West Sussex Inclusion Framework

Within Aspect 3: Personal Development, Well-being and Welfare, particularly 3.1 and 3.2.