Napton is a small school, in a village setting where everybody recognises everybody else and buildings are on a scale that small children feel comfortable with. Yet parents report big changes in their children’s willingness to go to school, stay at school, learn and make friendships.
Many of the staff have been at the school for over five years, overseeing the transitions in and out of whole cohorts of pupils, and developing strong teamworking abilities.
Teaching Assistant Lisa McLawrence, who has been at Arc School Napton for six years, explains how every staff member is motivated and enabled to give children a fresh start and the best chance of success.
The power of positivity
A teaching assistant plays an important role in any school, but in a special school, where individual needs are so varied, and where forming trusting relationships can involve overcoming past experiences, the TA can be an everyday hero.
Lisa is mindful of the importance of consistency and positivity as well as of the enduring impact teachers and TAs have. She says: “That one little thing that you say to a child might stay with them for the rest of their life. So make sure it’s a positive thing.”
Making a small difference every day
Lisa, who became a TA after several years as a First Responder, dealing with emergencies and working in strong teams, is motivated by ensuring that each child develops the understanding and confidence to tackle challenges, and has the skills to thrive in a world which is not always fair, or kind.
“Even as one person in one small school you can see the difference you make to children on a daily basis,” she says.
“The work I do with children is very much in the context of my own understanding when I was a child, that not everybody is treated the same. Showing the children that they deserve the same as everyone else, the very best, is really important, and learning comes much faster when a child fels secure and supported in school in this way.”
“The reward is seeing a child who’s never worn unform put it on, or a child who couldn’t go into school for years complete a day, and reflect on it and enjoy it.”
Change the environment, and watch the behaviour change
Headteacher Ange Heyes’, who has led Arc School Napton since early 2018, believes that school plays a vital role in helping children grow into social adults, who can be part of communities. Her mission has been to develop a school, which children enjoy going to, where they feel safe, and have fun and can learn.
“We teach the child, not the chronology. So a child may join us and the paperwork will say there has been this problem in the past, or the child has done this or that. What’s so important to understand is that there is a reason for behaviour, and it’s environmental and relational: change that and the behaviour will change.”
It's in this context of a carefully managed environment, designed to nurture trust, security and confidence, that Lisa and her colleagues enable transformations in children’s behaviour.
“The school now compared to five years ago is more structured, we have early years specialists now so we can support a wider range of children, and the support for staff is even better. That really matters because it is a challenging job, and children with trauma will be the first to pick up on tension or stress so the fact that here it is so calm, so friendly, is a part of what makes them always feel very safe and calm.”
A small school, where children feel safe
“As a primary school, we’re really focused on helping children settle, and form relationships and give them the best opportunities when they move to secondary school. They may only be here a short time, but for them it is so precious to have this nurturing environment without any ‘big boys and girls’ on site, which can be distracting or even intimidating for little ones. And for us, it’s realising we’ve done everything we possibly can to put them on the right path.”