Mya might come across as very confident Year 7 pupil. Her hair is weaved with coloured strands, which change their hue regularly. She does not need encouragement to express her opinions. She gets on well with pupils in the higher years at the school, and she has an energy and talkativeness, and tendency to break into laughter, which energise those around her. She is never lost for words.
But like all of the pupils at Arc School Old Arley, this poise and self-belief has been hard won. For a long time, Mya was very unhappy at school. At an early age, Mya was told by teachers that she was disruptive, and experienced the fear and confusion that children feel when teachers expect, without helping, and when needs aren’t met and the child themselves is blamed.
“I don’t like teachers. When I started school in Year 1 they expected me to sit still in class for a whole day doing work that I couldn’t do. I literally could not do the work, so I had to sit there doing nothing for hours, not playing and not talking when I was five years old, and then I would get in trouble anyway because I hadn’t done the work. So in Year 1 is when I knew that I didn’t like teachers.”
Arc School Old Arley worked its magic. A combination of small classes, relationships built on trust and a sense of community (pupils address teachers by their first names) and a clear and consistently enforced set of rules which support learning, together with therapy, behaviour management programmes and a skilled set of teachers who’ve chosen to work with children with special needs, are a recipe for a fresh start for children like Mya.
“The teachers here are all well nice and the worst teachers here are still nice-ish. I liked it here almost immediately. Before I even started, when I looked round, I knew I’d like it. I started in the nurture zone and it was a really small class and they didn’t expect me to just do work, they showed me how and the work was fun anyway so I didn’t mind doing it.
The school’s nurture zone is for Key Stage 2 pupils and has its own space in the school grounds and it’s own playground with jungle activities that are perfect for little ones to burn off energy and use their imaginations.
Mya explains, “In nurture zone you don’t need to deal with all the other kids and all of the teachers at once. You just have your own space. Then when you’ve been here for a year you move up to the main bit of the school.”
Having a child who is unhappy at school is obviously a very difficult thing for parents to experience. Mya’s new-found enthusiasm for school has had a positive impact on the whole family. Mya says:
“My mum loves the school. My little sister wants to move here. She is only 8 but she wrote a letter to the headteacher to ask if she could come to the school because I’m always telling her about the things we do here. I like Science and Art, but my favourite subject is enrichment.”
Every Friday afternoon, as part of the school’s Enrichment Programme, all pupils take part in activities in the community. It’s an opportunity to practice social skills, meet new people and try new things. For children who’ve often been labelled as ‘naughty’ this chance to interact with adults in shops, sports clubs and other settings, gives them confidence in expressing their needs, understanding what others want and need, and making decisions that are right.
“Last week we went bowling, and tomorrow I am going fishing. I’ve never done it before but I am definitely going to catch at least one fish.”
Asked how she feels at Arc School Old Arley, Mya’s answer is one which would undoubtedly make the teachers and leaders at Arc School Old Arley feel proud. Mya’s experiences and challenges are very typical of the type of child who thrives at the school:
“I feel normal,” she says, grinning. “And special. I am definitely special.”