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Thomas Ashton - Their Story

Colleagues across the education sector have been working to adapt throughout the challenges of the pandemic. At BehaviourWatch, we wanted to check in with how teachers are working in this environment, and learn from how they are responding.

Mike Doyle from Thomas Ashton School started his first term as headteacher in September 2020, having previously been a class teacher there. Thomas Ashton is for children and young people aged 7 – 14 who have social, emotional and/or mental health needs that significantly impact on their engagement in school. Despite his transition into the role at a challenging time, he spoke with great appreciation for his colleagues in school, and with an acute awareness of the additional needs of his students and their families.

From April – July 2020, Mike faced the uncertainty shared by all of us. How could they open safely in light of the fact that all children in their school had an Education, Health and Care Plan and so – technically – should be there? Further, how could they support medically vulnerable staff?

As the information became clearer, they worked with the children and young people in most need, and little by little were able to open. By July, Thomas Ashton was at 60% capacity. They designed a package of learning that included home learning timetables, telephone calls, paper-based resources and digital connection where possible.

Through BehaviourWatch they noticed:

“We halved the number of children in school, but only saw a quarter of the number of behavioural incidents. We suspect we were better able to meet the children’s needs”

Although the picture is not the same for everyone, since September, children are unsettled in school even despite the additional social interventions that they have put in place. There are several factors that Mike considers might be at play: some children’s social conditions mean that they had inconsistent structure out of school, others have not had their medication monitored in the usual way, whilst others are just afraid of the virus itself. For a small minority of young people, it has not been possible to make things safe for their continued progression in school due to extreme behaviour, which has resulted in their exclusion. Mike reflects that appropriate proximity or touch can help them to create a positive dynamic with some young people, but that this remains impossible due to the pandemic.

Mike talks with compassion about the parents beyond the school gate. He recognises that the community is anxious. In one case a whole family is shielding. Thomas Ashton is actively providing reassurance and clear explanation when national guidelines are not understood. Over the different points of lockdown, they have used a blend of phone calls, socially distanced chats at the beginning of school day, and video.

Mike is grateful for the support of his team during his transition to headship, particularly in this context. He is also sensitive to the energy and versatility that the situation demands from staff. He continues to reflect on balancing risk within the whole school community and knows that goodwill is crucial to their work at this time.

Overall, Mike notes that children and young people at Thomas Ashton are traditionally not ‘sit-down learners’. In the home learning packages, they included physical activity, but they are not sure that this would have been possible in all cases and may have benefited from a digital tool to support their engagement. Mike concluded his reflections with the recognition that positive relationships are crucial to improving outcomes for young people in his setting and is considering what tools, training and practice could be created to support relationship building at a distance in the longer-term.


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