Ensuring all students can thrive: how Greenwood School uses Academy21 to help vulnerable pupils return to the classroom

Greenwood School is a secondary Alternative Provision Pupil Referral Unit based in the New Forest, catering to young people with a variety of needs, including behavioural, emotional, medical and those who have been, or are at risk of being excluded from their mainstream school. With the support of Academy21, it also works hard to provide outreach to its feeder schools, ensuring pupils get the support they need to feel confident in the classroom and thrive.

Here, Tom Webb, ICT Teacher at Greenwood School, explains how Academy21 has been successful in supporting students with a huge variety of pressing and challenging needs, transforming the lives of Greenwood’s young people. He outlines the challenges his students face, how and why Academy21 has helped Greenwood overcome these obstacles, and the real-world impact online learning provision has had on the learning and life prospects of his pupils.
 

Challenges faced by pupils

Many students have struggled to transition back into full time brick and mortar schooling. The constant school closures and Covid-19 lockdowns, coupled with the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the pandemic still casts a shadow over their lives. Sadly, I suspect this will be the case for many years to come.

We have seen first-hand the impact this has on schools. We have been coping with an unprecedented amount of medical and EV referrals, particularly with students who are simply too anxious to leave their home or have battled sleep issues since the pandemic began. This has resulted in complications such as depression or behavioural problems, which may be why they’re referred to us.

This increase in referrals caused a significant amount of pressure as we strived to help all children referred through but we were determined to ensure they received the support they needed, as all children deserve to thrive.

To help us meet the needs of all these children, we introduced Academy 21 as a solution to the mainstream schools we work with. This means if a pupil can’t learn on campus, we can offer them online provision through Acaademy21, so their studies and prospects never have to suffer. We also offer a key worker to protect the safeguarding of the child and so they can feel confident from the start. This means no matter the resources a school has, all their pupils can gain the support they need.
 

How online flexible learning provision has helped overcome these obstacles

Flexibility is key to the educational success of our students. While most students typically have to mould their lives around their schooling schedule, our pupils require that flexibility to schedule their education around their needs.

For example, as mentioned above, many of our students have severe problems sleeping. This can make it difficult for them to predict when they will be able to fully concentrate and learn during the day. To overcome this, we can offer lessons at any time throughout the day, so we can utilise when students are feeling their best.

Flexibility doesn’t just relate to time – it also reflects the expectations we place on our students. We make sure all our Academy21 students turn their cameras and microphones off during lessons and study sessions. This helps reduce anxiety and ease students back into learning.

Finally, flexibility is important because it helps build trust and positive relationships between our students and their online teachers. This was initially a big concern of ours. The student-teacher relationship isn’t always easy at the best of times, let alone in relation to students who face challenges and in the context of online classes. Yet, these concerns were very quickly eliminated when we saw how well both students and teachers interacted with each other. This positive influence can help improve many areas of their lives. When children feel adults believe in them, they start believing in themselves too. Many of our students have progressed onto post-16 options, and a huge part of that success is due to the flexibility of the education we’re able to provide with Academy21.
 

Real world impact of Academy21

Academy21 makes a huge difference to our students. For example, recently, a young boy joined us in year 10 with very high levels of anxiety. He could barely leave his home without suffering panic attacks. This made schooling impossible and he began to question whether school was a possibility for him at all.

Despite this huge challenge, after just four months of learning with Academy21, he gained the confidence to join our onsite school for three or four hours a day. This is a huge win for us, and a giant step towards full time onsite education! Academy21 has changed his perspective on education and given him a reason to study and pursue his passions.

We have also been working with another student who was referred to us with an extremely low attendance rate of three per cent. For a mixture of reasons, he felt school was pointless and hopeless for him.

Of course, we were never going to bring this attendance rate up to 100 per cent immediately but using Academy21 did something very important – it broke the cycle of missing school. After a few months of coaching through the online provision, he had achieved a 65 per cent attendance rate, which was staggering for him. His school could hardly believe it when we shared the news.

He is now about to sit his GCSEs, which is something he never envisioned himself doing. Once again, Academy21 helped change his perspective and ignite his aspirations.

While our pupils are dealing with different needs and challenges, they all deserve to have the support they need to thrive. We strive to provide this by offering the flexibility and personalised aide they need to reach their full potential, and fully believe Academy21 plays an integral part in this.