How to cater to diverse student needs

How Haybrook College uses Academy21 to support chronically withdrawn young people

Teacher supporting students with diverse needs
Haybrook College Trust in Slough supports students with personalised teaching and learning pathways to equip them with the skills to achieve both academically and socially, and become valued members of society. Julia Holder, leader of Apollo, explains how Academy21 has been successful in reengaging students and supporting them through personalised and flexible learning.


The school includes a small special school, an alternative provision which offers five unique programmes at KS4, as well as a range of ‘revolving door’ provisions at KS3 that have proven to be highly successful in supporting young people to maintain their place at or return to mainstream schools.

As part of the alternative provision, Apollo is an educational programme of lessons and experiences designed to develop self-confidence in chronically withdrawn young people in Years 10 and 11, whose difficulties make it impossible for them to attend mainstream school.

The programme consists of two strands, leading to externally accredited qualifications. The first academic component encompasses core subjects for GCSE, delivered through online lessons provided by Academy21, followed by the confidence building element, which includes activities such as art, motor mechanics, cookery, music, sport, personal development and work experience.

Flexible, Accessible Learning

Our students in Apollo are not able to attend mainstream school because they have experienced bullying or are managing mental health challenges. As a result, they tend to be more subdued and less outgoing compared with students at the rest of the College. While we have a physical centre, sometimes these young people will study from home from a variety of reasons because they do not feel able to leave the home.

Our timetable accommodates flexible academic learning in Maths, English and Science during the mornings and confidence building opportunities in the afternoons with sessions such as Art, Music, Cookery and Sport. We use this combination of learning techniques and processes as we feel this engages our students in the most effective way, while being supportive of their specific needs.

We have been using Academy21 at Apollo and in other centres at Haybrook College for over 15 years. We find that it engages all our students, whether they attend the college in person or access the lessons at home. It is valuable because it helps us teach at a suitable academic level for every student. At Apollo we cater for a whole spectrum of needs: we have some young people who struggle with literacy, whereas others are very able with aspirations to attend university. Academy21 has been effective at personalising their learning appropriately.

Because it can be accessed any time, anywhere, all our students are able to attend, regardless of their location or situation, whether they’ve been excluded, are ill, or experience low confidence.

Academy21 offers learning at different levels for each year group, which is very helpful. For some of our students, Academy21 is their first taste of education after several years, and they have missed a lot of content. As Academy21 teachers begin working closely with our students, they are able to suggest suitable levels of learning and their class groups are adjusted accordingly. We have seen some positive results over the years in terms of re-engaging and reigniting their learning.

Some of our students experience high levels of apathy and those with mental wellbeing challenges often struggle to access lesson content, but the benefits of online provision mean that we can adjust the timings of our lessons. For example, quite often young people who stay at home become very nocturnal and don’t start their day until much later, so we are able to change lesson timings to accommodate their wellbeing needs.

As lessons are also recorded, students have access to the library lessons 24/7, meaning they can revisit lesson content should they want to explore what they have previously learnt. This is useful when completing homework, as they can go back and read through the library lessons to help them complete activities, which reinforces their learning.

Overcoming Anxiety

One of the features that our students particularly like is the private chat functionality, as it serves as a way for students to respond to questions from their teacher in a safe and supportive environment. This is particularly useful for those who may previously have experienced a knock in confidence in mainstream settings and, as such, don’t feel confident speaking up in class. The private chat allows these students to ask questions or seek further clarification and is often a positive way for them to rebuild their confidence without having to collaborate directly with peers.

The Academy21 teachers are also very good at getting to know our students, understanding their needs and supporting them to overcome anxiety. Over time, we see our students become more confident in suggesting an answer even if it might be wrong, as all the students know that in this environment among their peers and teachers, it will be received without criticism.

One student who joined us was almost unable to speak or write when he first started, as he was struggling to manage his emotions and feelings internally. Through Academy21 and attending the full programme at Apollo, he worked hard and slowly increased his confidence and literacy abilities. By the end of the year, he received solid GCSE results, and is now working as an IT support coordinator in a school. It is a huge success considering that he was unable to set foot in any kind of location, let alone a school beforehand.

Throughout Covid-19, we experienced minimal disruption because we were already using online lessons. We also set up a Google Meet group in the afternoons which allowed us to continue with our confidence building activities, including talking about current affairs and playing games.

Achieving Goals

Looking ahead, we are enthusiastic and confident that we will be able to continue supporting students in helping them rebuild their confidence, resilience and self-esteem, and make a positive contribution to community life. Most of our students have gained a qualification in English and maths, obtained work placements, become more engaged with life and been able to succeed within society. Some have received very good academic results in a variety of subjects and moved on to university and achieved degrees. Academy21 plays an important part in helping them achieve goals which they and others had not thought possible.