Catering to diverse needs

How Haybrook College uses Academy21 to support chronically withdrawn young people

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Apollo is an educational programme of lessons and experiences designed to develop self-confidence in chronically withdrawn young people in Years 10 and 11, whose difficulties make it impossible for them to attend mainstream school.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

Here, Julia Holder, leader of Apollo, explains how Academy21 has been successful in reengaging students and supporting them through personalised and flexible learning.

Our students in Apollo aren’t 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 to students at the rest of the College. While we have a physical centre, often these young people will study from home from a variety of reasons, but especially on the occasions where they don’t feel able to leave their houses or have been out of education for many years due to mental health reasons.

As such, our timetables accommodate flexible learning, as well as opportunities for students to rebuild their confidence. 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 for over 15 years to engage all our students – including those not onsite, and as a way to supplement our own teaching. It’s incredibly valuable as it helps us teach at the correct level for every student. We cater to a whole spectrum of needs; we have some young people who really struggle with literacy, whereas others are incredibly bright with aspirations for attending the University of Cambridge, and so Academy21 has been effective at personalising learning appropriately.

Because it can be accessed anytime, anywhere, all our students are able to attend, regardless of their location or situation – whether they’ve been excluded, are ill, or have a lapse in confidence.

For some of our students, Academy21 is their first taste of education after several years, whereas for others, it provides them with activities and content more aligned to their needs. For example, we may not know a young person when they first join so we suggest a learning level based on initial assessments. However, through Academy21, the teachers work closely with our students and are then able to inform us if they think they can work at a higher level or may need to drop to a slightly lower level. We’ve seen some really positive results over the years in terms of reengaging 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 content should they want to explore what they have previously learnt. This is useful when setting homework, as they can go back and search through the library lessons to help them complete activities.

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 have previously 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 nice way for them to rebuild their confidence without having to directly collaborate with peers. The Academy21 teachers are also very good at getting to know our students, and really understand their needs and support them in easing any anxiety. Over time, we see them 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’s a huge success considering he was unable to step 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, so beyond students having to stay at home, teaching and learning resumed as normal. We also set up a Google Hangouts group in the afternoons which allowed us to continue with our confidence building activities, including talking about current affairs and playing games. It was just an easy transition for us having already used Academy21.

Looking ahead, we’re very 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.