Academy trust sets out vision to build new trauma school in Norwich
- Credit: Archant
An academy trust has set out its hopes of opening a trauma school – believed to be the first in the country – in Norwich.
The Wensum Trust, which runs schools including Hellesdon High and Acle Academy, has revealed its vision for the school, which would cater for young children who have suffered trauma, including neglect and abuse.
It would be built in Norwich, at an estimated £3m cost, and educate at least 40 children aged four to seven from both Norwich and further afield.
They believe the school would be the first in the UK dedicated to trauma – and hope it would cut exclusions, which are particularly high for vulnerable children, as well as easing pressure on social, mental health and public services.
While the proposal is in its infancy – the trust will have to, via Norfolk County Council, apply to the government – the trust has put forward a business case estimating it would save the council £8.7m over five years.
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Daniel Thrower, executive headteacher at the trust and Arden Grove Infants, Hellesdon, said it sat alongside ongoing work to tackle the county's high rate of permanent exclusions and ease the strain on the budget for children with high needs.
Government figures show, in 2016, adopted children were 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers.
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'Our proposal is strategic, in the sense that we want to stem the flow of children going on to become challenging and problematic,' he said. 'We are preventing problems rather than attempting to cure problems later. We will reduce the number of exclusions and save considerable costs but most importantly, provide a specialised provision that these children need.'
The alternative provision school would be short stay, with children ideally attending for one or two terms before being reintegrated back into mainstream education.
It comes after a two-year council-funded pilot was hailed a success – but Mr Thrower said it highlighted the need for more support.
Gerard Batty, trust chief executive, pictured inset, said it was a 'visionary project' that could give children support and resilience needed to thrive in school.
A council spokesperson said mainstream and special schools supported children affected by trauma, and said: 'We now look forward to seeing the trust's business case for a free school, which we will be pleased to consider alongside our wider special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) sufficiency strategy.'
They said they were discussing a range of proposals with trusts, schools and the county's headteacher association.
What is trauma?
The free school would focus on supporting children who have suffered complex trauma. It occurs when a child has 'repeated exposure' to long-term abuse or neglect at the hands of someone they depend on for protection and survival, according to the trust.
They say it can change the way a child's body and brain functions, leaving them at risk of social, emotional and cognitive difficulties. It can leave children unable to trust adults, leave them overwhelmed by fear, particularly when faced with the demands of school, and unable to stay calm in difficult situations.
There is a national movement – Trauma Informed Schools UK – to train schools, communities and bodies to become educated about trauma and mental health and its impacts, but the trust believes the school will be the first in the country to focus solely on the issue.
It has gained backing from Dr Bruce Perry, an American psychologist and senior fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Texas
The vision has received cross-party support from local MPs.
Conservative MP Chloe Smith, for Norwich North, the constituency of Arden Grove Infants, led a meeting with education minister Nadhim Zahawi and said she had secured support from other local MPs. She said: 'The proposal stands to change children's lives in Norfolk and it could blaze a trail nationally too. I'm hugely impressed by the passionate dream of Daniel as a local teacher so am helping convince ministers in Westminster and the county council.'
Meanwhile, Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said it was an 'immensely exciting' project which could change children's lives:'This is an absolutely fascinating and vital issue,' he said. 'If you look at the significant increase we are seeing in young people's mental ill health and distress, there's a very strong connection between that and children experiencing trauma, neglect and adversity.'
It's no secret that Norfolk has areas for improvement when it comes to complex needs.
Permanent exclusions, though dropping, are still high – more so than the national average and that of our neighbours.
A lack of complex needs schools means the council is forced to pay for costly independent places for children in need of support, and there is ongoing work to reduce the high number of children in care.
But there are areas of pride. The special schools we do have are excellent, and a programme which sees vulnerable children placed in boarding schools has been praised nationally.
Ofsted, the education watchdog, also rated the council's adoption services as outstanding.
The case for the trauma school certainly seems compelling – it sounds like a researched, needed project which could
not only address an area of
real difficulty in Norfolk, but help children all over the country.