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Embracing a Therapeutic Thinking Approach: Holmbush Primary Academy


Holmbush Primary Academy is part of the University of Brighton Academies Trust and is sited near Shoreham. 

It is smaller than the average primary school with 198 pupils.  It is single-form entry and has an onsite Nursery.   The school has less than the national average Pupil Premium numbers. The proportion of children who have SEN and or/disabilities is slightly higher than the national average.   The Head Teacher reported that the number of pupils with EHCPs is well above national average.   

Their Ofsted report (Jan 2018), states that, ‘the behaviour of pupils is good and they behave well around the school.  Pupils are polite.  Pupils generally work hard and they have good attitudes to learning.  Pupils enjoy school.’

The Head Teacher, Susan Stickley and Inclusion Manager, Nicola Pilbrow talked about rolling out the Therapeutic Thinking approach following their attendance at the 3-day training delivered by Angela Wadham. 

Why did Holmbush Primary Academy want to take part in Therapeutic Thinking training?

Behaviour in the school is good but post-Covid we started to see children struggling more. We wanted an approach that would support everyone in addition to key children.  We already had some of the principles in place but wanted to solidify this and ‘tweak’ rather than overhaul to ensure a shared language and understanding across all staff, parents and pupils. 

We participated because we believed in it, not because it was a West Sussex ‘thing’ and felt that it complemented approaches we already have in place, including Growth Mindset and Zones of Regulation.

What are the actions so far and how have they impacted?

All staff received three hours of training from the inhouse Therapeutic Leads.  We then reviewed our Behaviour Policy, which was entitled ‘Encouraging Good Behaviour’.  We wanted staff to be involved in this process to ensure it was comprehensive, clear and unambiguous.  We renamed the Policy ‘Encouraging Pro-social Behaviour’:

At Holmbush we believe in a therapeutic approach to behaviour management.

Our aim is that children leave our academy with the skills to be positive members of the community and an understanding of the intrinsic reward that prosocial behaviour brings. (taken from: Encouraging Pro-social Behaviour )

Our amended policy has allowed us more cohesion across the school, with a shared language and understanding between all adults.  We understand that all behaviour, both pro and anti-social, has a consequence. 

Teachers have also had a further hour and a half’s training – using the Anxiety Analysis tools. They reported that it was helpful to have a structure to follow and to discuss. 

We wanted children to understand that behaviour is not just about how you act at school but at home and in the community.  This message is delivered through assemblies and everyday interactions.   We wanted children to appreciate the intrinsic value of conducting pro social behaviour.     

‘If you are showing more pro-social behaviours you get more responsibility,

which is good’.

Y4 pupil voice

Children are wanting to behave pro-socially because of the intrinsic reward created.

We were previously using a visual red, amber, green system.   We still have public praise systems including ‘The Awesome Award’ in place, but these are based on effort and character.   We still give stickers to serve as a visual reminder to children about how the moment had been celebrated and how it had made them feel.  They are also a great prompt for parents to discuss and celebrate alongside their child.

We know our children, those who can find public praise difficult, and those who need an adult to publicly praise and we can do that for them. 

‘Team Triangle’ class rewards are used as a way of promoting collective responsibility.  Staff ensure they talk about how doing something pro-social makes you feel. 

We have removed all methods public ‘shaming’. 

We take time to have discussions with children about the consequences of behaviours, both anti and pro social.  Very rarely is a child sat outside the headteacher’s office.  It is a place they also come to celebrate or just to chat!

We have ensured that everyone is using a shared language and vocabulary.  Children understand this and use the language themselves.  This has been revisited with staff to embed and reflect upon their use of the language.  We always start our training sessions with the Pam Leo quote, ‘You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse.  When children feel better, they behave better’.

We have seen the approach have a positive impact on individual children who had been struggling, including one who is now happy and confident to come to school.

What are your next steps going to be?

We are planning to create a video presentation to further share Therapeutic Thinking with parents and carers.

We plan to look further at the Therapeutic Tree in our next training session.

Top Tips

  • Involve your staff at all stages.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with bathwater.  Keep the systems that work and fit the approach and do what is right for your setting.
  • Get the language embedded and understood by all.

Links to West Sussex Inclusion Framework

Within Aspect 3: Personal Development, Well-being and Welfare  

3.1 Social and emotional well-being and self-awareness

There is an open and supportive atmosphere that promotes self-awareness and allows children and young people (CYP) and staff to reflect on their own emotional needs and triggers.

CYP are given opportunities to share their feelings and emotions, and these are acted upon by the adults within school.

Staff at all levels understand CYP’s behaviour in context, in terms of communicating or attempting to address unmet needs. Staff understand their role in co-regulating and developing CYP’s capacity to become independent, regulate their emotions and manage their behaviours effectively.

Staff understand the link between emotional regulation and readiness to learn.

Strategies to support CYP’s social and emotional needs, including those derived from a therapeutic thinking approach, are embedded within the classroom and used consistently across the school. CYP see these tools and structures as useful and purposeful tools.

Aspect 3.2 Respecting each other

Positive relationships support all members of the school community and shared values are understood by all.

All children and young people (CYP) feel individually valued and known.

Systems and procedures for celebrating success are highlighted within the positive behaviour policy or equivalent, which is informed by a therapeutic approach and consistently used across the school.

Success, both in and out of school, is acknowledged and celebrated in a way that is supportive to CYP.

Aspect 3.4 Behaviour Policy and Procedures

Behaviour policies are personal to the school and reflects its uniqueness and provision. It encourages pro-social behaviours and allows for a range of approaches tailored to specific children and young people’s (CYP’s) needs and circumstances.

Last updated 23 November 2022

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