How The Wensum Trust is taking a unique approach to mental health

The Wensum Trust in Norfolk set up six years ago in April 2016 with the vision of delivering the very best for every child. It has now become the first Trust in Norfolk to roll out Emotion Coaching and to shift its educational approach to a neuroscience backed one.

Advocating for change in the education sector, the Trust believes mental health and wellbeing is a prerequisite to academic achievements and that evidence-based neuroscience is the way forwards for schools.

Whereas current methods of behaviour management used in most schools tend to simply manage a problem, neuroscience - an emerging scientific field focuses on how emotions and self-regulation skills influence behaviour. CEO Daniel Thrower, who has been in post for 18 months and is building on Gerry Batty’s legacy says:

“We are undertaking a major shift away from a behaviourist model where children’s behaviour is controlled and managed in schools, often with punitive consequences to a relational approach where relationships are key and behaviour is seen as a form of communication.”

The Wensum Trust is one of the largest academy trusts in Norfolk, and its Board of Trustees have made a significant investment into its trauma informed approach and are committing more than £100,000 in total. This includes recruiting a new Educational Psychologist to work across all its schools from May. 

The Board approved the investment to lead to improved outcomes in learning as well as improved attendance, reduction in persistent absence and fewer exclusions. Daniel continues:

“We believe all children need support to feel engaged in school life. All our staff are now trained in facilitating a different conversation with pupils that will resonate well with parents, carers and most importantly the children. This work is further supported by our partnership programme which offers children secure and bespoke career pathways, leading to successful outcomes in their chosen field regardless of academic ability."

"Unfortunately, for some children, traditional behaviour management approaches can lead to school becoming a place of fear where they sadly endure rather than enjoy school. We have seen this especially amongst pupils who are not academically minded and we are determined to change that.”

It is also the first academy trust in the county to roll out Emotion Coaching across all its 11 schools. This aims to help children understand and manage their emotions and to help them learn about effective responses - vital for improving mental health and emotional wellbeing. 

Daniel concludes: “We are committed to meeting the needs of every child by making a significant change to the culture in our schools that, I believe, is long overdue. It is a challenging thing to do and it will take time to fully embed but we are on the right path.”

Taking ideas and best practice from all over the UK and Europe, The Wensum Trust, along with Norfolk County Council launched ‘The Base’ at Arden Grove Infant and Nursery School in January. The purpose-built building, often referred to as a Specialist Resource Base, provides support to children with social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH). 

With two classrooms, a practical area, kitchen and calm rooms, specialist support is provided including smaller class sizes, higher staffing ratios, therapeutic approaches and a family learning team. All aiming for children to return to mainstream education.

A ground-breaking research and training arm is also an aspiration for the Trust to ensure best practice can be shared with other schools and professionals. This will be achieved with the help of Peter Fonagy (CEO of the Anna Freud Centre), and Brenda McHugh, Co-Founder of the Family School in Islington which uses modern mental health practices to ease behavioural and mental health blocks to learning.

The Trust is also working with Sarah Naish – renowned trailblazer and best-selling author in the field of trauma and therapeutic parenting and CEO and founder of The Centre of Excellence in Child Trauma. Sarah was recently appointed a member of The Wensum Trust and is currently co-writing a book with Daniel Thrower and Anne Oakley (SEMH Lead at The Base), which supports a trauma-informed approach in schools.
Norman Lamb, former MP, has also recently joined the Trust as an honorary member for Mental Health.

See the EDP article here.