West Berkshire specialist school extends secondary provision to meet high demand for complex needs support

Hillcrest New Barn, a specialist school for children with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) and complex needs on the West Berkshire/North Hampshire borders, this week welcomes a new cohort of secondary students to its recently extended provision. Home Farm – part of Outcomes First Group, a specialist provider of education and care services – opened in April this year and has seen a phenomenal uptake of places, reflecting the high demand for educational support for pupils with SEMH needs beyond primary and into their teenage years.

Set in the secluded grounds of the Welford Manor Estate, surrounded by trees, gardens, farmland and streams, Home Farm provides a therapeutic and nurturing environment for up to 20 students aged 13-16 with complex needs. It has four classrooms, science and music rooms and a canteen kitchen – all designed in an open and modern layout where children with complex needs can feel safe and happy. Together with Hillcrest New Barn, which sits on the same site, Home Farm serves children attending the three nearby residential Hillcrest homes also run by Outcomes First Group – Acorn Cottage and Ashley Lodge in Tadley and the new Spinney House in Kintbury – catering for a total of 50 students aged 5-16 years across these Residential and Education provisions. The school offers day placements for students from the surrounding education authorities of Hampshire, West Berkshire, Wiltshire, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest and Oxford.

Key to supporting young people effectively at the schools is the therapeutic and individualised approach taken by staff. The team use PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy) and work around each child, based on the understanding that all behaviour is a way of communicating. Pupils benefit from a high adult to pupil ratio with average class sizes of four students, as well as from specialist disciplines who work together including a clinical lead, play/drama/art therapists as well as speech and language and occupational therapists. Within this supportive and structured environment, pupils access a broad, balanced, differentiated and relevant curriculum (based on the essential elements of the National Curriculum) designed to meet their personal, academic and pastoral needs.

All students at Hillcrest New Barn and Home Farm access an outdoor educational programme, which plays a pivotal role in enhancing the therapeutic environment and meeting the sensory needs that are often associated with complex needs. The schools’ shared setting on the Welford estate provides a wealth of opportunities to engage pupils in enterprise projects such as horticulture, small animal care and mechanical workshops. Hillcrest New Barn recently formed its own forest school, where pupils develop wildlife skills including bush craft. The land can also provide a provisional camping scheme for all of Hillcrest’s residential homes and educational settings to create a safe, in house ‘outdoor school’ and camp.

The new secondary provision at Home Farm builds on the success of Hillcrest New Barn, which opened in January 2016 and has already achieved a “Good” Ofsted rating, with leaders and staff praised for creating a “welcoming and successful school in a very short time”. The school’s nurturing environment was highlighted as a particular strength: “Pupils form secure and warm attachments to the adults who work with them. Pupils get along well together and form firm friendships, taking care of each other.”

Commenting on the school’s expansion, Headteacher Alice Anstee said: “We are delighted with the success of our secondary provision, which enables us to keep supporting our young people for longer. Our varied and exciting programme of curriculum subjects, events and off-site activities help pupils to thrive and enjoy learning. There is clearly a huge demand for the child-centred therapeutic approach we offer.”

Home Farm welcomes all prospective pupils and their carers to their next open day on 20th December, to coincide with the school’s Christmas concert and festivities. To book or for further enquiries please email newbarn@hillcrestcs.co.uk