Dorchester Learning Centre Curriculum 2023/24
The development of the whole student is key to our mission statement of “One pupil, One plan”. The aim of the Dorchester Learning Centre is for students to be entitled to a broad and relevant curriculum which meets their needs, enables them to make good progress, links to clear outcomes and puts them on track to gain the skills and qualifications which will support them in their future life. This could be re-integration into mainstream education, into further education, employment or apprenticeships. We aim to allow the students to achieve the best possible outcomes academically and we acknowledge the hugely important role we play in developing the whole student.
Students come to Dorchester Learning Centre for a wide variety of reasons, usually this will mean there are barriers to learning that have meant they could not access mainstream education. Identifying and working to remove these barriers is at the core of our offer. We acknowledge that meeting the individual needs of each student is hugely complex, our curriculum offer is flexible and can be tailored to the strengths, interests and needs of each student.
Our offer is divided into three distinct areas, together they address the needs of the whole student.
A Core offer comprising of traditional GCSE subjects, including Maths, English, Science, Ethics and Art. (Please note, we will support any student referred to us in Year 10 or 11 that wishes to continue to study a subject not currently in our Core offer). Primary school aged children use topic work following the National Curriculum
Our Skills offer, which teaches students essential life skills for moving on after DLC, this includes Catering, Independent Living, Mechanics, Bikes sessions and Careers.
Our Wellbeing offer is made up of timetabled sessions and specific interventions to support students Wellbeing. We provide Mental Health support as well as ELSA, Thrive and selected therapies (Students will be referred into specific Interventions). This area also covers PSHE and Physical Wellbeing. Primary aged children take part in offsite activities including swimming and parkour
As students spend more time at DLC and circumstances change, so too can their curriculum, a child who suddenly finds themselves in a time of crisis may have more of the Well Being offer for a period of time. We pride ourselves on knowing when we can push more on the Skills and Academic side of the curriculum and will do so when appropriate.
We have a diverse and ever-changing student body which requires teaching staff to be adaptable and open to change. We undertake a regular “Needs Audit”, which allows us to look at high levels of a particular need within groups and advise staff on how to adapt their practice to meet the challenge. The “Diversity Audit” looks at how our student body is comprised and allows us to promote certain themes in the curriculum or provide staff training to accommodate.
The DLC Offer
Note: this model will evolve over time with changes to cohort needs and staffing expertise. The emphasis for Dorchester Learning Centre will always be on supporting the whole student to readiness for their next steps in life
Trauma Informed Schools
TIS is our underpinning philosophy at DLC. We have aligned with their mission for children which includes:
Providing vulnerable children with daily access to at least one named, emotionally-available adult, who believes in them, relates to them with compassion, empathy and unconditional positive regard (Carl Rogers), provides appropriate limit setting, understands their attachment and mental health needs, knows their life story, and offers repeated enriched relational, regulatory and reflective opportunities.
Catching children as they are ‘falling’ not after they have fallen. When the child is experiencing a painful life event, the emotionally-available adult/s will help them process, work through and make sense of what has happened, rather than waiting until the pain of the trauma has transformed into challenging behaviour and/or physical and mental health problems.
The implementation of a Relationship Policy (Paul Dix) for all staff to ensure they interact with children at all times with kindness and compassion. This includes no shouting, put-downs, criticisms, and shaming. The Policy extends to training staff in the art of good listening, understanding and finding the words to convey accurate empathy.
A commitment to relating to children in a school or other setting in ways that help them feel calm, soothed and safe, instead of over- stimulated, bombarded and anxious. This means protecting them from toxic stress inducing situations.
Staff/adults interacting with all children in such a way that they feel valued as individuals throughout their day
Staff/adults adjusting their expectations of vulnerable children to correspond with their developmental capabilities and experience of traumatic stress.
Training staff/adults in key conversational skills to enable children to address negative self-referencing and to help them move from ‘behaving’ their trauma/painful life experiences, to reflecting and developing coherent life narratives.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Staff have completed ACEs and Attachment training. This is a short introduction to the ACE study:
The Adverse Childhood Experiences study, (ACE study) is one of the biggest Public Health studies of all time (17,000 people). The study found that adverse childhood experiences are a leading determinant of the most common forms of physical illness (e.g. cancer, diabetes, heart attacks) mental illness (e.g. depression and anxiety) and early death in the Western World. ACEs are also a leading determinant of homelessness, drug and alcohol addition, smoking, domestic violence and all the major societal ills.
That said, a mass of research studies on social buffering, show that ‘protective factors’, namely interventions by emotionally-available adults, before the age of 18, can interrupt the trajectory from childhood adversity to challenging behaviour, learning difficulties, long-term mental, physical and societal ill-health
Through our relational approach to children with ACEs and Trauma we aim to:
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Ensure children feel safe and welcomed; ‘meet and greet’ at the classroom door and an open-door policy for informal discussions with parents/ carers.
Staff trained in ‘PACE’ modes of interaction; being warm emphatic, playful and curious (proven to shift children out of flight/fright/freeze positions).
Staff ensure that interactions with children are socially engaging and not socially defensive, to decrease likelihood of children relating defensively (flight/fright/freeze).
A whole school commitment to cease all use of harsh voices, shouting, put downs, criticism and shaming (proven to be damaging psychologically and neurologically).
Staff ‘interactively repair’ occasions when they themselves move into defensiveness.
A range of interventions that help staff to get to know children better on an individual basis e.g. ‘I wish my teacher knew’. (What matters to them, who matters to them, their dreams, hopes). This is key to enabling children to feel safe enough to talk, if they wish, about painful life experiences, which are interfering with their ability to learn and their quality of life.
Vulnerable children have easy and daily access to at least one named, emotionally available adult, and know when and where to find that adult. If the child does not wish to connect with the allocated adult, an alternative adult is found.
School staff adjust expectations around vulnerable children to correspond with their developmental capabilities and experience of traumatic stress. This includes removing vulnerable and traumatised children in a kind and non-judgmental way from situations they are not managing well (e.g. children who are continually triggered into alarm states in the main playground can access a calmer, smaller areas with emotionally regulating adults).
Provision of a clear, confidential and non-shaming system of self-referral for children’s help/talk time. The nurturing of staff in such a way that they feel truly valued and emotionally-regulated and in so doing to support them to interact throughout the school day with positive social engagement rather than defensiveness.
A whole-school commitment to enabling children to see themselves, their relationships and the world positively, rather than through a lens of threat, danger or self-blame.
Vulnerable children provided with repeated relational opportunities (with emotionally available adults) to make the shift from ‘blocked trust’ (not feeling psychologically safe with anyone) to trust, and from self-help to ‘help seeking’.
Relational interventions specifically designed to bring down stress hormone levels (e.g. from toxic to tolerable) in vulnerable children, enabling them to feel calm, soothed and safe. This is to support learning, quality of life and protect against stress-induced physical and mental illness, now and in later life.
Evidence-based interventions that aim to repair psychological damage and brain damage caused by traumatic life experiences, through emotionally regulating, playful, enriched adult-child interactions.
The emotional well-being and regulating of staff is treated as a priority to prevent burnout, stress related absence, or leaving the profession through stress-related illness, secondary trauma and/or feeling undervalued, blamed or shamed.
Staff training and development and training in the art of good listening, dialogue, empathy and understanding (instead of asking a series of questions/ giving lectures).
Provision of skills and resources to support parents and staff in meaning empathetic conversations with vulnerable children who want to talk about their lives. This is to empower children to better manage their home situations and life in general.
Within the context of an established and trusted relationship with a member of staff (working alliance), children are given the means and opportunity to symbolise painful life experiences through images as well as words, as a key part of ‘working through’ these experiences and memory re-consolidation. Means include the provision of different modes of expression, e.g. art/play/drama/ music/sand/emotion worksheets/emotion cards.
PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education), informed by current research psychological and neuroscience) on mental health, mental ill-health, relationships (including parenting) emotions, social media and tools for how to ‘do life well’. Curricular content enables children to make informed choices about how they relate to others, how they live their lives, and how they treat their brains, bodies and minds.
Staff development and training to help children move from ‘behaving’ their trauma/painful life experiences, to reflecting on those experiences, to reflecting on those experiences. Staff learn to do this through empathetic conversation, addressing children’s negative self-referencing and helping them develop positive, coherent narratives about their lives.
A behaviour policy based not on punishment, sanctions, resolution and interactive repair (e.g. restorative conversations).