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#215 Development of therapeutic and vocational student support alternative provision – City Academy Norwich

Jenny Kitson-Cook, Assistant Headteacher of SEND and Alternative Provision

What did we do?

At City Academy Norwich (CAN) we acknowledge that the mainstream environment is one that some students find particularly difficult and high-quality alternative provision (AP) is essential to addressing these difficulties. The desire to improve our AP offering led us to apply for funding from the Norwich Opportunity Area (NOA) for our project: Development of therapeutic and vocational student support alternative provision. The outcome of this was the creation of ‘The Bridge’.

The Bridge is a bespoke therapeutic AP that teaches and develops positive behaviours for learning, whilst addressing social, emotional, and mental health needs of pupils. The Bridge looks to provide packages that assess children’s needs, commission professional reports that create signposting for education, health, and social care and/or cognition and learning support and as an overall outcome, plans to reintegrate them back into a mainstream environment.

Key provisions include Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN) courses, a wide range of therapeutic activities, that are supported by access to a sensory room and an allotment, and timetabled activities to support ongoing integration with the main school.

Students and their parents have voiced that there has been an increase in emotional wellbeing. One parent commented that it is one of the first times they have had their child talk positively about schoolwork

Jenny Kitson-Cook, Assistant Headteacher of SEND and Alternative Provision

Summary of impact

CAN strive for students, at risk of permanent exclusion or who are struggling to cope with the mainstream environment, to be able to access a range of academic and vocational learning that supports their true academic potential and wellbeing. Since the development of The Bridge, we feel we are fully embodying our ethos of ‘Every Child Known’.

Students who were at risk of permanent exclusion have been maintained within the mainstream setting due to the programme in AP. We have currently reduced the risk of students entering a negative cycle of behaviours and tackling the vulnerable elements of their education helps provide correct and accurate support.

There is less negative talk because of managing negative behaviours differently, small groups are working well and support from external agencies is slow but helpful. Soft skills and social norms are being rebuilt slowly and progress is positive.

We have students who are undergoing education, health, and care plan (EHCP) assessment and/or are in the process of having an EHCP application applied for, and these are the students who are using the sensory room. This has been put in their documents as something we are doing as a supportive intervention. EHCP students who have sensory needs within their plan are the first to be identified to start the formal intervention.

Students within AP are attending more. Their ability to regulate over the school days has increased, which has had a positive effect on their behaviour. Students are receiving less fixed term exclusions as a result.

With regards to the Sensory Room, parents have commented that they feel the room provides a safe place and one which they ask for to be similarly replicated within the home environment as the children are saying how amazing it is. As for the ASDAN courses, parents have said that they like the way the lessons are chunked and that the work they love doing applies to them.

Due to students being in the classroom more their academic progress has improved. As the ASDAN work has a built-in level of differentiation it has allowed all pupils to access work, which they previously felt was unachievable. It is working towards being linked into the improvement of academic grades in line with the main school.

Students within the AP setting are working towards gaining some vocational qualifications that will lead to an informative decision about their specialisms when in Key Stage 4 and in turn post-16. Students have been picking ASDAN courses that are individualised and can work on these independently of each other. This has boosted their confidence and gradual focus on re-loving/liking learning.

Steps taken

We are aware that the largest proportion of our students who need additional support have underlying social, emotional, and mental health issues. Prior to the commencement of the project, referrals for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and separate pastoral referrals suggested a significant number of students struggled with social, emotional, and mental health issues. Our SEND referrals highlighted the need for sensory support within a mainstream curriculum. There was a significant need to have on-site AP that looked to address the gap of services between in-school pastoral support and external agency referrals.

Therefore, we were looking to implement a sensory therapeutic support centre, which could deliver activities such as sensory circuits (including rock climbing), Lego therapy, art therapy and music therapy etc. We knew that these interventions could be delivered by our teachers and already qualified inhouse emotional learning support assistants (ELSAs). Additionally, we had trauma informed therapist on our team who could deliver such interventions as part of our AP.

We also wanted to complement the English and Math’s work that the students already do with ASDAN courses. We wanted to provide a range of these to suit individual needs and have success in mapping a pathway for those who were at risk of not being in education, employment, or training (NEET).

Preventing those who are at risk of permanent exclusion from being excluded was always the overarching aim. We also wanted to provide a setting that could build upon information gained in Primary to support either reintegration back to mainstream or alternative more appropriate settings.

We applied to the NOA laying out our plans to create a new AP at CAN. We had to make it clear why we thought this was needed, how we would implement it, measure it and how we would use any funding. We are still working towards completion of a 5-year plan of our broader aims regarding AP.

We used our existing knowledge and staff resources, combined with funding from the NOA, to develop the main offerings of The Bridge:

– A Breakfast session merged with relationships and sex education (RSE)
– Blended project-based learning
– English / Maths / Science /Physical Education
– ASDAN short courses  – Additional English and Maths plus student specialisms, such as Gardening, Hair and Beauty, Computing and Uniformed Services

Integration with the main school is also focused on by asking students to attend:

– Form Times (AM and PM)
– Social times with year group (breaks and lunches)
– UCAN (University of City Academy Norwich) – extracurricular activities such as bushcraft, axe throwing, cooking and creative writing.

There is a strong therapeutic focus to ‘The Bridge’ and students have access to an allotment and the following therapies:

– Art
– Play
– Lego
– Animal
– Mentoring
– Sensory Attachment
– Drawing and Talking
– Trauma Informed Practice
– Mindfulness

What would we do differently

Our learning tips:

– Hunt down finance
– Have the right staff for the right children
– Have appropriate scaffolded learning for students to experience success
– Have a flexible curriculum map
– Hands on learning and experiences are essential
– It is vital to still maintain high standards
– Students are not a specific person or areas “problem”
– Whole school staff relationships are key


The NOA provided £5433 towards the development of the project. These funds were for the provision of sensory room equipment (£4000) and support to deliver ASDAN qualifications (£1432).  We already had a committed and knowledgeable staff team.

The project was designed to be set up with funding but also to be sustainable after the first year in terms of key CAN staff being trained and then established therapeutic work being disseminated into feeder school pupils.


Assistant Headteacher of SEND and Alternative Provision

City Academy Norwich, 299 Bluebell Road

Norwich, Norfolk