MUNTHAM HOUSE GETS UNDER YOUR SKIN
By his own admission, David Payne was a nightmare child. He was constantly trying to pick locks and break in to various rooms while at school, and his former teachers at Muntham House recall one occasion when he smashed four windows in one fell swoop.
Now David has more keys to Muntham House School than almost anyone else. He is enjoying an apprenticeship in General Maintenance, working at the school through a scheme run by Northbrook College in Worthing. Having once driven his teachers up the wall, he now hopes to stay at Muntham for many years to come. “The place gets under your skin” he says.
If you have heard anything at all about the school, set in a pleasant rural location in Barns Green, it is probably that it’s a school for naughty boys. This is not the case, but boys will often find their way to Muntham House having been excluded from other schools.
The students are all young people diagnosed with BESD (Behavioural Emotional and Social Difficulties). Some have a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), whilst many are at the higher end of the Autistic Spectrum. The end result is that staff can never be sure exactly what challenges the day will bring!
Muntham isn’t a place where all the naughty boys are gathered so that they can run riot in a place where nobody can hear them! The school has a regional and national reputation for the innovative way that it supports its young people, and has been declared outstanding on the last four Ofsted inspections! The school offers the National Curriculum, and most of the students take five GCSEs, with many taking eight. When the young people leave, the school supports each one in finding a job, an apprenticeship or an extended education programme. Some students go on to university.
Principal, Richard Boyle, said: “Sadly it is nearly always the case that a student comes here having left or been excluded from another school. Occasionally when a school does a good job, they bypass exclusion options and contact their Local Authority (LA) and say, ‘Look, I think this lad needs some special support’ and that starts the process. Sometimes students come to us in this way from Primary School, but at Secondary level they have usually been excluded.
“We have a Family support and student Induction Team (FIT) here. They are specially trained staff, who are responsible for making initial contact with families and students, and who work to build bridges between home and school. In the main it’s the average group of kids from the average background. I’m not a fan of dictated teaching.
"We build relationships with the children, and once they can trust us, the learning begins. If you think back to your favourite teachers at school, it’s normally the ones that made an effort to get to know a little bit about you and had built up trust. It takes a lot of work because our students often don’t want to build a friendship, but when we do so it becomes worthwhile. Even the autistic students here, once they realise that the person in front of them will always be there to help them, they can build formative relationships.
“All of our young people leave here ready for college or an apprenticeship and ultimately they are ready to offer something back to the community going forward. We place them and keep tabs on them for a few years. Some of them want to cut off all ties and go it alone, which is fine, but others regularly come back to visit which is great!
“We have firstly to build up the students’ social skills so that when they go into the workplace they are not sacked in the first ten minutes, and the next challenge is to help them to develop real skills as they will be in competition with others in the workplace, and nobody is going to give them any sympathy because they went to a Special School.”
Muntham House School was established in 1953 as an educational trust. Most of the young people there are residents at this non-maintained residential school and they live in three houses named after local castles - Hever, Bodiam and Arundel. The school accommodates young people from age 8 to 18, namely Primary through to GCSEs and then on to Extended Education.
Until the Education Reform Act of 1988 BESD students were essentially taught Maths and English and took part in activities that hopefully might help them to get work when they left. Today’s Muntham House offers a similar curriculum to state schools, but with smaller classes and specialised staff. There are no more than eight boys in a class and in some cases less.
For some lessons, individuals attend other partnership mainstream schools. In return, Muntham House offers support to individual young people from these schools that are experiencing difficulties in their mainstream setting. Like many other schools, Muntham has formed international partnerships for example with the Lumuli School in Kenya, and they recently won an award in the HSBC/British Council Link2Learn competition, for work with the African school.
Considerable investment has been made to offer a full curriculum. The school has excellent facilities including a Sports Hall, Design and Technology Buildings, for teaching construction and trades skills, and other specialised classrooms for Primary and young people with Autistic traits. Chelsea football club representatives visit the school as part of a community literacy programme.
The IT room is kitted out with equipment and software that educates the students in everything from animation to web development and video production. IT teacher Shane Kenny said: “The curriculum has changed from just being Excel based teaching and graph works to learning about emerging technologies based around mobile phones and application design. It’s a bit ahead of where some of the students are, but it allows them to progress on to Extended Education. We have one lad who is interested in games design so we work on programming. It’s become much more exciting for the students and the teachers too!”
Muntham House has recently invested in a CAD/CAM machine that is benefitting many of the young people who are interested in design or construction trades. Chris Benton, Design and Technology teacher, said “We set up a programme about a year ago to raise funding for the machine which cost £23,000 but it has been terrific. The students are able to make something that is of a saleable standard, to raise money for Lumuli School. The boys are learning the basics, but we hope that they will use this to build their GCSE projects, and I see no reason why they will not achieve excellent grades.”
The school has inspired teachers. We visited a history lesson, and on the whiteboard were only three words - Tora Tora Tora - and a barely distinguishable drawing that bore all the hallmarks of an enthusiastic teacher in full flow. The teaching obviously worked because the four boys in the class are able to tell us the date and time of the Pearl Harbour attack and exactly how many American and Japanese soldiers were killed.
In the Primary School, based in a log cabin similar to an alpine ski lodge, we found Josh Phillips, a Muntham student now in the Extended Education Unit. Josh is working on a Childcare course with Crawley College. He said: “I work at Muntham House, supporting Primary on Tuesday, and at Ingfield Manor on Thursday as part of my course.
“I came to Muntham in Year 9 after I was excluded from another school, and this place sorted me out. They just gave me a bit of time and understanding. I was a confused kid but they understood me as they had probably seen it all before. I still had my off days, don’t get me wrong, but they were radically reduced.”
Josh and David are typical examples of the success that Muntham House can achieve with young people who accept that they have a problem and want to do something about it. It is this potential for commitment to managing their behaviour that Richard Boyle with Lyn Thorpe and Michelle Wright, (Family support and student Induction Team) look for during initial meetings and interviews.
Richard said: “The difference between us and other schools is that Muntham is a 24 hour community and we all work together to enhance the life chances of these young people. They are a wonderful bunch of kids but because they can be so difficult and challenging, we have to raise our game here. The standard has improved immeasurably from a school with serious weaknesses to one of consistently outstanding, and this is a testament to the commitment and effort of all our current staff.”
Richard explained that the school generally only excludes for persistent violence. “When the student does not buy into the ethos of our community, when we experience three or four months of the young person reacting consistently with violence, then we have to consider our position.
"This is not a detention centre it is a voluntary community. If the young person’s only way of negotiating is through
violence, then they need a highly specialised level of care involving more staff than we have here. There are a few very select places in the country and they do great work. Even then, because of networks we have built up, we can move a student on and avoid excluding him because that is just another negative in the young person’s life.”
Lyn Thorpe (FIT) added “The Local Authority tries to keep young people in mainstream, but by the time they are, for example, Year 9, a difficult age for boys, it may become necessary for another placement to be found. We have to ask ourselves what we can do for the student at this stage.
“We can achieve so much if we get funding for Extended Education, but if the funding is not there, we end up with a young person that, had he joined us in Primary or even Year 7, we could have worked wonders with, and that is frustrating for us.The investment in our students is considerable but our boys leave us with an apprenticeship, a job, or a college place.
"That has to make more sense economically than young people leaving school with no future, no plans and being a burden on the community."
For more information on the school visit the school website here