When The Holmewood School identified a need to actively improve the mental health of its students, it launched a three-year plan, made up of three initiatives that were closely aligned to the needs of its community whilst supporting its mission to ‘Think Differently’.
The North London school in Woodside Park is for 7-19 year olds with autism, and a survey it carried out showed that 87 percent of its pupils felt they would do more schoolwork outside in the fresh air. The forest school was born.
Focusing on social and emotional development, all of the students attend a local farm, taking part in activities such as den-building, whittling, growing food and animal care. The school’s ongoing work with animals, such as William the Autism Life Dog, helps individual students with their stress and anxiety.
Meanwhile, the whole-school wellbeing programme gives all members of the school community a positive and healthy start to the day, with choices such as yoga, delivered by the school’s autism and yoga trained Occupational Therapist, and a running club.
Weekly reflexology is available for staff in addition to students, as are reflective supervision sessions with the in-house Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist, supporting the idea that staff need to take care of themselves in order to be able to care for their students.
A wellbeing drop in clinic was launched in 2017 to address individual student needs, and a Random Acts of Kindness week resulted in many lovely moments across the school that have become a daily occurance all year round.
In addition, Footprints Life Camp at The Holmewood School operates during the school holidays, aiming to reduce social exclusion and increase the independence of young autistic people through farming, outdoor education and life skills.
The judges said: “Holmewood really embodies the notion of a ‘whole-school approach’ using a range of really innovative initiatives to support both their staff and pupils.“It struck us they had acknowledged that all learners have a unique set of needs and had incorporated into school life forms of support which would be valuable for pupils at a range of places within the mental health and fitness spectrum. We particularly loved the acknowledgment of the therapeutic benefits of physical activity and of spending time with animals.”
Finalists attended a black-tie event at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, hosted by author, broadcaster, actor and entertainer Gyles Brandreth, where more than 400 attendees celebrated all that is outstanding in independent schools.
Lisa Camilleri, Head Teacher of The Holmewood School, said, “We feel absolutely privileged to have won this award. It is a real testament to the hard work, passion and enthusiasm of our staff, students and families, all of whom make our school so wonderful. Our wellbeing programme is unique and has changed the lives of many autistic young people. To have recognition of this means so much to us.”