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INSIGHT: Jersey's forgotten children

INSIGHT: Jersey's forgotten children

Tuesday 02 March 2021

INSIGHT: Jersey's forgotten children

Tuesday 02 March 2021


An exclusion rate of nearly 50%, concerns from some carers that facilities are housed in "poor" and "old" buildings, arrests, and an independent report highlighting an urgent need for upgrades - these are just some of the concerns around a school for Jersey's most vulnerable youngsters.

Express has looked at whether the current standards at La Sente's primary and secondary sites are really meeting the Government's promise to "put children first."

When you walk by Greenfields, you might notice a building resembling a house overlooking it - its perhaps not immediately somewhere that would strike you as being a school.

However, housed within it, is the Key Stage 4 area of La Sente School, a facility for children who may have serious mental health issues, trauma, emotional and behavioural difficulties, or find themselves in a vulnerable position that prevents them from being taught in mainstream education.

It was established in 2018 - one year after the Jersey Care Inquiry report returned damning findings about the Government's treatment of some young people in its care - with the pledge that it would aim "to inspire positive change" in some of the island's most vulnerable young people "in a safe and nurturing environment."

Indeed, the name La Sente was chosen as it is Jèrriais for ‘the path’, reflecting the school's mission to help children become their "best or true self."

Guardians of attendees at the school and individuals involved in child welfare have told Express that such descriptions couldn't be further from the truth, instead likening the current set-up to a "containment facility."

La Sente KS4

Pictured: La Sente's current KS4 arrangements have been likened to a "containment area."

Merging the old D’Hautrée School and the Alternative Curriculum, La Sente School is split across two sites: Key Stages 2 and 3 facilities are situated at D’Hautrée Lodge House, while Key Stage 4 overlooks and uses some of the former facilities of Les Chênes, a youth detention unit and secure school for young people now known as Greenfields.

“It’s a containment area” 

One of the key concerns flagged by those with experience of the school are the facilities themselves - though both sites serve a small proportion of children in comparison to mainstream schools, they still collectively cater to just over 20 children split into small classes, all with unique educational needs. 

"The classrooms at La Sente Key Stage 4 are the old cells of Les Chênes Reform School that have been painted – and the actual school building, where the head master’s office is and reception is, is actually the old caretaker’s flat," explained Jane*, who looks after a child who attended the school.

“It’s a containment area, actually - it contains these children in one area so everybody knows where they are, with a heavy reliance on the Police to deal with anything that gets out of hand.”

Of further concern to Jane was the distinct difference to the academic offering in mainstream schools.

“There’s no science labs, there’s no art labs, there’s no stage for drama,” she explained of the KS4 site, adding that facilities like kitchens for cooking classes were shared with staff rather than purpose-built for the children. "Where the staff room and the kids have their lunch, it’s all one room."

Her account of the lack of dedicated science facilities was reflected in a recent guide on covid-19 restrictions, which broke down the facility room-by-room.

Screenshot_2021-02-25_at_22.18.19.png

Pictured: A recent guide to safe business practices during covid gave a detailed outline of all of La Sente's facilities.

Meanwhile, Jane described the KS2 and 3 site at D’Hautrée Lodge House as “a very old house”, with “old rooms that are made into classrooms.” 

This lack of resources, she argued, limits the children's ability to follow the curriculum properly and make subject choices that will guide their future.

“When they go up to KS4 and choose their options, there’s Maths and English, there’s Construction, there’s Photography and there’s Sport as well. There isn’t really a chance for them to do anything beyond those basic things.”

Non-academic activities like abseiling and canoeing were offered to the students off-site, but Jane said these stopped for a period of time last year due to covid restrictions.

La Sente's website says it follows the Jersey curriculum "where possible."

"Particular focus is on the core subjects of English, Maths and Personal, Social, Health education," it reads. “All students are placed on a literacy intervention programme to improve literacy skills. Other targeted inventions zone in on numeracy and social skills.” 

Though the website says they offer a 'bespoke package' for each child, Jane suggested this was an embellishment of the truth.

“They will tell you on their site that every child’s got a bespoke package, and that’s thrown around, but that 'bespoke package' comes within that minimal amount of subjects.”

Science_Lab.jpeg

Pictured: Jane said the La Sente's lack of dedicated facilities like science labs limited children's potential.

A need for better facilities was highlighted last November in the Independent School Funding Review, with its appendix noting that the funding to address these "infrastructure and maintenance challenges" are “not accounted for in their current block grant funding”, which stands as a sum of £4.1m split with Mont à L'Abbé, which caters for children with disabilities.

More concerning was that the review concluded that "headteachers feel unable to adequately support the complex needs of pupils, in a safe and secure manner, under current arrangements.”

"One step away from Greenfields"

According to Jane, the sense of the facility being about "containment" for children or an extension of Greenfields opposite, rather than a productive learning environment adapted to their educational needs, was exacerbated by the frequent Police presence on the site.

Jane said that, during her child's time at La Sente, the Police were there "probably most days". She claimed she was also aware arrests were made if things got too out of control - "They throw them in the cell for seven hours, then they interview them."

Police confirmed to Express that there is a dedicated School and Youth Focus officer who visits the school on a regular basis.

policecall999.jpg

Pictured: The carer said they felt there was too much reliance on a police presence to control the children.

This constant presence, Jane argues, contributes to a seemingly 'hostile' environment for children, as soon as they walk through the school door: “Immediately you drop your child off at school and there’s a police car there.”

She felt that this was down to the fact staff weren’t able to handle the unique requirements of each child. While she described teachers and the Special Education Needs Co-ordinator as “committed”, she felt their training wasn’t sufficient, and said that specialist therapists were needed to help guide the children through their issues.

“Every child who goes there is treated the same, but not every child has the same mental health problem,” she said.

Jane added that she felt teaching children with various different mental health difficulties in one contained group - even if only of three or four - did not work, as each of the children's unique issues would end up feeding the others, and causing more stress.

Greenfields.jpeg

Pictured: La Sente KS4 sits adjacent to secure school and former youth detention facility Greenfields. 

The school's website says it currently has a counsellor trained in the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), who "works to an ethical code of practice”, offering bespoke one-on-one sessions to students who request them.

However, Jane suggested that the children needed more than a single counsellor, and that Jersey should invest in a "long overdue" centre where children can be educated while receiving in-depth therapy for individual emotional issues such as trauma.

Of La Sente, she was firm that it was not currently fulfilling its role as either an educational facility or a place of therapy: “It isn’t a school – they’re on the Greenfields site, they look onto Greenfields - so it’s almost saying [that] it’s one step away from Greenfields.”

"Setting them up to fail..." - exclusion rates

These complaints take on further weight when considering La Sente's exclusion rate.

45.8% of students had an exclusion in the 2018/19 academic year, according to statistics released by the Government for a report to the UN by the Children's Commissioner, Deborah McMillan.

“They’ve only got 24 pupils, and 11 of them were excluded," Ms McMillan told Express.

La_Sente_Dhautree.jpg

Pictured: La Sente's KS2 and KS3 use the old D'Hautrée Lodge House.

Though the term 'exclusion' comes with the caveat that no exclusions are permanent and that children in care are offered home learning even if they are taken out of school, the Commissioner hastened to add: “The Government will say no pupil is permanently excluded, and that’s correct; because of the way they categorise things, no pupil is permanently excluded from any school.  

“But they’re excluded for a period of time, and they call them suspensions - now, as far as I’m concerned, they’re not in the classrooms, and so any child who’s not in the classroom during the school day is excluded.” 

She added: “A number of parents have come to speak to us - some of them at primary school age - worried about their children at La Sente, and it is quite clear that La Sente does not meet the needs of all our pupils, and we have to think of something else.

“We look to education systems where all children thrive, and actually they don’t have schools like La Sente, they have a proper inclusive education service.”

Deborah McMillan @OCCJersey

Pictured: Children's Commissioner Deborah McMillan said it was "clear" that "La Sente does not meet the needs of all our pupils, and we have to think of something else."

Reflecting on the way the rules around suspensions and punishment are applied, Jane remarked: "You’re not giving them a chance, you’re setting them up to fail. They failed in mainstream because a lot of the time the rules and regulations, they can’t abide by, and so you’re putting them into La Sente... but you're actually running La Sente exactly the same way you are [mainstream schools].

"You've contained them, basically."

The issue of children with complex needs being excluded from education is not an issue specific to La Sente, however. Across all local schools, children in vulnerable situations are affected disproportionately. 

The island-wide 2018/2019 rates show a clear pattern, with the Commissioner’s report pointing out that “exclusions occur disproportionately amongst male pupils, and often those with a 'Record of Need' or in receipt of the 'Jersey Premium.'”

Sad_Boy.jpg

Pictured: £18,000 of Jersey Premium funding was spent on children at La Sente who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The figures show that two-in-five of all excluded students were on the Jersey Premium, which is funding targeted at children in need of extra support due to their socio-economic circumstances.

Many of La Sente's students also rely on the Premium.

Currently, it stands at £1,005 per Primary pupil, £645 per secondary pupil and £2,000 per child living in residential care. In 2020, £18,000 of Premium funding was spent on La Sente’s small school population. 

Echoes from the past

The site that KS4 of La Sente uses formed part of Les Chênes, which was initially a secure remand/educational facility. It was recommended for closure and shut down before being replaced by Greenfields in 2006.

In 2017, the damning Care Inquiry report exposed a 30-year history of neglect, abuse and solitary confinement at the facility.

It also noted that the children housed there were viewed in the island as “little villains”, and that “control and containment” was the overriding objective, rather than their welfare - feelings that Jane says still haunt La Sente.

IJCI_care_inquiry_archive.jpg

Pictured: The Jersey Care Inquiry highlighted how when the site was Les Chênes, it struggled to address children's unique difficulties - something that remains a concern today.

While she felt that none of the teachers or staff were bad educators, Jane said their struggles in working through each child's unique difficulties was the likely reason behind the environment's failure to move from containment to a therapeutic environment.

While it was referenced in the 2020 Independent School Funding Review, the problem stretches back nearly 20 years.

In 2002, Ofsted's Kathie Bull reported how secure school Les Chênes included some pupils "whose needs... are extreme by the State's standards", and who "the school does not have the expertise to manage.” 

But better staff training won't be the only key to improvement, Jane believes.

The decaying facilities themselves - looking out onto the "prison-like" environment of Greenfields, which the Care Inquiry panel recommended closing in a 2019 follow-up report - must be physically upgraded or scrapped and replaced with an alternative. 

If not, the message to children is clear, Jane says: "'That's good enough for you, you're not important, you're never going to make it.'”

‘Putting children first’

The creation of a dedicated therapeutic unit for the children could be the key to moving on from the past and providing a hopeful future for the island's most vulnerable youngsters, Jane argues.

“Through no fault of their own, they’ve been disadvantaged, and they continue to be treated like they’re disadvantaged and they never move up at all. It ends up costing the state more than it would do if they put in place the therapy these children need when they first enter care, or first show signs of mental health issues.”

She added: "I think we need to show these children that they are important, and we do care about them, and not contain them in old buildings that were never meant to be schools in the first place.” 

Crying Child Therapy.jpg

Pictured: A carer of a child who has been at the school called for more specialised therapy that focused on the child's individual needs.

The Government Plan shows money has been earmarked for the KS4 facility as part of its overall redevelopment plans for Greenfields, although what those developments will look like remains unclear.

“It is important that the site is redeveloped appropriately, to enable changes to be made to both the existing school premises and the Greenfields secure unit,” the plan reads.

“On review of the original funding submission, it has been necessary to seek additional funding in 2024 to ensure there is enough budget available for the redevelopment of the site and not just the secure unit buildings. This means that this project is now budgeted to cost £7m.”

Repair_Work.jpg

Pictured: The Government have said they want to redevelop the Greenfields site, including La Sente KS4, in 2024. 

Furthermore, it is understood that a review of pupil inclusion review is either due to start soon or in progress.

Express also understands one suggestion, which has been suggested by a local headteacher to the Government, is that of an on-site ‘Pupil Referral Unit’ at secondary schools, whereby a section, or extension, is built at the school, which allows the pupil to be taken out of class to be taught in a separate environment more suited to their needs, but remain included on site, and with access to staff. 

A version of the idea was, in fact, put forward 19 years ago, following Kathie Bull's critical report.

In response to its findings, the Children's Executive of the time suggested a “Learning Support Unit in each 11-16 secondary school which would specialise in providing for children up to the end of Year 9 (14 years).”

At a time where according to the Independent School Funding Review, demand for entry to special schools “outstrips capacity", and mainstream schools are “looking to refer more children than they can accommodate”, it seems the pressure for a shift in approach at the La Sente sites is mounting.

And for many of the carers of children at the site, how the Government responds to these issues will certainly be a key test in whether they truly are ‘putting children first'.

Express has contacted the Government for comment and is awaiting a response.

*Name changed to protect child's identity.

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