Training & Development
"...a culture in which curiosity and learning are valued..."
Here at West Heath we seek to support the professional and personal development of all our staff, modelling the attitudes and behaviours that we want to cultivate in our students. We endeavour to create a culture in which curiosity and learning are valued in and of themselves. So, while much of the training that takes place is specific to the tasks and roles that people have to fulfil, all that we do is intended to encourage a love of learning, flexibility of thought, and creativity.
All staff have access to, and are expected to participate in core elements of our provision. So for example, on starting work at West Heath all colleagues complete a detailed Induction programme that prepares them for the particular nature of the West Heath environment. As well as exploring key areas such as Safeguarding and Health and Safety, staff also participate in Team Teach (positive handling) training.
On-going training is delivered that makes effective use of the considerable expertise we have within our staff team. This relates to our capacity to understand and more effectively meet the needs of all members of our community. As such, it regularly involves input from members of our Therapeutic Team as well as from other colleagues, experienced and highly knowledgeable in their particular fields. Sessions may for example, explore issues relating to Speech and Language, the challenges faced by young people with Occupational Therapy needs, or indeed those faced by students with specific mental health diagnoses. As well as intending to inform, training has as a focus on the development of strategies and practical approaches that facilitate the more effective supporting of students’ learning and growth. We are also committed to equipping staff with the skills and insights available through Mental Health First Aid training. Thus far, some 50 staff have completed two-day MHFA England courses (either Youth or Adult), and we are committed to ensuring that all staff, whatever their role, should have access to at least a one-day Mental Health First Aid Champion’s course.
Our commitment to having a highly skilled workforce is further demonstrated by a rolling programme of teacher training that regularly sees staff supported in making the challenging transition from Associate to qualified Teacher status. Similarly, all Teaching Assistants are supported to work towards and achieve an NVQ Level 3 Supporting Teaching & Learning qualification, both increasing their capacity to more effectively fulfil their role, and simultaneously increasing their own sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence. Likewise, all members of our Residential Team are supported to achieve a relevant NVQ Level 3 qualification if this is something they don’t already have on joining us. Meanwhile, HEART Key Workers undertake a similar Level 3 qualification, theirs focusing on supporting young people with mental health difficulties.
Whilst recognising and celebrating the expertise that we have within our community, beyond training for specific qualifications of the sort previously mentioned, we also recognise the value of accessing sources of external excellence. Examples of this include the engaging of experts in Safeguarding to provide a fresh and highly informed perspective on the work that we do, and similarly the use of external expertise to deepen staff understanding of specific issues affecting members of our community. A recent example relates to causes and responses to self-harm, whilst in the coming year a very particular focus will be on issues associated with attachment.
On a more individual level, and in line with our Strategic Priorities, staff are encouraged to identify training and development opportunities that will enhance the quality of the service we provide our students, at the same time as facilitating the development of themselves personally. Such requests are examined on merit, and we commit ourselves to exploring each one as positively as possible.
In setting aside Friday afternoons, in part for the scheduling of staff training, we demonstrate our intent to create the quality time and space necessary to make real our commitment to genuine professional development. Furthermore, we are committed to making a wider contribution to the training and development of colleagues beyond the boundaries of West Heath itself. As such, the last year has seen us embark on an ambitious programme of Outreach activities. This has included the delivery of Mental Health First Aid training, Coaching, and psychological assessments, as well as advice, guidance and consultancy in relation to specific SEND issues. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on our capacity to continue to deliver such support. Nevertheless, we are now working on developing a range of resources and materials which, by the end of the current academic year will be available online. We will also seek to re-engage with our Outreach partners so that at the earliest opportunity, we can once again be able to offer the direct support that they have found so valuable.
While a well resourced and structured training and development programme is a key aspect of the wellbeing of staff, here at West Heath it is just one aspect of the provision that we have in place. More broadly, we endeavour to create and maintain an environment in which staff feel supported, motivated and challenged, one in which they have sufficient autonomy to be able to act creatively and flexibly, whilst working towards commonly shared and understood goals.
Maintaining clear and effective channels of communication that allow staff to contribute to the decision making process is one significant element of this. As such, our Staff Consultation Group, whose Chair meets regularly with the Principal, allows staff to have a voice, one that is heard and respected.
Staff needs are also catered for by means of their access to the Employee Assistance Programme, a comprehensive service that provides confidential advice and support in areas as varied as financial and legal advice, as well as counselling. Meanwhile within school itself, staff have access to a trained Executive Coach should there be specific areas they wish to work on. We also benefit from the provision of high-quality lunches and morning refreshments provided by our outstanding catering team, while prior to the introduction of social distancing regulations, our main morning briefing always began with a minute of Mindfulness. In addition to this, staff have the opportunity to suggest other activities that they believe will enhance their wellbeing. Examples of these have included, longer Mindfulness practices, after school swimming and Pilates classes. More recently, we have supported colleagues wanting to take part in 5 and 10km fun runs, contributing to the cost of entry. These are just some of the additional ways in which we recognise the need to support our community’s social, emotional, physical and psychological needs.