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Sunderland School Recognised Nationally for Transformative Approach to Education ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Consilium Evolve Headteacher Robert Bell invited to present at the Westminster Insight Alternative Provision Conference in London

Consilium Evolve, a secondary school in Sunderland, takes centre stage in alternative provision for students suffering from poor mental health as its Headteacher, Robert Bell, receives national recognition for his groundbreaking work at the Westminster Insight Alternative Provision Conference in London.

The conference, attended by teaching professionals from across the UK, featured Bell as a distinguished speaker in a Spotlight Session titled "Creating an Holistic Environment for Students to Flourish". His pioneering approach to addressing emotional-based school avoidance has caught attention and acclaim from the education community.

One of the key aspects of Consilium Evolve's approach is to bridge the gap between mainstream schooling and alternative provision, recognising the importance of emotional wellbeing in education.

Bell highlighted the significance of creating a safe and supportive environment for students with an audience participation exercise. Conference attendees were asked to draw the person sitting next to them, resulting in a mix of surprise, apologies, nervous laughter, and some hesitancy to participate. The activity served as a powerful illustration of the vulnerability students might feel in the classroom.

"Learning is an emotional risk, and it’s natural to become conservative and withdrawn when we don’t feel in a safe space. We are asking students on a daily basis to feel vulnerable in front of their peers, and that’s tough for any young person, let alone a child suffering from mental health issues," explained Bell.

Consilium Evolve, part of Consilium Academies, was described by Ofsted as "life-changing" during a recent inspection (October 2023).

"I’ve always believed there’s another way. I’ve spent years developing what my idea of education looks like, crossing the boundary between mainstream and alternative provision.

“Schools like Evolve have typically not had the recognition they deserve, and I want to change that as we’re supporting young people who would ordinarily slip through the net," said Bell during his presentation.

The academy conducts visual and sound processing assessments for all students, aiming to identify and address challenges that may affect their ability to engage with the curriculum effectively. This commitment to understanding each student's unique needs has contributed to a remarkable increase in attendance from 18% on average before they joined the school to 82% after.

Bell explained that difficulties with eye tracking impede the ability to comprehend written meaning, while challenges in sound processing result in the brain struggling to make sense of information.

He said “It's important to recognise that our listening involves both air and bone conduction. When these components are misaligned, the messages to the brain become scrambled. A considerable number of our students experience varying degrees of difficulty with sound and visual processing, and we are actively engaged in therapeutic interventions to enhance their processing abilities.”

The academy’s approach also includes addressing factors such as sleep patterns, planning the timetable around students’ emotions, not just curriculum content, and incorporating outdoor education.

Perhaps controversially, Bell refuses to have a behaviour policy and instead has a communications policy. This choice is rooted in the understanding that behaviour is a form of communication and it is working as Ofsted praised students on their “superb” behaviour.

The school community at Consilium Evolve extends beyond students to include parents and staff, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding. Evolve’s commitment to mental health is evident in its approach to supporting parents and students alike.

"Our fundamental human need is to belong, and for many students and their families, especially post-pandemic, that connection in a school setting is lacking.

“We say to our pupils and their families, ‘we see you, we see who you are, and you can belong here.’" emphasised Bell.

As the need for alternative provision continues to grow, Consilium Evolve stands out as a beacon of success, challenging traditional educational norms and demonstrating that a holistic approach to student wellbeing can lead to positive outcomes. The academy’s innovative methods and commitment to inclusivity set a standard for alternative provision nationwide.