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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Dunne

Why was Westward House created?

The short answer is we started it because we believed it is what a school should look like!

Now for the longer answer...

Westward House started because we knew that for some children the current provision being offered just wasn’t working for them. That’s not to say it doesn’t work for many. It’s not a criticism of support that’s out there, and there is undoubtedly some incredibly good practice in places.

However, for some we saw that there was no “in-between” alternative provision to mainstream settings, or "units" linked to large mainstream settings. Some children and young people we knew really needed a different type of school. This was evidenced in high anxiety levels, emotional upset and feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness. For some, those feelings led to school anxiety and refusal, as well as other problems holding them back from reaching their potential.

Some families didn’t know where to turn. Some had tried home education as their only option, but their children needed the variety of experience and social aspect of school to thrive.

I was one of those families. Also, as a teacher I had always been drawn to and worked in ALN support in schools. I am someone who has been reading and researching autism and additional needs as my own passionate area of special interest for many years - not least as a way to understand and support those I love, and even myself.

So Westward was to help those children. Children who may not have learning needs, or those who have learning needs, but for whom a mainstream offering of support wasn’t enough to help them fully manage their feelings or engage in reaching their potential. Also, for the children who were "fine in school" - the high achievers even- who didn't qualify for any help, but who were actually falling apart inside and masking in school.

We believe that some children need a much more nurturing and tailored approach that focuses on meeting their physical and emotional needs, helping them build positive relationships with others, and cultivating their self-esteem.

A nurturing approach involves providing a safe, accepting environment in which children can express themselves, as well as offering hands-on activities and experiences that keep them engaged and interested. This can help build their confidence, independence, and self-reliance.

We also believe that it is hugely important to pay special attention to a child's individual traits and talents, so that the curriculum can be adjusted for them and totally flexible to their needs.

That’s why Westward was created.

Eastward in Cardiff followed due to high demand from parents, some of whom travelled far each week to experience Westward’s approach before Eastward could open.

We try incredibly hard to be inexpensive and cost-effective as we are privately funded. Staff selection is of paramount importance to us. Our recruitment process is rigorous to make sure the skill sets and personalities of adults fit wholly with our ethos and approach, and can support the learning and emotional needs of the children in our care.

We don’t claim to always know all the answers. Sometimes a child can have complex things going on for them and not all assessment reports give a full picture. Some children are left waiting for years to be assessed for ASC/ ADHD etc and are left feeling misunderstood in the meantime. Listening to what’s being said, both in verbal and non-verbal ways, is critical to make sure a child is being supported in a way that is right for them in the right environment.

Sometimes this takes time. Things need to be unravelled, and it can be especially hard if an older child has felt unsupported for a long time, despite best intentions. They very understandably lack trust in those who are purportedly their to help them. They can feel judged and misunderstood. Their fight/flight response is in constant alert mode and becomes their modus operandi for survival.

Sometimes a change of approach and environment can make a world of difference very quickly. For some we see the change offers immediate relief and is truly life-changing.

If you are part of our school we hope Westward has supported your child to find happiness and make steps forward in all ways.

For others not with us who may be feeling a bit lost in the system and unsure of where to turn…we’re here. Maybe we are what you are looking for.

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