Welcome to Acorn Park

Acorn Park is an independent, specialist day and residential service that caters for children and young people aged 5 – 19 years who have Autism and the communication and learning challenges associated with the condition. We are a fully integrated community made up of a range of professionals from different backgrounds, employed to meet the diverse needs of the young people and families that we support.

We have a growing school that can currently accommodate up to 98 students. We recognise that our students have a vast range of academic and cognitive abilities along with very individual communication and learning styles and so we offer two distinct pathways within the school to meet those diverse needs.

Our Formal pathway offers a traditional learning route, based on the National Curriculum and leading to a range of formal qualifications. In the year 2020-21, for the fourth year running, we achieved a 100% pass rate for those students who took GCSE qualifications at Acorn Park with our highest student grade being a Grade 7 in Art. Students on this pathway are generally those who are assessed as operating within two years of age-related expectation. We offer a range of optional subjects to our Year 10 and 11 cohorts, which reflect the interests and talents of those particular cohorts which enables them to follow interests and gain qualifications to prepare them for the world of work.

Our Formal primary students follow a thematic approach to learning to help them to put into context new concepts and ideas and to make sense of the past, present and future.

Our Semi-Formal pathway is based on the principles of the EQUALS curriculum which is outlined below. This is a highly personalised curriculum approach for our more complex students or those who may have significant developmental gaps to fill. It is broadly experiential in its nature as research into the way we learn is clear that we learn best by ‘doing’ as we train our bodies and minds to master skills and make sense of experiences. These students will also leave Acorn Park with appropriate qualifications and certifications.

 

Equals Curriculum Diagram

 

Our pathways are not fixed in that students may move from one to the other over their time at Acorn Park. We know that learners develop at different rates and so may need different approaches and levels of learning support at different times throughout their learning journeys

We have a growing reputation with parents and placing authorities for meeting the needs of children and young people across the Autism Spectrum including those whose behaviour can be challenging.

Our methodology is underpinned by an understanding that children on the Autism Spectrum are more likely to have happy and fulfilling lives if we support the development of their autonomy and wellbeing by giving them effective ways to communicate and building their capacity to cope with the demands and challenges of their lives.

 

Therapeutic Parenting Approach

Therapeutic Parenting (or caregiving) is a highly nurturing parenting approach, which has empathy at its core and so at Acorn Park we aim to approach our students from this perspective – to understand the functions of behaviour which in turn allow needs to be met.

Many of our students have come to Acorn Park following difficult experiences in other settings and may have suffered trauma or other adverse childhood experiences. Therapeutic Parenting uses clear and consistent boundaries and routines to aid the development of new neural pathways in the brain enabling children to gain trust in adults. When trauma is suffered the lower parts of the brain (survival brain) do not consistently connect with their higher brain (prefrontal cortex/thinking brain) so it is difficult to link cause and effect. A therapeutic approach allows those connections to repair and develop.

Using boundaries and routines helps children to understand there is consistency and predictably in their lives and that their needs will always be met. At Acorn Park we use a range of visuals, including timetables, to support children with this.

We respond to students displaying dysregulated behaviours with empathy using the PACE model (playfulness to connect and diffuse a situation, acceptance of the child whilst not accepting of aggression, curiosity to detect your child’s need, all steeped in empathy).​ Again this leads to a feeling of consistency and a no judgement approach which means that students’ shame responses are reduced – ultimately leading to higher self-esteem and feelings of security.

The Therapeutic Parenting programme has truly been embedded into the school community and the language and ethos of Therapeutic Parenting has given the school its own unique identity. We call this our One Voice approach to behaviour.

Outcomes First Group’s Therapeutic Parenting Programme has received accreditation from the British Psychological Society

Outcomes First Group’s Therapeutic Parenting Programme has been approved by the British Psychological Society for the purposes of continuing professional development.

The British Psychological Society is a registered charity that acts as the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK and is responsible for the promotion of excellence and ethical practice in the science, education and application of the discipline.

“Approved by the British Psychological Society for the purposes of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).”

The Therapeutic Parenting Programme is a significant investment at Outcomes First Group to develop an attachment, trauma and neurodiversity informed workforce to create a positive and reflective therapeutic environment to achieve the best outcomes for the children and young people we support.  The content of this programme has been developed by Clinicians at Outcomes First Group, led by one of our Consultant Clinical Psychologists.

There are three stages offered across the programme:

  • An Introduction to Therapeutic Parenting
  • The Foundations of Therapeutic Parenting
  • Advanced Level of Therapeutic Parenting

The training is designed to give Outcomes First Group employees and foster carers an insight into the key principles of child psychology and how early experience affects later emotions, behaviour and relationships.  The course further aims to highlight how the parenting we may be familiar with, differs from that of therapeutic parenting.

The importance of developing safe, strong and trusting relationships with children as a way to help them recover from past trauma and neglect is a firm basis of the programme.

Developing reflective practice is the ‘golden thread’ that runs through the programme; the aim is to increase awareness of the potential impact of working with young people who have experienced trauma and to develop strategies to help support their own well-being during this process.  The course encourages recognition of own and other’s responses through a process of thoughtful reflection, to create a positive therapeutic environment.

The Advanced level of Therapeutic Parenting is for leaders at Outcomes First Group to create and maintain a therapeutic milieu, supportive of a therapeutic parenting approach.  Leaders are supported to enable their employees from an individual, team and organisation level.  The Therapeutic Parenting Programme will ensure our teams and foster carers are trained to best understand and meet the needs of the children and young people in our care, supporting them to be happy, safe, form trusting relationships and ultimately lead to building strong foundations for positive and successful futures.

The outcomes for the Therapeutic Parenting Programme are:

  • To gain a deeper insight into early developmental trauma and how these experiences affect later emotions, behaviour and relationships;
  • Understand the importance of developing safe, strong and trusting relationships with children as a way to help them recover from trauma and neglect;
  • To create an integrated therapeutic environment that meets attachment and trauma-informed need;
  • To increase awareness and make sense of own responses to others through a process of reflection, to enable thoughtful responding to create a positive therapeutic environment;
  • To become aware of the impact of working with young people who have experienced trauma, and to leave with a toolkit to support our own well-being and ways of working from an individual, team and organisational level.

 

Something Different?

We recognise that for some children to achieve their potential, parents and professionals have to spend a little more time and energy putting together a support package that is going to be meaningful and effective.   For children and young people whose needs are more complex, we have created totally bespoke provisions which aim to build a personal curriculum to develop a child’s communication, emotional regulation, independent living skills and access to the community.

For Formal Students who require more of a behaviour-focussed approach, we offer our G.R.I.T curriculum. This is based on the principles of developing Growth, Resilience, Independence and Talent in students and begins by working with the student to identify their drivers and interests. We then put together sessions that develop skills for life and work that are bespoke to each learner based on their profiles.

Some children will require residential placements at Acorn Park and so we offer 38 week or 52-week residential placements which can be tailored to each child’s needs and requirements.

Acorn Park Vision, Mission and Values

Our vision

For every child to be safe, nurtured and supported to succeed.

Our mission

To care and educate our children, empowering them to reach their full potential, to think big and dream bigger!

Our values

Our values act as the central principles and widespread truths that impact our practice, how we collaborate as a team, how we build our core methods and how we present our mission.

Care: We are courageous, in advocating, educating and caring for every child, confident in our purpose to promote kindness respect.

Strive: We are striving for a better future by always doing our best with the children we work with. Our inventive efforts support children at Acorn Park to aspire to healthier futures.

Grow: We help children fulfil their personal growth and build positive relationships. Children are empowered to reach their full potential.

Thrive:  We uphold the belief that by being reliable and consistent in our therapeutic practices, by advocating for children and promoting our values, children will thrive on the next step of their life journey.

We care – for each other

We strive – to do our best

We grow – To be the greatest version of ourselves

We thrive – on the next part of our journey

We recognise that effective learning takes place where there are strong relationships between adults and children and between each child and their peers.

 

How do we do this…

  • Create enabling environments that promote the wellbeing of each individual in a safe and secure setting in which they can live, work and develop their potential
  • Unlock the potential of the young people who live and learn at Acorn Park so they are able to live fulfilling and productive lives
  • Develop in each young person a greater understanding and awareness of themselves, their community and the world in which they live
  • Build on the strengths and celebrate the achievements of all our young people
  • Teach all students new personal, social and practical skills that will help them in later life including providing opportunities for work experience and involvement in accredited learning where possible
  • Develop communication skills and use language (whenever possible) with confidence to communicate effectively, using Information and Communications Technology and preferred modes of communication
  • Develop the appropriate skills to participate in a suitably differentiated, broad and balanced curriculum including, for Formal learners, the National Curriculum
  • Develop self-confidence and capacity for emotional regulation, communicative competence, independence, pride in self and in their school, and an interest in their activities
  • Establish an effective and mutually supportive working partnership between home and school
  • Establish Acorn Park School as an exceptional provision in the education and care of young people on the Autism Spectrum

 

Our Approach

We are a fully integrated community of professionals who use evidence-based practices to increase the quality of life for children on the Autism Spectrum and their families. Acorn Park is building their community around 3 core beliefs:

  1. The Team Around the Child: We believe that a child’s needs are best met when a multi-disciplinary team joins works closely together. We want to enable children and their families to achieve their own ambitions whilst overcoming the challenges that are impacting most upon their lives.
  2. Supporting children to be active participants in their lives: We enable children to become more involved in their lives by teaching skills that enable them to initiate communication and to regulate their attention, arousal and emotion levels. This might be in their classroom, in their home or in their communities – we support children wherever their needs are the greatest.
  3. A social model of disability: We are joining a growing number of professionals who believe that Autism should not be viewed as “impairment” or a “deficit” but as evidence of neurodiversity within our society. This means that we believe that learning is a genuine partnership between children and adults so, when we set children goals, we also set the adults who will be supporting their goals too!

 

Our Priorities for supporting children with Autism

  • Social communication and socio-emotional development are of highest priority
  • Underlying principles and values based on theories of children’s learning and language development
  • Children’s Goals are developmentally appropriate and based on functional needs recognising individual differences
  • All aspects of a child’s development are seen as interrelated and interdependent on interactions with others
  • Progress is measured by success in daily routines and experiences
  • Parents considered as experts and partners

 

Our SWIFT Team

The wellbeing of children and families is of the greatest importance to us at Acorn Park and so we have a dedicated family and pastoral support team, our SWIFT team – Student Welfare, Integration, Family Team.

This team works across the school with students, families and outside agencies to improve the welfare, wellbeing and integration of our learners and to provide support and advice for families as we recognise that supporting a child with Autism and often other conditions, can be challenging, exhausting and at times, incredibly lonely.

We also offer regular coffee mornings to families and carers so that relationships can be built and these always include school information and a short session from our therapists to help support families at home.

 

Our Specialist Environment

We have a range of facilities at Acorn Park which supports the way that children learn, socialise and play together. These include a range of outdoor recreational areas with climbing frames and gym equipment, grassy areas for outdoor play and our extensive grounds give our students opportunities for bike riding and go-carting. For many children, these open spaces allow them to develop a sense of freedom within a safe and supervised environment.

We also have a number of specialist resources to meet the needs of children at Acorn Park, including sensory rooms and soft play dens.

Acorn Park Community has continued to grow, with the addition of the Care Farm where a variety of small and farm animals live.  Our dedicated teacher provides children with opportunities to learn skills associated with caring for animals, growing our own food and learning from the natural environment. We also have an Outdoor Education Lead who has developed our onsite Forest School and leads our Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

We know how important the environment can be to support learning, socialising and recreation so we ask children and parents on a regular basis how they want to see their school and homes develop.