A GROUND-BREAKING specialist Newton Abbot school for children with complex needs has won praise from inspectors and parents. 

Phoenix Bay, based at Seale Hayne, received a ‘Good’ rating from Ofsted with its personal development provision ‘outstanding’ while parents gave 100 per cent positive feedback.

With just 15 children, the school caters for children who cannot be taught in mainstream schools.

All the children have been excluded from or are unable to manage mainstream school and other specialist schools.

Some have not been in education at all for years. 

For 16-year-old Oscar, Phoenix Bay is his ninth school.

Mum Claire explained: ‘He was always traumatised by the learning experiences he had before.

‘He didn’t feel safe. But as soon as he walked in here, he felt safe, he felt an affinity, and he’s really happy here. Finally, Oscar is being educated for the first time.’

Oscar has autism, anxiety and ADHD which can be triggered by other people’s presence meaning he sometimes hides in a cupboard. 

But since joining the school, his education and personal development have been transformed.

Claire said: ‘He still has all his problems, but he doesn’t feel judged.

‘He’s motivated to learn, and he’s really bright. We’re so proud of him, he’s just sat his GCSE Art and he’s learned vocational skills. And he’s got a place at college for next year.’

The independent school also takes children who have experienced trauma and multiple adverse childhood experiences. 

It has 15 pupils aged five to 16 who are taught by 17 staff. 

The school delivers the national curriculum through a bespoke programme for each child, who are referred from their local authority.

For proprietor and Principal Ross Banks, setting up an ‘authentic’ school for children with complex needs was his ‘passion’ for many years. 

Turning a derelict building into a warm and welcoming environment was a ‘real labour of love’. 

Welcoming spaces at specialist school
Welcoming spaces at specialist school (MDA )

Ross set the school up with director and business manager, Jacqui Sloane, who says they started with ‘our vision and an A3 sheet of paper’.

The latest Ofsted report in May said: ‘Pupils are at the heart of Phoenix Bay School. 

‘They thrive because the school is determined for them to achieve the very best. Pupils describe the significant impact the school has on them.

‘Following significant periods of disengagement with learning, pupils now want to be in school and they appreciate the value of learning. 

‘Staff are skilled in giving pupils the strategies they need to be successful and become confident, self-aware individuals with aspirations for their future.

‘There are high expectations of pupils. Pupils strive to meet these because of strong and trusted relationships with staff. 

‘Pupils feel safe and cared for. Pupils’ conduct and the way they respond to challenge and interactions with others has significantly improved.

‘There is a culture of trust and respect. 

‘The school’s approach to preparing pupils for their next steps is exceptional.’

Quiet space at Pheonix Bay
Quiet space at Phoenix Bay (MDA )

Ross said the progress of the students is down to the dedication of staff.

He said: ‘A lot of our students have not been in education at any time. We adapt to their needs, we fit the curriculum in with them, rather than expecting them to fit into the school. 

‘That’s what makes us different, building trust with the students, allowing them to re-engage in learning.’

Small classrooms have four students at a time, with each student having their own member of staff. 

Communal areas are decorated with murals and the ‘learning hub’ is where the school comes together for breakfast and lunch. 

There’s a barber shop where students are trained to have a skill; a YouTube and podcasting room; and a ‘repair shop’ where they learn how to fix things and other life skills. 

A ‘treehouse’ classroom called The Lodge offers a calm and therapeutic place to learn.

Deputy principal Laura Secker said: ‘Many of our young people’s lives have been tough, their experience of learning has been brutal up until now. 

‘Two of our boys were overheard saying, ‘can you believe it? They actually like us’. This is the first time they’ve had that experience in learning.

‘But we’re not fluffy and Ofsted made this point. We have rigour and we have clear boundaries. 

‘There’s no shame or guilt. And you do that by building relationships and trust with the young people. That’s what makes them feel safe.’

All five 16-year-olds who are leaving the school this summer have placements at either academic or vocational colleges.

Ross explained: ‘We want to prepare them for future life and we’re delighted this part of our work has been recognised by the Ofsted inspectors as exceptional.’

Jacqui added: ‘With minimal resources but fuelled by immense determination and a desire to make an impact, we pursued our objective. I take great pride in stating we have achieved that.’