As another year starts at Stepping Stones we welcome new young people from mainstream settings. Bruised and confused about the system both socially and academically the school opens its doors and rebuilds the layers to support each young person in the best way possible and enable them to flourish as an individual. For many of our students, simply coming to school on a regular basis is a challenge in itself, whether that’s physical or psychological. Our goal is to support them throughout their student years but also to create an environment that allows us to build their confidence to a point where we can then challenge them and they are able to progress. We aim to make every aspect of their school life positive and productive, whether that’s socially or academically, we work with the students to prepare them for life after the safety of Stepping Stones.

‘Student X’ has been with us for 18 months now, unable to access school but bright as a button. Slowly we have supported her to attend school almost full time, with the rest of the week layered with therapeutic interventions. Not speech and language and not counselling but we have taken her out of her comfort zone in order to help her flourish. Equine empowerment has been a key layer enabling us to do this. Working with one of the most anxious animals known to man and feeling the butterflies of fear in your stomach subside as you build trust and respect for something so much bigger than yourself is a unique experience.

‘Student X’ doesn’t ride Jack, but she supports him in the lunge pen where he is free yet she feels in control and then in the field, where together they have built a special bond. This increased confidence means that ‘X’ can now enter school, secure that she is in a safe space that moves at the right pace to support her properly. The layered and more flexible education format and opportunities to learn new enterprise skills has also helped to develop self-advocacy and empowerment, areas where she had previously struggled. Thriving in both her academic and social life, she is now pushing through her GCSE’s as well as going to sleep overs with a best friend – staying up late until the early hours! The feeling of isolation was something that doctors, medication or a supportive family couldn’t mend. The feeling of acceptance and integration and the ability to make it happen came from within the student, their growth in confidence and allowing themselves to be in these social situations. Today’s social media based society and education system inadvertently encourages the feeling of isolation and, dare I say it, FOMO (fear of missing out). Fortunately, with the intervention of therapeutic support, socially empowering opportunities and a flexible education system under one roof we can offer a different story. One family school has embraced this student and started her on a new journey to rebuild herself so that she can become the independent young lady she is entitled to be.