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Life at Esland Grantham School – Oliver’s story

Abusive home life

Oliver* was born female but identifies as a male. Life at home was extremely difficult for him growing up, as he suffered regular periods of neglect and abuse. Oliver has a twin brother, who he was constantly compared to during childhood. He was regularly told that boys are better, stronger and more successful than girls, and he believed it was safer to identify as male, given the abusive environment he was trying to survive in.

Eventually, Oliver was removed from the family home but found it difficult to settle into new surroundings. In the space of 12 months, he was placed in five homes, including a foster placement. During this time, Oliver also changed his name four times.

Turning the Curve™

After his other placements broke down, Oliver moved to an Esland home where he could receive the support he so desperately needed. He attended Esland Grantham School but found learning in a traditional classroom environment very challenging. During lessons, he’d often try to harm himself or assault his teachers, and he’d hide items around the school so that he could use them as weapons.

Oliver needed another solution, so after liaising with his home staff team and social worker, he joined the school’s Turning the Curve™ programme. The programme is designed to help students learn at a pace and in an environment that supports their needs, and Oliver was one of the first to enrol on it.

Initially, it was important to establish clear boundaries for Oliver, so rather than encouraging him to return to a classroom or learn from home, we arranged for him to meet with a tutor for two hours a day at a local library, twice a week. This helped him to separate his education from his home life and gave him the perfect space to focus on his learning.

One-to-one support

Oliver’s tutor drew up a personalised plan for him, and over time, they built up a good rapport. His tutor was great at recognising Oliver’s moods and would adapt the lessons accordingly to help him get the most out of them.

Oliver liked structure, as it meant he knew where he stood with rules and boundaries. And his tutor ensured he always knew what was coming up on his learning schedule so that he could feel a sense of security and ownership.   

Eventually, Oliver progressed to five sessions a week at the library and soon after began attending lessons in a separate, purpose-built outreach classroom at Esland Grantham School. His return to the classroom started slowly, initially with just one-morning session a week. However, as Oliver began to feel more comfortable, it soon increased to four mornings a week.

His tutor discussed whether he'd like to socialise more with his peers at the school, so he began spending breaks and lunchtimes with other students. He also made leaps and bounds in his academic progress. After sitting Entry Level 3 Maths, he passed Year 9 and is now working on his functional skills in Maths and English in Year 10.

Bright future ahead

Oliver's turnaround has been nothing short of amazing. He now attends every morning lesson at school with his peers and tutor, he's better able to express his emotions instead of lashing out, and he's built solid relationships with other teachers and students at the school.

Next year, he'll move into Year 11 and, with his tutor's support, choose which options he'd like to focus on. He's talked about wanting to attend college, so we'll complete his annual review and work with the local authority to understand which colleges can support his needs.

He's very interested in photography, so we've bought him a camera to explore his passion further. And he also wants to learn how to play the guitar, so we're looking into buying him an electric one so that he can start lessons.

We’re so proud of Oliver and how far he’s come since we first met him. He’s done incredibly well to manage new experiences, deal with his past trauma and focus on his education, and we can’t wait to see what he achieves next.

"It's been a huge privilege to see Oliver's growth and the progress he's made from start to finish. It's not only down to the support he's had and the relationship between tutor and student, but also the hard work he's done to help himself. I see him possibly going into a caring profession with a bright future ahead. We'll all miss him when he eventually leaves the school."

Quote from Sue Harvey, Headteacher at Esland Grantham School

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*We have changed the name to protect the young person’s identity.