Dr Clare Cambell shares her experience on working with TPC Therapy and introducing the Therapeutic Classroom Approach at St Charles R.C Primary School
Why did you want to work with TPC Therapy and do the Therapeutic Classroom project?
I first met Shahana at the Salford Headteacher’s conference in March 2022, TPC Therapy was one of the trade stands. I had visited all the trade stands and they are largely the same each year, there are a few familiar faces selling health and safety and educational resources, but Shahana’s stand had something different, something I had never seen before. It was a video of the most beautiful classroom that I had ever seen. I was so inspired, I took her details and after having a chat with her, it was clear that we had similar values and a similar philosophy of education. My doctorate is in art therapy and I have always believed in a therapeutic approach to learning to support our most vulnerable learners. Since the pandemic, all our children have experienced trauma due to the lockdowns and parental stress, so the therapeutic classroom approach seemed really timely for us.
What was your experience of the process?
The process went really smoothly. It is a bit of a culture shock for some of our teachers, so I knew that I wanted the class teacher to be involved every step of the way so that she fully understood why we were making the changes we were making, in the best interests of the children. Shahana set up a visit for the class teacher and I to Shevington Vale where the original therapeutic classroom makeover had taken place. Our teacher chatted to the teacher from Shevington and she put her mind at rest about any concerns she had. We were able to see the classroom in practice and speak to the children about their reaction. It was overwhelmingly positive. The children clearly enjoy learning in the therapeutic learning environment and prefer it to the old uncomfortable furniture.
What outcomes and benefits have there been for the children so far?
The children have settled really well into their new classroom environment. The feeling in the classroom is calm and purposeful. Children who have been through trauma have had all their choices taken away from them, but the therapeutic classroom layout gives them their choices back, each and every lesson. They can choose where they want to sit, on the high stools facing the garden, which reduces distraction. On the large dining tables which encourage collaboration, on the small round tables for group work, or on the low tables or floor cushions for independent work and quiet reading. This empowers the children to take ownership of their learning and choose the place that suits them the best for that particular lesson. The flexible seating means that the room feels much more spacious and the neutral colour palette is calming. No displays means no distractions. It feels like a home from home and for some of our children who have a chaotic home life, this is a calming home environment experience for them.
Do you think this should become the standard offer for children in schools?
Yes definitely! If you do what you always did, you get what you always got. Times have changed and our children’s needs have changed. The pandemic has really exacerbated children’s anxiety and stress and children have missed important milestones in school, so they need to relearn how to interact with others, how to collaborate and how to become independent, resilient learners. I feel that the therapeutic classroom is the way forward. It is what our children need.
What parts of the classroom do the children like the most?
The children love the bar stools and raised seating, the seats are really comfortable and the view of the garden is calming. They are less distracted than they were in their previous groupings. They also love the photo wall, it gives them ownership of the space.
How were you able to fund the project?
I have been doing some work at another school delivering art therapy and the money that we raised has paid for the classroom transformation. The makeover is really reasonable. When I think about how expensive “educational” furniture is, the therapeutic furniture is similarly priced. Therapeutic furniture is durable and easy to clean. It makes the children feel at home, in school.
Any final thoughts you would like to share?
TPC Therapy are professional, affordable and essential. It is exactly the right time for things to change and therapeutic classrooms are research-driven and trauma-informed. What are you waiting for?