Doncaster school is saving pupils' lives

It may be one of the smallest schools in Doncaster

Thursday, 4th July 2019, 16:08 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 09:34 am

But based in a corner of Balby, the Maple Pupil Referral Unit can legitimately claim to be a life-saver for some.

Maple is different to many schools – it is there to help youngsters who cannot attend mainstream school because of their health.

It is also unique in Doncaster in that it has a wing operating in Doncaster Royal Infirmary, as the hospital school.

Kath Formby, Headteacher and Cathy Johnson, Deputy Headteacher, pictured with Rosie the Therapeutic Rabbit . Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-02-07-19-MapleMedicalPRU-5

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The variety of youngsters coming through its doors is wide.

It is a school for young mums who cannot attend regular school, because they have their babies to look after as well as the education to worry about.

It is also the venue for pupils who cannot go to mainstream lessons because of physical or mental illness.

And it is also teaching pupils who are unable to cope with a traditional classroom because they suffer from autism.

Hannah Bromage and Jade McKenzie, of SportWorks, pictured during a PE lesson with pupils. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-02-07-19-MapleMedicalPRU-1

For the last 20 years, the school, on Cedar Road, has been running under headteacher Kath Formby.

Like many schools, they have received messages of thanks from pupils over the years.

But at Maple, some of those are from pupils who credit them for saving their lives, after helping them through times of mental illness and depression, with assistance from other agencies.

Kath said: “We have had pupils with severe and enduring mental health needs. We have had pupils who self harm. We have had pupils who have eating disorders, extreme anxiety and pupils with suicidal ideation. It means we have pupils who have told us that we have literally saved their lives, although what we do is in conjunction with other health professionals.”

Jennie Watson, teaching assistant and Lynn Ostcliffe, Higher level teching assistant, pictured with pupils taking part in social games, learning math and life skills. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-02-07-19-MapleMedicalPRU-9

It typically has around 50 pupils, although the figure varies, with pupils sometimes leaving to return to mainstream school when they are well enough.

The school has expanded over the years after originally being set up to help schoolgirl mums, and is a facility that many boroughs do not have. For Mrs Formby, it shows Doncaster is a forward thinking authority.

She said: “With the young mums unit and the link unit for ill pupils, I think we’re a beacon. Without a unit like we offer, young mums tend to drop out of school. These babies are looked after as well as their mums, and I think having the mums and babies also raises any potential problems that may arise later on. You know how the babies are progressing, as well as the mums. If they’re at a mainstream school, no one sees the babies.

“It is an important facility for some of the most vulnerable children. It allows them to get an education and also gives them aspirations for the future.”

Kath Formby, Head of Nursery and Julie O'Brien, nursery nurse, pictured with one of the children in the Nursery Unit. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-02-07-19-MapleMedicalPRU-6

This year has seen a further expansion in the range of children helped by the school. Until this year, its Mulberry unit, for youngsters with autism, only catered for pupils of secondary school age. That has now been extended to cater for primary school pupils.

Some pupils are there for a short period until they can be reintegrated back into mainstream school, but sometimes it is not possible.

Mrs Formby feels this year has seen some outstanding successes. They have had their best year in terms of the number of pupils attending exams, and are hoping for their best results.

They are also aware of one of their former pupils having an offer to attend Oxford University, after attending Maple while they were too ill for mainstream school.

She believes the secret of success is having a calm environment, and keeping small groups and happy staff.

Part of the job of keeping the calm environment is provided by Rosie the rabbit. Rosie was brought to the school nearly two years ago, and is brought out to relax pupils when needed, as stroking a pet is seen as a calming experience for pupils.

And she reckons her pupils have plenty to be proud about.

Last month, the school celebrated the achievement of its pupils, with an awards day held at the Mansion House, attended by the civic mayor of Doncaster, Coun Linda Curran.

Among other awards, the prize for the most positive contribution to the school went to pupil Leuven Birks.

He had taken up various jobs for the school including reviewing the schools policies on its website, designing posters about internet safety, as well as taking peer mentor traininfg from Kidscape to help other pupils. He also raised £500 for the Support Dogs charity by making and selling crafts.