"Whinfell school is an SEN (special education needs) residential school, with two additional day places. Students often arrive after difficult education and domestic experiences and are potentially lacking of confidence. Whinfell School aims to educate students academically, socially and emotionally, putting them in good sted moving forwards.
On a personal level Whinfell has been massive for me. I had a tough time at Primary school, with a lot of that being down to myself. I didn’t fit in. Something always felt off. I struggled to recognise and express my emotions and feelings. This often led to becoming frustrated and angry with myself, the people around me, my school and just angry with the world in general. I felt isolated.
From year three onwards I attended primary school on and off. I saw people who’d try and support me and spoke to psychiatrists and other mental-health experts, eventually getting diagnosed with Autism around age ten. I had no idea what autism was, but once it was explained to me I felt a sense of relief. I still felt lonely and isolated, but not to the extent I had done. I wasn’t alone, it was something other people have had and do have.
After a few years of primary school on and off, home education and a hospital home tuition placement, I was informed I’d be attending Whinfell for secondary school.
At first I really didn’t want to go to Whinfell. This was down to many factors. I’d originally been told I would go back to hospital home tuition for secondary school, so that change was something difficult to deal with. I also hadn’t engaged with people of a similar age constantly for a few years, so I was nervous about that. Overall I think I was just nervous about the change. But I’m so glad people talked me to give into giving it a go.
Since starting at Whinfell I’ve changed, improved and learnt so much. When I started I was shy, didn’t like talking and never spoke up. Whinfell knew the things I struggled with and worked on it. I spoke to an inhouse psychologist about my previous experiences, things I was comfortable sharing and my thoughts in general. They were very approachable and friendly, so it didn’t feel like previous occasions when it felt like I was in an interview and the person didn’t really care about what I was saying.
The staff are brilliant. Before any learning really began, teachers got to know me as a person, which is important as it allowed me to feel comfortable. I also like the fact everything is on a first-name basis, which again allowed me to relax and be more open about things. Care-staff were pretty much the same. I felt like I was being listened to and people actually cared about what I was saying which, apart from my parents and close family, was something I’d never experienced.
Teachers were patient with me. They gave me assessments to help them understand how I work, the rate of which I work and what I already knew in each respective subject. This patience has continued throughout my time here. Because of the small class size and approachability of the teachers, it’s easy to ask any questions without worrying about getting judged or feeling stupid.
The school never rushed me into things, but would obviously encourage if they thought it would be good for me. TOL, therapeutic outdoor learning, was something I really didn’t want to do at the start, but after a few weeks I eventually went on a session and loved it. That experience helped me gain trust in the school’s judgement and understanding of me. They clearly just wanted what they thought was best for me. If they knew I wouldn’t benefit from something, they wouldn’t suggest it.
Mental-health is something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve had a lot of tough times and have struggled to see the light at the end of tunnel. I’ve had horrible thoughts and have struggled to deal with it. I’ve not seen the point in getting out of bed in the morning. I can hide it well, which isn’t a good thing, yet I can never seem to trick those in school that I’m fine when I’m not. If I don’t ask for help they’ll approach me and ask if I need to speak to someone. Then somehow, when it seems impossible, with the help of the school, I find a way through it. The way people break down what’s going on in your head and make it make sense is amazing. It’s an instant weight of your shoulders.
Confidence in general and in social environments is another thing I struggled with when I joined Whinfell. I always doubted myself, felt awful if I didn’t achieve a goal and never spoke up if I had a thought, suggestion, query or worry. I’d get overwhelmed when surrounded by people and would want to stay quiet and remain as irrelevant as possible. But that’s all changed. I’m not gonna lie and say I know exactly how school have helped me improve on this, but I think it’s down to pushing through comfort zones and doing new things.
I’m now more confident and enjoy participating in discussions and social events. In regards to talking and engaging with other people, most would say I’ve gone from one extreme to the other and talk too much. I’m really grateful for this and I know it will be vital moving forwards and living an independent life.
Everyone is different, which is something Whinfell make very clear. Everyone has a different things they struggle with and have their own personal targets, goals and potential. I believe Whinfell has put me on track to reach my potential.
The school recognised all the things I struggled with and have, over a long period of time, slowly but surely developed me to a point where I feel confident and in a good place in my final year and looking forwards to the future.
I’m very grateful to have been able to attend Whinfell. I’ve met some brilliant people, been given lots of advice, made friends and have improved in every aspect. I know some of that’s down to me, but there’s no way without the support from Whinfell I’d have been able to get to where I am now. They helped me realise I could get GCSEs, when my parents were told that wasn’t realistic when I was a kid. They helped me realise my opinion matters and I matter. They’ve taught me countless lessons, but the one I come back to is if you work hard and put your mind to it, you can achieve great things and reach your potential.
I’ve loved my time here and hope that many others can benefit from the amazing support that Whinfell offers to those with additional needs. It’s a brilliant place with brilliant people."