Specialist Education

Robbie joined the Cambian Whinfell family at the age of 14. Prior to his arrival he had been out of mainstream education for 3 years. He had struggled with attendance at his previous school and had a wide variety of challenging behaviours including frequent acts of aggression against both staff and other pupils, along with the destruction of property. He presented as an unhappy young man with very high levels of anxiety and little self-belief. The expectation that Robbie would attend school affected his emotional well-being and mental health resulting in extreme difficulties at home and school. When he started at Cambian Whinfell School his parents simply hoped that he could attend a placement where he felt ‘safe and happy’.


Arriving at Whinfell

When Robbie arrived his anxieties were such that he was unable to attend education. He described getting into class like ‘climbing Mount Everest – ‘when I get to the classroom door I have exhausted myself and have nothing left to give’. After three weeks of barely leaving his room Robbie began to feel more comfortable – ‘people genuinely care here and I feel I can trust them’. At this time he began to attend education in a class with two other young people and was soon engaged in lessons.

Robbie’s Whinfell Journey

Robbie has made enormous strides.

Education: A huge barrier to his learning had been lack of self-belief which presented as negativity, doubt and lack of motivation. He ultimately enjoyed learning, was fully engaged and as such went on to achieve 6 GCSEs at grade C and above and then 2 A-Levels!

Independence: On arrival Robbie lacked the motivation and confidence to do much for himself. As he matured and became more independent he was able to plan and cook his own meals and carry out daily tasks with minimal prompting. He had a successful work experience placement in Year 11 which resulted in part time work and by Year 13 he was working the equivalent of one day a week for a local employer.

Social skills: Initially Robbie was withdrawn, socially awkward and found it difficult to interact. He found it especially difficult to express his feelings and bottled things up until they eventually spilled over. He was very intolerant of other young people and showed little empathy. Home life was difficult, with his relationship with siblings being especially volatile. He is now very accommodating of his siblings and supportive of the family. He also built excellent relationships with staff and was able to offer positive support and advice to other youngsters. He became captain of the school football team and he encouraged other young people to overcome their own reluctance to take part. For some time his social anxieties were so extreme that he found it very difficult to function in public but after a year at Whinfell he was able to go into town alone, to the climbing wall where he interacted with others and he took up playing snooker in a local club. He represented the school at sports and in the final of the National Consumer Challenge Quiz. By Year 13 he had made friends locally and had an out-of-school social life. He went climbing with a tight circle of fellow climbers and sometimes stayed overnight at their homes. He travelled independently to friend’s houses and went abroad to Italy with his girlfriend.


Robbie has unfortunately had to deal with his parent’s significant health issues. He is a strong young man but could not initially talk to anyone about his feelings and this weighed very heavy upon him. As his trust of staff grew he became better able to identify, regulate and express his own emotions and as a result has been better able to support his parents. He has gained a maturity and ability to self-reflect beyond his years.


Self-confidence: Robbie has massively gained in self-belief, articulates well and is much more willing to accept new challenges. He enjoys the outdoors and in Year 11 he acted as ‘apprentice instructor’ on Therapeutic Outdoor Learning sessions. He independently attended events such as the Mountain Film Festival and has asked questions of the speakers in a full auditorium. He is able to acknowledge his own successes and to take both criticism and compliments. He now has belief in his own future and is working towards achieving his goals.


Parents Perspective

At primary school Robbie presented as an able student ready to take part in tasks but eating was an issue and he struggled to make friends. His behaviour at home was aggressive and he became a ‘school refuser’. He was deemed too violent to have home tuition and ran away. He then went to a residential school but eating became a bigger issue, he was very unhappy, ran away, destroyed property and threatened to kill himself. At home he became more violent to the point where his younger sister had to have CAMHS support.


We visited Whinfell and were impressed by the calm atmosphere and caring attitude of staff. We therefore put our trust in Whinfell and due to excellent communication and fantastic continuity of care Robbie settled in. Whinfell spent a lot of time getting to know Robbie and developed strategies to progress his communication skills. At home he is now less likely to explode and takes time to communicate with us. He has learned to take himself away when stressed instead of becoming violent. When out and about Robbie would quickly become withdrawn and want to return home. He got stressed and was likely to run off.


Since joining Whinfell he enjoys attending football matches and other social events. He has learned strategies to cope which he uses at home, has become less erratic and is more able to socialise. We are delighted that he now has real friends and can socialise in a way we never dared dreamed of.


Before Whinfell, Robbie wouldn’t do anything independently. He lacked confidence and would miss out on  opportunities. Now he takes himself off in pursuit of his interests and will go into shops without any problems. His confidence has grown and this has opened doors for him. Robbie used to hide behind his very long, uncared-for hair. He had no interest in clothing. He was a nightmare to shop for as items didn’t feel or smell right etc. Now, what a change; he regularly showers, has hair-cuts and does things he used to avoid at all costs.


Before Whinfell we as parents could see no future for Robbie. Now with the progress made we can see he has the opportunity to succeed in his life ahead.


After Whinfell


After achieving his A-levels Robbie left Whinfell and is now living independently. He has a network of friends and continues to pursue his passion for rock-climbing. The work experience placement that he started in Year 11 turned into a part-time job and he is now employed full-time by the same company. He is very well thought of by his employers and occasionally returns to school to give mentoring advice to other young people. From an unpromising start Robbie has done superbly well and we are all very proud of him.

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