The use of emotional support dogs (ESDs) within Arc School Old Arley has had an outstanding impact on the day to day education of children with social, emotional and mental health needs and autism, and helped them achieve positive outcomes.
Arc School Old Arley began to use ESDs in January 2018 and their canine team has increased to five. ESDs are used effectively to support all young people as needed – as part of a reward, during times of crisis and for building trusting relationships.
The first was Bess and her arrival instantly had a positive effect on the young people, who can experience a range of behaviours which are challenging and which can have a negative impact on their education.
The first direct impact was on the relationship between the headteacher (also Bess’ owner and whose office she shared) and the young people. Instead of there being a negative connotation potentially of going to the headteacher’s office, the young people would come positively, sometimes when they just needed some “down time” when they found engaging with Bess to be calming and therapeutic.
Two young people in particular who were often to be found out of class – Billy and Anna – found Bess a huge help and her presence in school helped reduce their anxiety and increased their engagement with lessons.
When Bess being in school was demonstrably reducing the number of RPIs and anxiety driven behaviour, the school decided to add to their canine team. There are now five in the “pack” and their personalities are matched with young people’s needs. Improvements seen include:
- Respect: Even during crisis, when the dogs are included or involved, the young people are very mindful and respectful of the dogs, and often more respectful of the adult with the dog. They modify their behaviour, volume and body movements around the dogs and this often is hugely helpful in restorative work post incident.
- Engagement in lessons: At times, when lessons are less ‘practical’ such as English, it can be more difficult for children to engage. However, when an ESD called Lola was introduced to the English classroom, it had an immediately positive effect on engagement. She would sit with children on the chairs next to them and listen to them read or be stroked while they do their work. There is markedly increased engagement with English.
- Attendance: One child used to struggle to come into school and was reluctant to leave her taxi. When a team member would go out with an ESD, the young person would be more comfortable and come into school. Over time her anxiety has reduced so much she no longer needs the dog to help her leave the taxi and come into school.
These are just a few examples of how the school’s team of emotional support dogs are helping pupils learn and achieve every day. The children tell staff that the dogs are excellent learning companions as they don’t judge and often just looking at them can make them smile.
Here’s what the parents have to say…
“The school is awesome, my life has changed because of the dogs”
“The dogs are very calming”
“It feels like you have someone to talk to”
“All rooms should have them”
“They help me with my anxiety”