Giving youngsters a fresh start at life..
Looking at the unassuming industrial unit in Alexandria it is hard to believe that young people’s lives are being transformed inside.
But you only have to walk in the door to see that there is a close knit school functioning within the building.
Colourful paper and pictures of Ardfern School’s 25 students line the walls which lead to classrooms.
And in those classrooms vulnerable children are being given a chance to an education that they might otherwise miss out on.
They are also learning vital life and social skills that, because of their personal circumstances, they have missed out on.
A variety of reasons see the children come through the doors at the facility, which has been based in Alexandria for seven years, and many who find themselves at the school have nowhere else to turn.
Ardfern was brought to Alexandria due to the high number of pupils from the area being referred to the company’s other facility in Johnstone.
Their sometimes complex needs were not being met in mainstream school – and that’s where staff at Ardfern step in.
The school’s 10 teachers strive to provide a nurturing environment for pupils with additional support needs.
Referred to them by social work departments as a final chance at a structured education, dedicated teachers work tirelessly to provide a safe and nurturing environment.
Building relationships and trust is the key to success at the facility, and depute centre manager Darren McGlinchey says giving kids a place they feel like they belong is their top priority.
He said: “It’s about giving them somewhere they feel like they fit in - somewhere they feel like they matter.
“They come to us because being in a school environment just isn’t working and they are struggling.
“This can be because there is just one teacher for 30 pupils whereas here we have one teacher dealing with just five kids.
“This means we can really focus on what they need as many children here have challenges they need extra support with.
“Every pupil at this school has their own individual and specialist education plan to help them get the most out of their time here.”
One pupil who has thrived during his time at Ardfern School is Alexandria teenager Sam Chilcott.
At age 10, Sam came to the school having exhausted all other options.
He struggled in a large class and felt like he didn’t matter, which destroyed his confidence.
With his attendance and behaviour getting worse, he was referred to Ardfern by West Dunbartonshire Council social work department - and hasn’t looked back.
Now 19, he is working at the school as a classroom assistant with young people who have the same difficulties he had.
He says he sees his younger self in some of the pupils at the school and hopes to help them the way he was helped by Darren and the other teachers.
Thanks to their support, Sam was able to go to West College Scotland to gain a qualification in social care.
He hopes to return to college in the future to further his qualifications and continue pursuing a career working with vulnerable children.
He said: “I’m just so happy I can come back and help other people who are the same way I was.
“I loved my time here as a pupil. Before Ardfern I hated school and I just couldn’t cope with being in a classroom.
“It was tough when I got here at first but once I settled I started enjoying school in a way I never thought I could.
“I never saw myself doing well or going on to do what I have and I hope I can keep studying and working with children.
“I want to help them build their confidence as I had none at all before I came here. It’s strange looking at it from a different perspective but it helps me do the best I can to show them what they can achieve.” Like Sam, a number of pupils at the school have gone on to further education, having thrived with support from staff. The school aims to help young people into adulthood and figure out what the next stage in their lives will be. Pupils are still taught important mainstream subjects such as English, maths, physical education, technology and social subjects – all of which are SQA accredited ranging from National 2 to National 5 and Higher.
But more importantly, they are shown valuable life and social skills that, because of circumstances, they may not learn anywhere else.
Darren added: “Our curriculum is still very traditional in the sense that pupils are still taught in the same way they would be in mainstream school. This means they still sit exams if they can manage it and they leave with SQA qualifications.
“We also do a lot of work teaching them how to cope in social situations and teach them skills they can use when they leave.
“Sometimes because of a difficult outside environment, these kids don’t get taught basic things so that is where we come in and provide the nurturing environment they need.”
The close knit facility has continued to be a success since it was opened in 2010.
The Ardfern company was first opened in 2007 in Johnstone. However, after three years it was decided a West Dunbartonshire branch would be opened due to the number of children from the area being referred to the school.
Starting with just three pupils and three teachers, it has now grown to 10 teachers with 25 children aged between 10 and 16.
Pupils also regularly return to Ardfern, and each year pupils past and present, and their parents, gather to celebrate Christmas and also host regular fundraising events throughout the year.
Darren explained: “It’s always great when we have all the kids who have been at the school come back.
“We are now onto the third generation of pupils and to think we started with just three pupils and three teachers we have come so far.
“All of the staff here love seeing the kids do so well, seeing their confidence grow over time compared to when they first come to us.”
It was tough when I got here at first but once I settled I started enjoying school in a way I never thought I could
Learning new skills The kitchen within the school where pupils are taught to cook