For kids who have been bullied, Northleigh House School offers a safe haven away from fear to study and learn in peace.
Your school years can be hard enough without having the added physical and emotional trauma of bullying; the feeling of watching your step every time you round the corner into a new corridor. For some kids, it’s too much to bear.
So, one couple decided to step in to do their bit to help vulnerable students ‘overcome barriers to learning’:
Viv and Fred Morgan started Northleigh House School six years ago upon hearing the news of the death of 15-year-old Simone Grice, from Illogan, Cornwall.
The teen had taken her own life back in July 2009, after seeing her GP about mental health issues linked to school bullying.
At the time of the 2012 inquest into Simone’s death, the Morgan’s idyllic white-washed countryside premises, nestled into the leafy green pastures outside Coventry and hidden behind tree-lines lanes, was serving as a small hotel.
Sipping tea in her armchair, the otherwise enthusiastic Viv becomes solemn as she recalls:
It was around this time when a guest left a newspaper lying around, open on a page featuring an article about a 15-year-old girl, Simone, from Cornwall.
She had [taken her own life] with her teddy in one hand and her mobile phone in the other. She’d left a note saying she couldn’t stand the fear of the bullies any longer.
Unbelievably, Simone’s story isn’t as rare as you’d hope:
Viv told UNILAD she and Fred both felt ‘bowled over’ upon hearing Simone’s story.
The 75-year-old from Moseley, Birmingham couldn’t shake her unease, she added:
I couldn’t stand to think we could just sit here and accept this is happening to children, to young people.
Viv’s realisation came six years ago. In 2017 a Public health England report was released stating suicide is the biggest killer of young people in this country, killing more children between the ages of five to 19 than traffic accidents.
So, with the ‘eleven-room small hotel’ she and her husband had bought just months prior, Viv and Fred thought they could help ease the burden experienced by at least some children at the hands of bullying.
Viv recalled thinking:
Well, it’s a school they need and that’s what we could do. That’s what the house would be useful for.
So, with a bit of elbow grease and determination, Northleigh House School was established and opened to its first two students in 2012, right around the corner from Viv and Fred’s home in Hatton.
It now offers 30 secondary aged children a safe, calm and progressive learning environment and, according to Viv, ‘has gone from strength to strength since then’, just like the students.
Georgie, who is now 13, has been studying at Northleigh House School since he was 10.
The bright young boy with a penchant for photography tells UNILAD he’s happy at the school, which is a lot smaller than the classes he was used to back at his old institution of learning.
There are only so many kids here, so you’re not a small part of a big system.
All the classrooms are just bedrooms, effectively, and all the teachers know who you are, know what you’re like and adapt their lessons around what you’re interested in.
It’s a sentiment echoed by the other students at Northleigh House School.
Lewis, who is 17 and was badly bullied at his local comprehensive, has also been happy at Northleigh House School for three years.
The avid footballer told UNILAD:
It’s been a really good experience. When I’m in mainstream, as it’s 30 kids to one teacher, you don’t always get the help you need in lessons. When we’re here, we gets lots of one-on-one lessons in smaller classes.
The curriculum is much the same as that of any other school, Viv proudly explains, in keeping with her desire to give each and every student the same opportunities as those who can cope with the pressures of mainstream schooling.
They offer a comprehensive list of academic subjects to GCSE level including English, Maths, Chemistry, Physics Biology, Psychology, Philosophy, History, Computing, Physical Education and Sports Science, French, German, Spanish, Italian, as well as the dreaded PHSE and Citizenship.
The curriculum also does due diligence to the non-academic subjects, vital to the progression of young minds but so often ignored at school, like Art and Design, Music, iMedia, Woodwork, Drama, Textiles, Gardening, and Cooking.
Students are also free to take advantage of the extra learning options, Speech and Language Therapy, Supported Study sessions, therapeutic Horse Riding and extra Life Skills classes.
Moreover, it’s the emotional support offered which helps the children excel.
Describing the secret to the success of Northleigh House School, Viv said:
Northleigh is a safe place. It’s calm. Nobody shouts. Nobody gets punished. Each person is listened to and respected. I don’t know, it’s nurturing, I suppose.
She said the ‘most prominent’ mental health issue at Northleigh House School is anxiety and they specialise in treating children with such illnesses.
I had not experienced such high levels of anxiety at all, anywhere, until this school started. Once you can calm that down a bit and help them to regain self-esteem, they quite rapidly improve.
It takes different amounts of time; some of them take longer than others. But they can stay here for as long as it takes.
In light of the unique needs of the students at the Morgans’ school, children often don’t do any academic learning at all when they first arrive.
Instead they’re given the opportunity to enjoy therapeutic tasks like baking, reading or even simply filling the bird feeders; something to give the students a real feeling of self-worth within the little community.
Then they gradually move on and when they’re ready, Viv continues and proudly announces if a student ‘really, really doesn’t want to do a subject, they don’t have to do it’.
Although some might criticise her tactic, Viv believes the state school system – complete with a ‘want to fit everybody into the same slot’ – doesn’t work for every child.
Not only this, but kids at school these days have a unique set of challenges, and are vulnerable to bullying both within the confines of the school gates, and in the endlessly accessible online sphere.
Kids like Ryan Woollard grew up living in fear of his classmates, he told UNILAD:
Max, who has been at Northleigh House School for a year and a half after experiencing bullying in his old school, is testament to how non-traditional education should be offered to kids like him and Ryan, so they can learn without limitation.
As he practises his woodwork in a one-on-one class, the eloquent young man tells UNILAD:
They reached out to me and helped me because we didn’t know what school to go to. I think Northleigh is great and all the teachers are really nice and it’s just so friendly.
I’m so relaxed it’s like my home, really. I’d rather stay here than my home! We need a Northleigh in every town. Every kid who needs it should have this opportunity.
Viv and Fred, who has sadly since passed away, were both able to help a number of children progress thanks to their school for bullied kids and the determination which it took to set up.
I feel very proud of them! They’ve struggled and suffered and it’s lovely to see them progress.
After all, the children are the future. Let’s stop limiting them in their learning.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.
Save a life. Take the free suicide prevention training provided by Zero Suicide Alliance today.
For more stories of incredible determination, strength and philanthropy from people trying to make the world a little bit better, check out UNILAD’s Original Series, ‘Goodness‘.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]