Coal Clough student overcomes anxiety to flourish at "amazing" school

Kara with two of her classmates and Chris Whittaker (right), the school's Assistant Headteacher.
Kara with two of her classmates and Chris Whittaker (right), the school's Assistant Headteacher.
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Moving schools can be a traumatic experience for any student, let alone for a teenager who has suffered with severe anxiety. But for a Burnley 16-year-old, a move to Coal Clough Academy has been simply "amazing".


Having previously struggled to cope with the pressures of high school, Kara Ward, who is due to start at Nelson and Colne College later this year, found the environment she needed to flourish at Coal Clough, an Alternative Provision School for 11-to-16-year-old pupils which caters for children who have found mainstream education difficult.

Year 11 Pupils Dylan Wood, Kara Ward, and Shannon Graham.

Year 11 Pupils Dylan Wood, Kara Ward, and Shannon Graham.

Kara, who started at the school on Swindon Street a year ago and who will be studying Sport Science Level 3 at NCC, said that her move to the school was "big," while here mother, Rebecca Campbell-Mackenzie (34) praised her daughter's teachers, highlighting the fact that the "amazing support" they offered extended not only to Kara, but to herself as well.

"Teachers treated us like people, not like robots," said Kara, who had her leaving assembly on May 24th. "You get to be yourself. People respect everyone - being treated like an adult is massive; [teachers] speak to us, they don't shout."

Providing a vital lifeline to students with untapped educational potential, Coal Clough offers a more nuanced academic environment. Classes of 12 students each are taught by two teachers, with mental health professionals also available to students. And despite being a 108-place school, it currently teaches 151 students, demonstrating the efficacy of their work.

"We ensure [students] can achieve just as much as anyone else," explained the school's Headteacher, Holly Clarke. "The school has undergone a transformational change and there's a real sense of community and family ethos that drives kids to come back every day; they feel safe and loved.

Kara Ward at her school leaving celebration.

Kara Ward at her school leaving celebration.

"I'm biased and no day is perfect, but I go home every single day knowing that we've done everything for the children," she added.

Touched that the school always went the extra mile - for example, by taking students out for a meal prior to their exams - Rebecca said: "Lots of schools can only do so much when it comes to children with mental illnesses, so Coal Clough really is amazing.

"It gives children a chance to be seen for who they are," she added. "Illness should not define a child and Coal Clough do an amazing job in giving them a good start in life."

Kara's anxiety issues started in Year 7 according to Rebecca, who said: "The transition [from primary] was part of the issue. As soon as she moved to Coal Clough, the school was very supportive [which] was massive."

Having been encouraged to prosper by staff at Coal Clough, Kara gave special thanks to Nat Eatwell, the school's Designated Safeguarding Lead, who taught her techniques to deal with her anxiety such as placing an ice pack on her neck (a trick she turned to in a recent exam), and Chris Whittaker, the school's Assistant Headteacher.

She also thanked her family, with her three younger brothers Ayden Ward (15), Dylan Ward (14), and Lucas Benson (10); her aunt, Helen Robinson; her cousin, Caitlin Robinson; and her grandmother, Shirley Robinson, all offering crucial support.

"Kara has a supportive family who have really trusted us: through the work she's done with us and her mum, that girl is going on to achieve the dreams she deserves to," Holly said. "She has adapted and flourished, she's an ambassador for the school, she's really popular, and her year group will be sorely missed."

A shining example of potential happily realised, Kara - who has her prom coming up on June 29th - herself puts it best.

"Coal Clough feels like one big family."

The school can be followed on Twitter at @Head_CoalClough.