OFSTED South East director Chris Russell shines the spotlight on a very special Oxfordshire school which is helping some of the county's most vulnerable children.

The teenage years can be challenging and difficult for children.

There are so many hurdles to jump over, with peer pressure and the need to find a sense of identity.

This isn’t helped by media reports that many older children are simply a nuisance, prone to lashing out and involved in criminal activities.

But how often do we stop to think about the root cause of this sort of behaviour?

For some of these older children, their destructive actions can be a result of years of neglect.

The signs of neglect in older children are more difficult to spot than in younger children: young children tend to have regular check-ups with local health practitioners, to monitor their physical and learning developments, so there are more opportunities to see the warning signs, and they tend to be more obvious.

But with older children and teenagers, those signs are less clear: their ‘tough’ exterior can mask years of parental neglect.

‘Growing up neglected’, a joint report by Ofsted and its partner inspectorates, highlights our concerns that older neglected children are not always receiving the support and protection they need.

Published on Friday, it examines professional agencies' response to older children and calls for greater awareness of neglect and a more coordinated and strategic approach across child and adult services - particularly for children living with parents with complex needs.

We cannot underestimated the impact of neglect on older children. It can be significant and, in some cases, life-threatening. These are incredibly vulnerable children, who can seem ‘resilient’ and appear to be making ’lifestyle choices’, when they are in fact finding unsafe ways of coping, like getting involved in gangs, or misusing drugs and alcohol.

Older children who are neglected by their parents may also spend more time away from home. This increases their risk of exposure to sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, violence, gang-related activity and ‘county lines’ drug dealing.

Understanding this relationship between neglect in the home and abuse and exploitation outside the home is crucial if older children are to be effectively helped.

So, with this in mind, I am really pleased to be able to highlight the outstanding work of The Mulberry Bush School in Standlake, near Witney: this is a school that provides excellent care, support and education for older children - not only within the school, but in the wider community and across the country as part of their outreach work.

Most of the children at Mulberry Bush have suffered severe trauma, including emotional, physical or sexual abuse, and/ or neglect. But the school’s leaders and staff, through their close work with external support agencies, have developed exceptional professional expertise. This has benefited pupils, enabling them to make momentous strides in their confidence, self-esteem and learning.

The school provides carefully-considered support and extensive nurturing activities for each pupil; staff are acutely aware of the impact they have on pupils. Nothing is left to chance. Every aspect of the individual pupil’s care is planned in minute detail.

As a result, pupils who have had bad experiences in other institutions, including special schools, often have very positive experiences at Mulberry Bush.

The school’s strong working relationship with a number of different local authority safeguarding teams means that leaders do not shy away from challenging conversations with welfare officers.

It is not surprising that Mulberry Bush has maintained its outstanding status, and I can only praise the school for helping the most vulnerable children get a second chance in life.

They are providing the crucial support and care these children desperately need, as well as making sure they receive a good education.