Organisation: Nottinghamshire Virtual School - Developing Attachment-Aware Schools
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Nottinghamshire Virtual School
Nottinghamshire Virtual School - Developing Attachment-Aware Schools, 12 July 2016
The Head of Virtual School began working with KCA after attending a conference for Designated Teachers for Looked After Children in an adjacent county, with a view to improving the understanding and skills of Designated Teachers in relation to children in care.
Thereafter, involvement in the national Virtual School Heads group sparked an interest in Attachment-Aware Schools, and the need to enable all school staff to become competent practitioners in relation to all children's attachment-related needs, whether they are currently in care, adopted, or living with their family of origin.
In consequence of this development, alongside the advancing academisation process and devolution of council funding to area school partnerships, the emphasis has moved from providing county-wide training events for Designated Teachers to working in partnership with schools to meet locally identified attachment- and trauma-related needs. Staff need to know how awareness of developments in the neuroscientific understanding of brain development helps them to respond to the needs of the children they work with.
The KCA training provision in Nottinghamshire began in 2013 with a large one-day conference-style training event on Helping Vulnerable Children to Learn. Designated Teachers for LAC attended, along with SENCOs, other members of school SMTs, representation from CAMHS teams and from teaching agencies involved in 1:1 provision, and social workers, including managers and Independent Reviewing Officers.
The day focussed on understanding how children's unregulated stress impacts on brain development and function, and how stress management promotes positive behaviour and learning. As with all KCA face-to-face events, a complementary e-learning course was also made available to all participants, and this was completed by twenty participants.
Across the next academic year a series of sixteen workshops and half-day training events around the county was commissioned from KCA. They were attended by a similar mix of participants, with a preponderance of Designated Teachers, and looked in more depth at identified issues. These included Making Effective Use of the Pupil Premium; Behaviour and the Physical Environment; Understanding Trauma; Self-harming Behaviours; The Impact of Toxic Stress; and Foetal Alcohol Exposure. Numbers attending these events grew from 10–30 in the first term to 60–70 in the third term as awareness and recognition of the value of the learning spread.
In the summer of 2015, four further workshops took place, open to school staff from across the county, on Understanding Trauma and Foetal Alcohol Exposure.
In the current academic year, the KCA input commissioned by Nottinghamshire Virtual School has concentrated on Emotion Coaching and School Readiness, drawing on the additional budget available to the Virtual School for work relating to the Early Years Foundation Stage.
The Emotion Coaching training has been delivered to a group of staff from schools across the county who will take their understanding of Emotion Coaching to colleagues in their own schools and others in their areas.
The Ready for School training has introduced the KCA 'Five to Thrive' approach applied to the needs of children aged 3–5. NVS has invested in 'Five to Thrive' publications – explanatory guides for both Early Years staff and parents to accompany the training and enable 'Five to Thrive' to be incorporated fully in the work and ethos of Early Years settings. This leaves open the possibility of the 'Five to Thrive' approach moving up the age range as the present cohort of school beginners move through their school career.
The Virtual School Head feels that the training programme has raised awareness of the needs of Looked After Children and other vulnerable children throughout the county, and has enabled more school staff to feel competent and confident in addressing those needs and to feel positive about early intervention.
Training from KCA has been perceived as a 'whole-school approach', making schools places where all children are more likely to feel respected and heard. The emphasis on neuroscience updates training which staff may have received on child development, which was often lacking content on attachment and trauma, and was therefore less relevant to the 40% of children who experience less positive attachments. It produces 'lightbulb moments', when staff feel that they have, often for the first time, some understanding of why individual children behave and respond as they do.
KCA's approach to training – making training content and resources available for re-use by participants – has facilitated participants in passing on the knowledge they have gained to colleagues in their schools, and indeed to parents. This was stressed by a Senior Family Worker attached to a primary academy in the north of the county, who has found that the input on Five to Thrive and Emotion Coaching has helped her tremendously in making accessible to all the importance of attachment and emotional literacy in practice. People 'get it' even if they normally struggle with abstract or complex ideas. She has found that KCA training 'resonates' with teachers in their work with individual children – they want to know more.
This worker believes that the KCA input in Nottinghamshire has complemented well a growing movement among schools in the county to raise standards across the board through being passionate about the emotional wellbeing of children.
The Virtual Head and individual school partnerships in particular areas of the county are very pleased with their collaboration with KCA so far. They have received training from several KCA Associates, and have found the standard uniformly high, to the extent that the Virtual Head has no qualms about welcoming to the county Associates who are coming to Nottinghamshire for the first time. She states that 'we know what we are getting', feeling that KCA trainers are always knowledgeable and engaging, receptive and adaptive.
It is the commissioner's view that KCA training events are appropriately intensive and demanding, stressing the importance of the knowledge base which underlies the content, but also appreciates the ability of the trainers to turn the attention of participants to individual children whom they work with, and to lighten the tone with humour, and well-chosen anecdotes and illustrations from their own experience. She tries to ensure that participants' appreciation of the event is enhanced by a comfortable venue and the refreshments provided.
Paper evaluations are always requested from participants on the day by the Virtual School. These are stated to be 'invariably' rated 1 or 2 at the top of a 5-point scale, and are backed up by enthusiastic comments. The Senior Family Worker interviewed commented that colleagues (including herself) come away with great enthusiasm about applying what they have heard in their work, and discussing new ideas with colleagues who have been unable to attend.
A particular outcome has been the building of resilience among teachers and other staff in the face of addressing seemingly intractable problems amidst conflicting demands. KCA has provided ideas, resources, and optimism, a forum in which it is safe and supportive to share, and a common language fit for purpose when discussing children and young people who experience and present challenges.
The commissioner feels that KCA is 'really easy to work with', and that its staff and Associates have a clear understanding of what the Virtual School is trying to do, and what staff in schools need to know and understand in order to bring about change.
Around 50% of participants in the 26 events provided to Nottinghamshire Virtual School by KCA up to April 2016 logged on to the KCA website afterwards to complete an online evaluation: 98% of these would recommend the training to others, and a similar proportion felt that what they had learned would be useful to them in their work.
There were repeated comments about resources provided which would help participants to pass on their learning to others, and a substantial proportion mentioned passing knowledge and understanding on to parents as well as to professional colleagues.
Participants frequently stated that the experience had helped them in relation to a specific child or family, or that they had been enabled to connect better with the experience of a child, or indeed with their own feelings in relation to working with a child and the importance of their own need for self-regulation at those times.
There were frequent references to the usefulness of illustrative examples given by the KCA trainers drawn from their own experience.
Some had found the training input 'heavy' or 'too long' and would have welcomed more group activity, but very few selected 'boring' from a list of descriptors of the day, and most found the presenters 'engaging' and 'receptive'.
A more common response was summarised in four words by one participant in February 2016: 'Superb – a real treat!'
In the next academic year, Nottinghamshire Virtual School will be concentrating on four area school partnerships to receive further training (eight sessions already booked) from KCA. They will be contracted to evaluate and evidence the impact of the training using the Attachment-Aware Schools audit tool as well as statutory information on progress, attainment and school exclusion. The training will be presented as part of the Virtual School duty to meet the needs of children in care, but it is hoped that schools will see the content as universal and enabling the school to meet the needs of all children who have vulnerabilities. It is further hoped that training on the fundamental importance in schools of understanding attachment and trauma issues can soon be taken countywide.
The Virtual School is also keen to explore the use of Creating Connections – the KCA concept of bringing together with a facilitator the 'team around the child', with a shared language and understanding of the impact of trauma, to develop a consistent response to an individual child suffering from the impact of trauma or an impaired attachment relationship.