Haringey Virtual School (HVS) was concerned about the high level of school exclusion among vulnerable children and young people. Initial work based on using an attachment framework had convinced the Virtual School that this was an area which could bring about improvement. However, schools often appeared to be unable to move beyond a focus on 'diagnosis' in relation to parental attachment styles, finding it impossible to apply this practically to their day-to-day work in the school setting. A lack of agreement on approaches to behavioural policy within some schools appeared to be contributing to the problem.
HVS was seeking an approach to modifying the culture of schools in ways which enabled staff to understand and apply their knowledge of attachment and trauma, and children to move towards recovery from problems with attainment and behaviour which appeared to be rooted in attachment and trauma issues.
HVS team members attended a DfE-hosted event in London where Kate Cairns spoke compellingly about the effects of impaired attachment and trauma on children's performance in school, and how schools could help affected children to recover.
Their post-event discussions highlighted the importance of all school staff reaching an understanding of these issues and developing an optimistic view of each child's ability to recover. They were attracted to the '9-point curriculum' model which Kate had developed, and felt that the accompanying model of recovery was readily applicable to the school setting. They saw a need for schools to raise the profile of helping every child to feel safe in school, and to recognise that they could help children to self-regulate without needing to know every trigger for dysregulation.
Haringey LA would like schools to work in partnership with CAMHS, parents and clubs after school and in the community. They recognise the significance of the relationships school staff have with children and families, and the potential for influencing the creation of stable bases at school, home and at clubs in the community, using an attachment-aware, trauma-informed approach.
They take the view that this approach could influence the increase of resilience across the school community, and, over time, reduce the number of children requiring referral to CAMHS. Equally important is the potential to increase successful engagement in CAMHS for those children and young people who require a CAMHS intervention by providing the underpinning work to help children become 'therapy ready'.
They further noted how this approach could have a universal applicability to schools across the Borough, whatever the age range served or the level of affluence or deprivation of the catchment area.
The adoption of the KCA 'Five to Thrive' approach in the Early Years Service in Haringey contributed to a growing consistency of approach in educational settings across the Borough and to parental understanding of the primacy of attachment relationships.
Work was begun with the Educational Psychology service in the Borough to develop a shared understanding of the needs and proposed solutions. There was a recognition of the lack of tangible research evidence of the efficacy of the proposed approaches, and of the need to examine closely the evidence from developments in neuroscience on which they are based.
This careful process has resulted in agreement to link with the Bath Spa University Attachment-Aware Schools programme, and to set aside a proportion of pupil premium funding to enable individual school staff to benefit from INSET training from KCA, followed up by focussed specific training from Educational Psychologists on personal interactions, tools for self-regulation, and classroom culture. A working party has developed a practice tool which can be used for this work, and further development has seen the tool adapted for use by the fostering service and community clubs and organisations, with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club continuing to be at the forefront.
Thirteen schools in Haringey have so far requested funding for staff training. Courses offered have included:
- Attachment and education: The impact of unmet needs
- Attachment-aware schools
- Attachment awareness in practice
- Emotion Coaching: Helping children and young people to manage their own behaviour
- Learn the child: Supporting learning, promoting resilience
The aims and learning outcomes for each training event, including the balance between theoretical input and consideration of application to specific identified needs, have been individually discussed and planned with the client school by KCA's Business Development Manager for the South region.
Evaluations and informal feedback received by HVS have been very positive. Some schools report that they have gone on to use some of the training material with identified parents, a development encouraged by KCA.
Online evaluations received by KCA from a proportion of individual course participants accord with the HVS internal feedback.
- Over 90% of respondents state that the training will be very or reasonably useful in their work.
- Almost 100% would recommend the course to others.
One school returned a small proportion of very negative ratings and comments – but comments from the same school include:
- 'One of the most relevant and inspiring training sessions the school has provided';
- 'I believe it is the most important practice to date that staff need to embody.'
- 'Spectacular training – fantastic, intuitive and connected with our needs.'
- 'I wish every school in the country was aware of this way of thinking about children.'
- 'Very powerful stuff.'
No doubt the debate in this school continues!
HVS is very pleased with the collaboration with KCA so far. The commissioner notes significant changes in school cultures around the use of sanctions and exclusions, and remarks that the change in perspective 'reduces inappropriate adult blaming of the child', 'indicates improved understanding of why children behave as they do', and 'makes schools think carefully about policy and practice around behaviour and improving the attainment of the most vulnerable children'.
The commissioner also states that KCA is very easy and responsive to work with, showing high levels of reliability and responsiveness to needs. She expresses a high level of satisfaction with all the individual KCA Associate trainers who have worked in Haringey, and with the KCA Business Development and Operations Team members with whom she and the schools have contact. She makes particular mention of their flexibility and attention to detail.
HVS notes that training from KCA offers 'an approach, not a strategy or a programme', which can then inform and improve work throughout all aspects of any school.
HVS will continue to prioritise identifying, and making available to schools, funding to enable more schools in the Borough to benefit from KCA training and consultancy, working with the exclusion coordinator, CAMHS, and Educational Psychologists to highlight areas of greatest need.
The HVS commissioner of training is currently seconded to a post in Public Health, where she intends to work alongside all services to children in the Borough in expanding awareness of KCA-led approaches as part of universal services which will lift the quality of experience for all children and their parents. Strategies being considered to meet this aim include:
- Building a common language across services within the Borough to describe the experiences of children and young people with regard to attachment and trauma.
- Compiling baseline data regarding attainment, behavioural issues and exclusions to provide a growing body of evidence for the efficacy of the approach.
- Development of work with health visitors; midwives; speech and language therapists; CAMHS and Early Help colleagues; and school nurses, among others, to provide a programme and tools to be delivered at universal level via The Healthy Child Programme.
- Haringey will continue to participate enthusiastically in the Attachment-Aware Schools National Pilot Project under the auspices of Bath Spa University.