What was your school like before relational practice?

FHIS prior to becoming an attachment-aware and relational practice-based school followed a disciplinary behaviour management system. Each classroom had three faces; one green and smiley, one amber and wobbly and one red and sad face and the children moved their pegs between the faces depending on the behaviour choices they had made. The school’s behaviour system was rooted in warnings given and then time lost of either golden time or break. This was a very outdated and antiquated approach to behaviour which was rooted in the disciplinary model of behaviour management.

What triggered the change?

We were seeing more and more children entering our school with attachment deprivation disorder and complex SEND, such as ASD. We found that when these two (which present very similarly) collide the complexity of the child’s needs were very high and often extreme. As a school, we reviewed our approach to behaviour management for all children and took time to research and learn more about attachment deprivation disorder. All of our traditional behaviour management methods were not working and we were seeing more and more children dysregulated and our traditional methods of behaviour management were failing.

What were the expectations/hopes?

The expectations and hopes were that they could effectively manage and support children with complex SEND needs and/or attachment disorder with the coregulation and self-regulation of their behaviour, in a calm and positive manner. This would reduce the number of behaviour incidents we were presently seeing.

What happened – what have you done, how did it pan out?

We first began by completing a year-long course to become an ‘Attachment Aware School’ this was rooted in the key text Louise Bomber’s ‘Inside I am Hurting’ which is a text that includes: how attachment difficulties can affect a child’s ability to learn; providing an ‘additional attachment figure’ in schools; the benefits and challenges of getting alongside children who have experienced trauma and loss; transitions during the school day; permanency and constancy; being explicit; regulating arousal levels; handling conflict; wondering aloud; lowering the effects of shame; working with transition from primary to secondary phase; developing effective home/school partnership.

This became our key text and we studied this text as a whole staff, so everyone at FHIS had the same message about the journey we were undertaking. In the second year, we used the Paul Dix book, ‘When the Adults Change Everything Changes’ as our second whole staff book and this was where we realised what we had been doing thus far for children with complex, needs, needed to be rolled out as a whole school approach to behaviour for all children. We removed the behaviour faces from all classrooms immediately and replaced them with recognition boards, where staff and children could recognise a child or staff member for doing something positive today, either linked to learning but also to our whole school values. Our six values are: safety, cooperation, honesty, responsibility, friendship and respect.

These are embedded within the school and our curriculum. When a child (or staff member) gets put on the recognition board they get to take home an ‘above and beyond’ certificate and share this with their family. We put ‘safe places’ into every classroom where you will find a worry eater, a calm box of resources to support co-regulation and self-regulation and our hand of trust poster. These were created to every child had a safe place in their own classroom to go to if they felt ‘bad or sad’.

They are in every classroom so as children move through the school, they have the same resources and safe place to use when feeling dysregulated. We have embedded Protective Behaviours into our whole school curriculum and teach the children the following mantras, right from the EYFS/ ‘If you feel bad or sad, to feel well you must tell.’
‘Stop it I don’t feel safe, if you continue I will tell a grown-up.’ These mantras all our children can recite and they use them both in school, at home and in the community.

In the third year we looked at a text called ‘Say What You See’ which empowered the staff to ‘wonder out loud, a technique used by counsellors and therapists. It enables staff to reflect the behaviour they are seeing back to the child in a non-threatening manner, which can support children to regulate quickly.

This also underpins the restorative justice model we use with children when managing conflict resolution.
We also introduced ‘Sunshine Circles’ which is a nurture-based session that we offer all children at our school. We started this because we were offering nurture intervention for some of our complex children and felt that a large number of children needed this. Our socio-economic area is quite deprived with a high number of our children in the safeguarding arena, therefore we needed to respond to the needs of our children and offer all of them a weekly nurture session. The session follows a nurturing structure, with a welcome, check-in, games that heighten and games that calm, a feed aspect and a closing activity.
FHIS offers Sunshine Circles to all children at the school, once a week, every week.

By making these changes to our behaviour ethos, and we do firmly believe this is our ethos and not merely a policy, we have supported hundreds of children with a kind, calm and relationship-based approach to behaviour. We have become one of the leading schools in the county regarding SEND and Inclusion, with many children travelling up to 35 miles to attend our school.

What was easy, what was hard?

Easier- once you begin to see the impact this culture has upon children and staff, you affirm that it is the right thing to be doing.

Hard- transition takes time and this process took 3 years from start to finish, and we are still reviewing and refining as we speak! One challenging factor is ensuring the staff you appoint understand and buy into the ethics and vision of the culture of the school. We take time in induction to share the key texts with new staff and ensure they understand the ethos and culture of the school. We ensure our recruitment process aligns with the culture and vision of the school.

Where are you now?

We are now 6 years into our journey and are in a really positive and strong place. Our work on being an attachment-aware and relational practice is rooted in the ethos and culture of our school, we live and breathe it. We have had many successes with children who were at risk of permanent exclusion, are a leading school for SEND and Inclusion in the county and our reputation precedes us, with families travelling from all over to bring their children to our wonderful school.

What advice would they give to others?

Read the book as a whole staff, and ensure your staff buy into this culture. Bear in mind this is not an approach or a bolt-on, this has to be lived and breathed in your school and come from your school’s vision and values. This also takes time and have patience with the approach and process.