What was your school like before relational practice?

LaceyField is two schools; two schools who share a car park but hadn’t worked as one before September 2019. At this point, the infant academy had just received a requires improvement judgement and the junior academy had had seven headteachers in seven years. The Junior academy also had the highest rate of fixed-term exclusion of any school within the trust. Most children go directly from Eastfield to Lacey therefore serving the same community so change was needed.

What triggered the change?

In Louth, a relatively isolated market town, the school serves a deprived community with a high level of pupil premium children. Due to the school’s chaotic history, there was little consistency in both behaviour policy and curriculum. The sanction-led approach to managing behaviour was not serving the children, the staff or the community. The staff team had an abundance of knowledge and skill however this was not being shared and celebrated.

What were the expectations/hopes?

The hope was to ensure all staff felt empowered to provide a relational approach to learning, ensuring every child felt safe, loved and ready to learn. This could only be by first giving staff the knowledge, skills and understanding of attachment, behaviour and trauma. The dream was that once the staff had the tools they would be able to apply a relational behaviour policy with consistency and routine for children.

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

Emma and the LaceyField team flipped the school from reliance on fixed-term exclusions and lesson removal to trauma informed, relational practice and calm, consistent adults. The school’s emphasis on a team or ‘done with’ approach meant that she was able to take all of her colleagues with her.

At LaceyField, the children’s excellent conduct is recognised using the ‘Bee-haviours for learning’. The mission, created by the staff, is to be busy being brilliant. The children are recognised for using their bee-haviours for learning: be brave, be kind, be in charge of me, be grateful, be curious, be on the team. Recognition boards are buzzing with Bees! And there are hives of recognition all over the school. Adults
use positive postcards and ‘bee of the week’ assemblies, complete with hot chocolate, to drive a culture that is dripping with recognition for those children going over and above. ‘A hive of restorative practice’

Relationships are at the heart of all they do. The school starts each day with a nurture breakfast and the family approach to learning means that the children feel safe, supported and connected. Children know how to and who to ask for help and value their adults and the dedicated Care Team.

Children know that when they make a mistake with their behaviour, they will be supported to understand the mistake, make it right and learn from it through restorative conversation. Children apply and interview prestigious ‘Happiness Ambassador’ positions at the start of the year and, if successful, wear a golden jumper to enable others to know their role. They are trained in how to use the academy’s happy hi-five which is restorative conversation for children so that they can solve their own disagreements or problems.

The LaceyField approach is about enabling children to be successful humans in learning and in life.

What was easy, what was hard?

Nothing is easy, especially if it is the ethically right path… but it was worth it!

Where are you now?

The ethos at LaceyField is one of ‘done with’ rather than ‘done to’. They have worked with restorative legend Mark Finnis to shape their restorative practice. The leadership team believe in a ripple effect: if they are well in themselves and act with kindness and love, that will ripple out to the staff, and that in turn will ripple out to the children and their families. It is what they truly believe and why their restorative ethos
is so strong.

There is a dedicated care team which organises support for children who are struggling. At LaceyField, they seek to understand each child and meet them where they are. They know that relationships make the difference and use their understanding of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics to support children’s emotional, social and mental health development.

They work on the ‘name it to tame it’ approach to emotional intelligence so that conversations about emotions are explicit and this starts in Nursery. Children are supported to recognise and control their emotions. Self-regulation is taught deliberately and not left to chance. They also use sensory circuits where children engage in physical regulation activities – for example, using a yoga ball to apply pressure to a child’s back (like a massage). They call it ‘Squash’!

Emma refers to LaceyField as a ‘brick mother’: ‘The culture is the foundation, and curriculum and pedagogy are the bricks and mortar. At LaceyField, we have a positive approach to behaviour, relationships and life. We focus on the class as a family team and quality first teaching so that lessons are worth behaving for.

What advice would they give to others?

The advice we would give is to learn from beautiful mistakes. Our beautiful mistake, in the beginning, was forgetting to pick up the tab. SLT and our Care Team became the staff who ‘did restorative’. We quickly learnt that this wouldn’t work. This was very much the fault of SLT and we are happy to admit that beautiful mistake because we were doing the best we could with what we knew at the time.

However, the incredible staff team quickly built confidence and experience with restorative conversations and they are now the pros. It is thanks to the staff team that we now have the ‘happy hi-five’ which is the conversation that children use for restorative conversations and was created by the teaching team in year three.

Finally, it isn’t easy and it isn’t a quick fix, but it is the most rewarding and ethical way. In the words of Fred Rogers, ‘I’m convinced that when we help our children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings – ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else – we’re helping to make our world a safer, better place’.