Organisation: Tri-Borough Attachment Awareness in Schools Project – Virtual School project overview

Region: London

Sectors: Children's social care · Education

Services: Consultancy · Bespoke training

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case study
Attachment aware schools

Tri-Borough Attachment Awareness in Schools Project – Virtual School project overview, 31 October 2016

the need

The Tri-Borough consists of Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Though perceived as affluent boroughs, there are pockets of deprivation alongside areas of comparative wealth, with 20–30% of children across the area living in poverty.

In 2014–15 across the UK, 14% of looked after children achieved 5 or more A*– C GCSEs or equivalent, including English and maths, compared with 53% of non-looked after children. Looked after children are twice as likely as others to be permanently excluded and five times as likely to receive a fixed term exclusion. Figures for the Tri-Borough are broadly comparable to those national figures.

The appointment of a Tri-Borough Virtual School Head in April 2014 enabled the Virtual School to adopt a consistent approach across the whole area to supporting professionals with attachment and trauma awareness training. It had been identified that professionals' knowledge and skills around trauma and attachment, and how it relates to education and learning, was inconsistent and not keeping pace with new developments in research and practice. The Virtual School appointed a Training and Development Coordinator in 2015 to manage and promote this training among professionals working with looked after children in relation to improving access to learning in school and at home.

The Virtual School had identified that, while some schools acknowledged that their existing behaviour management strategies were not always effective in dealing with the increasingly complex challenges presented by vulnerable children, few had had the opportunity to give priority to attachment awareness and to explore how it might help address the needs of these children more effectively.

In schools where there were higher levels of awareness of the principles of attachment, senior leaders were keen to make that more consistent across all staff and find new ways of putting it into practice.

While foster carers had a basic understanding of attachment, they were not yet consistently applying this knowledge to children's learning and behaviour in school. It was identified that understanding the impact of trauma could be further developed and that this should focus on the carer's role in supporting children's readiness to learn. The relationship between home and school was to be a key area of focus and impact for the project as a whole.

the solutions

KCA worked closely with the Virtual School to co-create a training offer which could deliver a shared knowledge and understanding of unmet attachment needs, developmental trauma and the impact of toxic stress, and what all stakeholders can do to respond to and meet the social and emotional needs of children.

Project delivery began in October 2015 with a training day for Virtual School staff on Working with Schools on Attachment and Trauma. Participants were able to explore their roles in the context of this knowledge base and consider how they would incorporate it into their advisory work in schools and in relation to particular children.

The training for foster carers started in November 2015 with a training day for a cohort of 30 foster carers under the heading of Bridging the Gap Between Home and School, with a follow-up day in March 2016.

The offer to schools, fully funded by the Virtual School, consisted of:

  • Attachment Awareness in Practice – one-day whole-staff training provided a theoretical underpinning of the key concepts of attachment, trauma and resilience.
  • Emotion Coaching – two-hour training session for all staff. Emotion Coaching enables children and young people to manage their own behaviour through helping them to understand the different emotions they experience and how to handle them.
  • Needs and Interventions – two-hour training session in how to use this practice tool, which helps practitioners to reassess the needs of children in relation to trauma and recovery from trauma.
  • Two two-hour consultancy sessions with an Associate, usually delivered alongside the training sessions, for key staff on how learning from the training has been taken into practice and the impact of this.
  • Elearning courses on Attachment and Brain Development, Emotion Coaching, Impulsive Behaviour and Understanding Trauma helped practitioners to embed and apply the theoretical aspects of learning in relation to their own practice.
  • Dedicated follow up support from Virtual School staff.

The Virtual School identified two pioneer primary schools who were keen to take advantage of this full Attachment Awareness in Schools offer.

While work in these two schools got under way in January 2016, the Virtual School worked with KCA to put together another centrally held training event entitled Attachment Awareness in Schools: Building Resilience, Improving Outcomes, which took place in February 2016 with the aim of engaging more schools, and with a particular emphasis on the Emotion Coaching aspects.

In May 2016 a further half-day consultancy session enabled the two primary schools already involved in the programme to share experiences and to reflect on what had worked well and what challenges there had been.

The schools and the Virtual School took this further and shared their experience of the training and its impact with prospective new partner schools in the Tri-Borough at a summative conference in late June. KCA provided a keynote presentation on Developing Attachment Aware Schools, along with a workshop on secondary trauma.

Holding Together is another element of training and consultancy requested by the Virtual School. This systemic intervention with the team around a vulnerable child (TAC) is intended to build capacity and improve outcomes. By working with key Virtual School staff, the consultant supports the whole multi-agency team around a particular child to develop an action plan for that child based on a common understanding of attachment, trauma and resilience, and to put it into practice. The consultancy is supported by relevant resources, including elearning, and tools to use in assessment and practice.

While further ongoing consultancy can support future meetings and action plan reviews, the aim is for the consultant to support the team to embed a sustainable model of attachment-aware and trauma-informed practice. As the team becomes more confident, competent and resilient to take on the challenge themselves, support can be reduced, and the process can be replicated in future. At the time of writing, one TAC consultancy day has taken place.

the outcomes

The first year of project – October 2015 to September 2016 – has seen a total of 31 schools access training at some level, funded through the Virtual School, with 54 looked after children attending those schools during the period. This number includes schools who have sent staff to attend the centralised training on Emotion Coaching, booked only stand-alone training days on Emotion Coaching, or attended the summative conference.

Two primary schools have embedded Attachment Awareness into their school communities, training around 90 staff (including teachers, support staff, administrators, caretakers and governors) in all three aspects of the programme, as outlined above. They report the following changes:

  • Attachment-aware language and practice have become integrated throughout school life, including behaviour policies, procedures and teaching and learning strategies.
  • The number of serious behaviour issues recorded on SIMS has reduced significantly, with low-level situations less likely to escalate into more severe incidents.
  • Teachers report that they are having to spend less time dealing with behavioural issues in the classroom, with more children arriving ready to learn.
  • One Assistant Head feels that this is reflective of a culture within the whole staff team that recognises the emotions that lie behind children's behaviours, which would not have been possible if they had engaged with only one part of the training input.
  • Staff have built community resilience, supporting each other more effectively by being more aware of each other's emotional needs and triggers and more skilled in supporting them.

For more detail on how attachment awareness has been embedded in these primary schools, see our separate case study here.

Some 30 foster carers so far have also received training through the project, out of a total of 170 registered with the Tri-Borough. Between them in this period they have been caring for 37 of around 140 looked-after children in the area. These foster carers really engaged with the learning and were very enthusiastic, reporting:

  • They felt the training had made them more resilient as it had helped them to pay attention to their own needs as well as to those of the children in their care.
  • Alongside the training, enrichment events both with and without the children have given them the opportunity to relax, play, be curious and to enjoy their work.
  • This enrichment has also fostered more trusting relationships and helped to meet the unmet attachment needs of the children and young people in their care.

It is perhaps too early yet to assess the extent to which the relationship between foster carers and schools has benefited from the training as only a handful of the children looked after by trained foster carers attend schools where staff have also been trained. However, as the project grows, it is hoped that it will provide them with a shared vocabulary and understanding, and enable them to work together (for example in PEP meetings) to put in place more integrated strategies that can bridge the gap between home and school.

One foster carer has already said she was able to have a more challenging interaction with the college of one of the young people in her care and to advocate for them more effectively.

customer response

The Training and Development Coordinator at the Virtual School is very pleased with the quality of service received from KCA on the project to date. She felt there were strong advantages to the process of co-creation by which KCA worked with the commissioner to put together a bespoke training programme to meet their specific needs.

'I felt listened to', she said ' and I liked the way we were given access to the full range of resources in a way that they became ours and we could use them as we wished.'

She appreciated the thorough and responsive work of her KCA Business Development Manager, who was 'always there at the end of the phone' when she needed him.

Though she initially might have preferred to talk directly to an associate trainer, she came to trust him to handle communications and feels it ultimately saved her work and time. She has found all the associates delivering training to be of very high quality. Their specialist knowledge, skills and experience have been matched well to the needs of different professional groups of trainees (such as Designated Teachers, other school staff, social workers and foster carers), being flexible to the needs of different learners.

KCA Connected, the online system provided by the company to allow commissioners access to information on training events, content, resources, attendance and evaluative feedback from learners, was user-friendly.

'There is as much information on there as I could want and I have found the evaluations very useful.'

One area of challenge for the project in schools has been engaging staff with the elearning content of the training, which is such an important tool for embedding the theory into practice through reflection.

While it has been more successful with teachers, there have been difficulties, especially among support staff, around their levels of ICT competency and time capacity. KCA is now liaising with school leaders around some new course content which is designed to be more accessible to a wider range of learners. this will contain less content, more simplified language and more pictures to scaffold the text.

Ofsted have praised the Virtual School's efforts through this project to date:

'The Virtual School staff… have introduced good initiatives to help improve educational understanding of barriers to learning across the borough, such as emotional trauma and attachment difficulties that children looked after can present.' (Ofsted, March 2016)

next steps

As the project enters a new phase in its second year, the commissioner is confident in recruiting ten more schools to the project in the coming months, helped by an enthusiastic response to the schools who presented their experience of the training and its impact at the recent summative conference.

Some schools had scheduled training over a year ago and are keen now to start embedding it in their settings. Others with few looked-after children on roll have realised the applicability of the approach to a broader spectrum of vulnerable children, and even as part of their universal provision for children's mental health and emotional wellbeing.

While secondary schools have been slower to 'buy in' to the project, the Virtual School is getting a positive response as they take out two offers this year, differentiated for the needs of primary and secondary schools. The primary offer is similar to that which proved successful at Our Lady of Dolours and Oxford Gardens in the first year. The secondary school offer involves training for 'Attachment Leads' to champion attachment awareness in their schools.

Specialist training workshops for Designated Teachers and smaller teams, such as inclusion, pastoral or behaviour support, will focus on particular topics such as transition or secondary trauma.

One special secondary school has however started the full year-long attachment awareness programme in September 2016. While the commissioner still feels the need for KCA to remain involved in this second year, plans are in place for the project to become increasingly self-sustaining as the project expands through a growing network of increasingly well-trained and experienced local professionals.

Some cascading of the Emotion Coaching approach using the resources provided by KCA has already been successful. The Virtual School are also now planning to work more closely with local social care, early help, educational psychology and CAMHS teams.

The Virtual School have joined and are hoping to engage some Tri-Borough schools in the new national Attachment Research Community which facilitates action research into how attachment-informed interventions can be most effective for children. To this end, they are currently compiling local baseline data regarding attainment, behaviour and exclusions.