Derbyshire Virtual School Attachment Aware Schools Programme

A case study on Brackenfield Special School - A Journey to Learn (J2L) from 2015 to 2021 and ongoing…

Context – Derbyshire Virtual School’s Attachment Aware Schools Programme

Derbyshire Virtual School has been working with Kate Cairns Associates (now known as Knowledge

Change Action) since 2015 to promote 'Attachment awareness' in schools and educational settings

across the county. Brackenfield SEND School were part of the first cohort to take part in this AAS

programme, and embarked on their journey in April 2015.

Derbyshire County Council and its Virtual School are committed to pursuing the best outcomes, in

the widest meaning of the phrase, for all of the Children in Care and young people. Therefore, the

Attachment Aware Schools programme has been carefully designed to build on the good practice

and good practitioner intuition already seen in many Derbyshire schools, and to develop a

network of schools committed to becoming even more attachment aware in their own school, but

also to support others in the county.

The Derbyshire Virtual School believe that an attachment aware approach is not only beneficial for

Children in Care, but that attachment is a universal process which is fundamental to the healthy

development of all young people and adults. Therefore, they believe that a good theoretical

understanding of this, coupled with the reflective ability to develop related practical approaches,

will equip schools with the necessary skills to show best practice in becoming an Attachment

Aware School.

The AAS programme in Derbyshire aims to:

• Improve the conditions for Children in Care and vulnerable learners in schools and settings

• Raise awareness of the issues and needs around attachment and trauma

• Consolidate working relations between the Virtual School and all Derbyshire schools

• Catalyse a new community of outstanding practice amongst schools

• Encourage pedagogical development – trialling new ways of working led by the Virtual School

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The AAS programme develops pedagogy, practice and school ethos through theoretical input,

deepening knowledge and collaborative practice. The programme offers six days of theoretical

input, facilitated support and challenge throughout the year. The training and support comes from

the Virtual School and some bespoke input from Kate Cairns Associates (KCA). The programmed

days have been carefully designed to develop and deepen participants’ knowledge around

attachment theory and trauma-informed practice, equipping them with knowledge, practical

information, reference books and an e-learning package to help them disseminate the learning

back to school and within their wider learning communities. The development of an AAS network

across the county enables an improved knowledge of attachment needs in the schools, awareness

of the impact that this has on students and staff, and develops pedagogy and practice. The

participating schools, in turn, can spread knowledge and share practice with others amongst their

cluster groups and localities.

Context – Brackenfield Action Research ‘A Framework for All’

Initially, two members of staff from Brackenfield SEND school were participants in the first cohort

of the AAS project. They attended the programme which was composed of six whole ‘taught’ days,

on which KCA provided input on four. In addition to the ‘taught’ days, the programme also

included a timetable of in-school meetings, and post year support and challenge meetings which

were supported by the Virtual School.

The Derbyshire Virtual School provided Brackenfield SEND school with a bursary which was to be

used for the purpose of action research following the initial AAS training. The action research

projects, which every participating school undertakes, are the engine of the AAS programme and

promote a process which transforms school ethos and pedagogy.

Brackenfield’s action research began with the project leads, Trish Turner (Headteacher) and

Hannah Longley (Safeguarding Lead), analysing the conditions for teaching and learning for

Children in Care and all vulnerable learners in their school, thinking about the school’s overall

ethos and physical environment. From this initial analysis, the Brackenfield staff focused on

meeting the individual needs of all children, and presented the following action research


How can we develop a needs based analysis tool that supports

genuine personalised learning?

The project leads developed a new matrix tool, known as Journey to Learn (J2L), that provides

staff with a needs analysis methodology for all pupils, enabling them to establish personalised

learning that is based on a holistic approach to education. Since 2017, this has been embedded

into the whole school ethos and classroom pedagogy.

Brackenfield have commissioned KCA at various points to deliver training to all staff in the school

with the aim of supporting and embedding practice.

Derbyshire CS1

The story behind Brackenfield’s Journey to Learn (J2L)

Why did you feel J2L was needed and would be useful?

As a school, we had a firm understanding of attachment and early years trauma. We recognised

that a large percentage of our cohort had significant attachment needs and we shaped the school

day and environment to support these. Beyond this, we also delivered a range of interventions to

support the specific needs of individuals outside of the classroom. These included Positive Play,

Drawing and Talking, and ELSA sessions - these interventions were not impactful. This led us to look

at how the children were being referred to these intervention sessions, and how we were making a

decision about what was most appropriate for the individual.

The conclusion we reached was that often the intervention was not targeting the route of the issue.

For instance, a child displaying as not being able to integrate and play with their peers may have

been referred to a course for Positive Play - however if the need of the child was further down

Maslow’s Hierarchy of need and the child didn’t feel safe, then the intervention was pitched too

high to have any impact. The child would require approaches or interventions to help them feel

safe. The J2L allows us, through the knowledge we have of the child, to pinpoint what their ‘lowest’

area of need is and therefore target interventions more accurately. It also enables us to assess

changing needs of the children over time or through adverse situations.

How did you arrive at the J2L matrix?

Behaviour is communication - the J2L allows us to interpret the behaviour and then makes suggestions of how to support the issues.

Working with the KCA’s model of ‘Stabilisation, Integration and Adaptation’, and its associated nine

outcomes (see below), provided the framework for the observable behaviours we are making a

judgement on.

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Talking with Kate (Cairns), we also explored our theory that all children don’t necessarily need to

complete the ‘lower phases’ in entirety to experience aspects of the ‘higher’ phases. For instance, a

child can still experience joy in living, and this can be observed, but may not have an accurate and

coherent narrative. This had been one of the key issues in targeting strategies at too high a level for

the child. The matrix provided the ‘hierarchy’ of the 9 areas within stabilisation, integration and adaptation against Maslow’s Hierarchy. It was therefore clear when assessing a child against the outcome indicators (and their associated descriptive statements) where their lowest area of need fell.

The J2L then makes suggestions about what could be appropriate strategies and interventions for

the child to support them.

Aims and objectives of Journey to Learn (J2L)

What did you hope to achieve by developing J2L?

• To be able to accurately interpret what a child’s behaviour was telling us

• To ensure that any intervention/approach/strategy was fit for purpose and impactful

• To create a narrative around the child- which not only supports the work we do with the child

and the offer that is provided, but also supports understanding of parents and other

professionals involved with the child

The implementation and application of the J2L matrix

How did you use the J2L matrix, and how did you work with colleagues, children and their families to apply J2L in practice?

Initially we piloted the J2L with a core group of children who were identified by their presenting

behavioural needs and/or the contextual information we had about them. The J2L was initially paper

based and had far more outcome descriptor statements than it does in its current form. We trained

the staff team on how to use the tool and trialled it over the period of a year. Over time we refined

the content, in consultation with the staff team, and moved it to the electronic version it is now. This

supported more rapid completion of the assessment. We included the information in parental

meetings and through annual reviews of Education, Health and Care Plans. This provided the

narrative around the child and an explanation of their individual offer.

The J2L is now completed for all children in the school and is reviewed annually. The tool generates

a summary page which displays the outcome in graphical form, as seen in the completed example

summary page below.

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This information is then added to the key information held about each child alongside other key

documentation about them, including sensory diets, positive behaviour plans, pen portraits and

intimate care/medical plans.

Findings and Conclusions

What did you discover when using the J2L matrix to support children?

We discovered that in all cases, despite our knowledge and understanding of the child’s needs, we

were targeting support at too high a level in the majority of cases. We also discovered that the

narrative and conversation which was created around the child was as important and impactful as the information it generated.

What were the outcomes of using J2L?
Staff have a far better understanding of the needs of the child and what is required to support
them. Staff are better able to articulate to others, including parents, the child’s needs and why we
are doing what we are doing to support them.

What did you find out, and what was interesting?
Even children who didn’t have any obvious presenting need have benefited from the tool. By asking
ourselves the questions posed when completing the assessment, it challenges what we think about
the child and their needs. The J2L is completed by the team around the child, which is key, as one
person’s interpretation may not be accurate. The conversation around the child is as important as
the information generated.

What problems or challenges did you encounter?
Initially when we piloted the tool in its paper-based form, it was too large and took a long time to
complete. As it has been refined over time, and moved to an electronic format, it is far more user
friendly. It also now generates the results automatically, when previously we would have to analyse
the data manually to provide an outcome.

Were the objectives achieved?
Yes - I would also say ‘and some’. As I have mentioned previously, not only does J2L generate the
data and information, but it provides the narrative around the child which supports the
understanding of those working (and living) with the child of why they present as they do and what
our role is in supporting them.

What is happening now, and next steps

What is Brackenfield now doing with J2L, and how is this being rolled out to other schools?

As a school we are passionate and committed to supporting all children and not just those in our

school. The training we have undertaken regarding attachment has been the most impactful work

we have done. As a leadership team, this has not just been impactful with the pupils, but also in

supporting and managing our staff. We are keen to spread the message - the J2L is part of this,

and we are keen to share it.

We have recently received ‘recap’ training from KCA to ensure that staff, and particularly new staff,

are continually reflecting upon their practice through an attachment lens, and with the core theory

of J2L behind this.

Through the East Midland SEND Training Hub, we provide school to school support; this may

involve schools using the J2L to provide contextual information about a child or group of children,

which then informs the work we do to support the school. The J2L is also available for schools to

purchase, and we also provide training enabling schools to use the tool independently.

We have also incorporated learning inputs from KCA as part of our East Midlands SEND Training

Hub offer, which ensures that all strands of theory to practice remain cohesive.

What is the EMST Hub?
The East Midland’s SEND Training Hub was established at Brackenfield School in 2018. It has three
key strands to it as shown below:

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The purpose of the Training Hub is not only to provide cost effective, high quality support and

training to our mainstream and special school partners, but to open up the world of SEND to the

wider community. SEND East Midlands - East Midlands SEND Training Hub (

What support does Brackenfield provide to other schools?

School to school support is bespoke to the school for whom we are providing support, which may

be based around understanding the needs and behaviours of children with additional needs, or

possibly about inclusion or assessment. We provide training and coaching for the school staff and

other stake holders. The B-Level Assessment System for small steps of progress and the J2L are also

available for schools to support their area of need.

The J2L, specifically, may be used as part of the coaching relationship to explore the presenting

need of the child; this provides the narrative of the child from which support can be built.

What do you see as ‘next steps’ in J2L’s journey?

We are keen for other schools to benefit in the same way we have at Brackenfield. We are keen to

work in partnership with other schools and forums to keep the conversation about attachment at

the forefront of professional’s minds when supporting children.

Thanks CS