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Trauma-Responsive Schools

For children, whose minds, bodies and lived experiences are flooded by the pervasive impact of trauma, schools and trainee teachers across the UK are in desperate need of professional access to trauma-informed training and culturally responsive pedagogy.

Trauma-informed teaching is a critical necessity in helping schools to develop and co-construct an emotionally safe and supportive learning environment, which positively values, and unconditionally includes, the most vulnerable children appended to their school roll.

A trauma-responsive school puts emotional well-being first. It offers children a safe and supportive community, where nurturing relationships are promoted and painful feelings are recognised and understood. This is a school which removes social barriers and academic injustice, whilst stemming the rise in exclusionary practice.

The latest Department for Education figures show that during the academic year 2017/18, the rate of fixed-term exclusions increased for a fourth year running, with 41 schools in England, during this period, giving a fixed-term exclusion to at least one in five pupils. The data shows that inflated rates of exclusion are seen in areas of higher deprivation, where children are attending schools physically and emotionally impoverished and often under-nourished.

Despite a recent and positive rise in the discussion regarding trauma-informed teaching, it remains clear that we have a state education system which continues to marginalise, stigmatise and exclude the most disadvantaged in society, whilst actively discriminating against the very children who require the highest level of psychological understanding and educational support.

Academic achievement, data driven targets and league tables are not a priority for emotionally distressed children. These children are often wired for survival at the most primitive human level. Their survival-based feelings persistently alarm the amygdala, causing fear-based responses within the confines of a prescriptive curriculum and a crowded classroom.

This is the very dynamic that schools need training and support to understand. It is within this relational interaction that neither punishment, sanction, rejection or reward-based options are congruent or effective.

Exclusion perpetuates the child’s feelings of non-acceptance, isolation and shame. It can also serve to reinforce a child’s core belief that they are unworthy of the teachers time and understanding. Exclusionary rejection increases a child’s perception that adults are unable to keep them safe from harm, and that the school system in its entirety, is unable to emotionally ‘hold’ and physically ‘contain’ the child’s big feelings of trauma, pain, anguish and distress.

Too many children are being pushed away from the school gates; directly into the hands of criminal gangs. It is within these newly found ‘relationships’ that children pursue an alternative sense of identity, human connection and the relational belonging that they are so desperately seeking.

Trauma-informed schools are not reliant upon ‘interventions’ or ‘inclusion rooms’. They are interwoven with positive human connection and secure relationships. They are culturally responsive, relationally healing and significantly beneficial to the increasing needs of so many vulnerable children within our schools and communities.

As a non-profit social enterprise, SALT has architecturally designed and deliberately constructed a trauma-responsive school. A school built upon safe and stable foundations, purposefully laid to nurture growth, healing and recovery. DfE registration has been applied for.

Sarah Morgan, Specialist Advisor, Shropshire Academy and Learning Trust (SALT)

CYPN October 2019

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