View from the classroom


n November 2019 Education Today spoke to Caroline Newman, Headteacher at

Gladstone Primary School in Barry, Wales. Gladstone Primary is a comprehensive school catering for 3-11 year olds, with approximately 480 students on roll. The school – rated ‘Good’ by Estyn, the Welsh equivalent of Ofsted - recently celebrated being named the first school in Wales to win a Trauma and Mental Health Informed School Award. Presented by not-for-profit The Centre for Child Mental Health (CCMH), and Trauma Informed Schools UK (TIS UK), the award recognises Gladstone’s ongoing commitment to the emotional wellbeing of its pupils. Here, Caroline tells us more.

When did you identify a need to address the school's challenges? As a school community, we realised that we were seeing increasing numbers of children with complex needs who were exhibiting challenging behaviours in the classroom and playground. This behaviour was disrupting classroom flow and had the potential to impact academic attainment. Over one in five of our pupils (21%) have Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). We also have a higher number of pupils who are eligible for free school meals (27%) – significantly more than the Welsh average of 19%. We began to consider the possibility that our

previous approach may have been too “quick fix” focussed and failed to recognise the root cause of these issues. It’s easy to label demanding behaviours in children as simply “acting out”, but more often than not they’re masking real distress/anxiety and can act as survival skills of

sorts. We wanted to fully understand each child so that they could come to school and not only feel supported by their teachers and peers, but also empowered to learn and embrace new challenges.

How did you settle on the approach you took? I became aware that the topics of trauma, attachment and the surrounding neuroscience were being given growing space in conversations around education. I attended a number of professional development courses and events centred on attachment and trauma, and started to read more widely around the subject - which is when I first became aware of the studies on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are stressful life events such as domestic

violence, emotional abuse/neglect, parents divorcing/ separating, or living with a parent who has issues with mental health, alcohol or drugs. If a young person experiences four or more ACEs, they are 32 times more likely to exhibit challenging behaviour compared to a child who has not experienced such stressful life events. Attending a school where punitive discipline measures are employed can then re-traumatise pupils who are already traumatised. These might include things like the use of isolation rooms, shouting at/shaming pupils, suspensions and exclusions. Margot Sunderland, Director of Education and Training at the Centre for Child Mental Health, has written extensively about ACEs and how teachers can have a positive impact on pupils affected by them. Through protective factors such as “social buffering” – when a child forms a secure attachment with an

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emotionally available adult – the trajectory from ACEs to mental health problems can be challenged, and instead we can set pupils up to thrive well into adulthood. I was so moved by this research that I started to

explore how we could incorporate it into our pastoral approach. I discovered Trauma Informed Schools UK (TIS UK) and saw that they were

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