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Fairfield Infants & Nursery 

Into the Jungle at Fairfield Infant and Nursery School

How does our understanding of attachment theory improve transitions and engagement?

Transitions were the bane of their day. At registration, after break times, and even when moving between different areas of the school, pupils were arriving in classrooms tearful, frazzled, and definitely NOT ready to learn.
It was easy to identify the problem, but not quite so straightforward to resolve. They faced a number of challenges across the whole school community. Some staff had fallen into patterns of negativity when discussing children's behaviour, and there was a marked lack of empathy. Working in an area of deprivation, and with a high percentage of pupils with additional needs, it was a tough, unremitting role. Children were often hurting each other, and staff. There was always a high level of noise, lots of ‘hands-on’ behaviour, and low levels of engagement. Many pupils had poor self-esteem which manifested in demand avoidance and disruption to learning. The entry to their Key Stage One classrooms, ‘the corridor’, was not a pleasant place to be. Children climbed and hid, often utilising it as a space to avoid staff well away from supervising eyes. The children told them, “The corridor is noisy and really messy. It makes me stressed. Everyone runs and pushes and shouts”.

It was clear they had their work cut out, so they went back to the very beginning and started from there. Initially, they wrote a Behaviour and Relationships Policy where their mission became ‘CONNECTION BEFORE CORRECTION’. They trained all their staff in attachment theory and how adverse experiences can have an enormous impact on brain development and behaviour. They learned about emotion coaching, developing visuals which they now all wear on staff lanyards to remind them of the process. They embedded an Emotional Literacy Curriculum with daily Mental Health and Wellbeing sessions including yoga, breath work, and sensory breaks. They made significant physical changes to the corridor, removing spaces where pupils could hide and climb, and making the whole space feel calmer and more open. They devised visuals for use throughout the school and taught the children ‘calm-down’ co-regulation strategies. The school turned (mostly) blue with the installation of new carpet, blue and natural-themed displays and furniture. The whole school was tidied, clutter was removed, and a sensory audit took place. One of the most significant changes was the implementation of their Zen Den and Energy Zone. Two previously under-utilised spaces were transformed into somewhere to calm down with weighted blankets, sensory toys and lighting, and somewhere to bounce, throw, rock and let off steam.

They also embedded lots of small changes into their daily timetables to help everyone feel better. These included Sensory Circuits, which take place in the school hall every morning. About 15 children attend these sessions—and sometimes they invite the parents to join them. They looked at pinch points in the week and how they could make transitions easier. Mondays are now always ‘Mellow Mondays’, which gives the pupils time to reconnect with school staff and regulate before they even think about learning.

Of course, they faced another, even more challenging, issue with the arrival of Covid-19. Return to school after lockdown was particularly difficult for their most challenging pupils. But staff were ready—they now knew what trauma might lead to. They prepared a recovery curriculum for all pupils and put bespoke provision in place for those that needed it.

They still have more up their sleeves. They want to develop a clear link between their Outdoor Learning, Mental Health & Wellbeing, and Behaviour & Relationships policies and practices. Next year, they are participating in the PINS (Promoting Neurodiversity in Schools) project and hope to widen their knowledge of how neurodiversity might impact attachment development. They want to teach families to use Emotion Coaching and co-regulation strategies at home, deliver Parent Workshops, and invite small groups into school to participate in sessions with their Family Support Worker. And they want to link their Family Support Workers, and those of their adjacent Junior school, together so that relationships can be sustained across both settings.

Writing it all out now makes it sound simple. It really wasn’t! This took a LOT of time. Some staff took more persuasion to get on board than others. They still make mistakes and have to go back to basics to remind themselves why they do what they do. But... they are now (mostly) speaking the same language. Staff are happier. School feels calm and caring. Pupils understand their emotions. Children suggest ways to “put the lid back on,” and can talk about their emotions, show empathy, and offer support to their peers. Attachment awareness is now an embedded part of what they do as a school. As part of recruitment for new staff, they ask candidates to present an activity that could support forming a relationship with pupils.

There has been an added bonus too: They have a very high proportion of children receiving Pupil Premium and, in the past, have been known locally as 'that' school. Now, the profile of their school in the local area has improved. They have featured in a local newspaper, and they are an Alex Timpson award winner! Their whole school community has something to be proud of. Other schools are starting to listen to them... because they have something important to say!