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Research School Network: Using a Trauma-Informed approach to support our youngest learners’ return to school Lizzie Say and Ian Medwell, from Town Field Primary, explain how their school is supporting their youngest learners this year.


Using a Trauma-Informed approach to support our youngest learners’ return to school

Lizzie Say and Ian Medwell, from Town Field Primary, explain how their school is supporting their youngest learners this year.

A year after the first lockdown began, as we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, it is important to reflect on the impact that it has had on some of the youngest learners in school.

What has been lost? The youngest have proportionally lost the most. They will struggle to recall life pre-COVID and have missed key experiences.

During the summer, we identified the need to become a Trauma-Informed school, based on research by Nikky Watson & Vicky Birkwood, in order to plan and deliver a suitable recovery curriculum to meet the needs of our children who have had gaps within their social and emotional development. In a school where 58% of children have EAL, it was important to consider the impact lockdown has had on these pupils, in particular the 5 losses of: routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom – BC. Due to the rising cases, which ultimately led to bubble closures and further lockdowns, it was important to reconsider this for the wider school opening in March 2021.

Prior research states that children with poor social experiences in the home struggle with the ability to manage their feelings, build and use social skills, focus and cope in class, and lack the awareness of how to appropriately interact with others (Department for Education and Department of Health, 2015; de Leeuw et al, 2017). This is going to be more prevalent as a result of lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of this, we reflected on our provision and approach to positive opportunities to develop social and emotional learning in the classroom environment and considered how to incorporate many life experiences which children will have missed. These are within the school community and beyond.

- Being in new environment
- Being away from parents and around other adults
- Coffee shops
- Social etiquette
- Being in nosier environments
- Waving and smiling at people
- Shopping and money
- Exploring the local area
- Identifying key locations
- Interacting with peers
- Birthday parties and other celebrations

As a result of the greater impact on younger pupils due to them missing a higher proportion of their education, including key aspects of social learning they would normally have had within EYFS, it was felt that social and emotional education needed to be integrated to all aspects of the curriculum. This was particularly in EYFS and Key Stage 1. Role play is an example of provision where talk skills can be promoted and explored. There are lots of talk skills that children could potentially develop through their play and interaction. Some skills include:

Emotions – children can explore a range of emptions in a safe and supported environment.

Language – Children can extend their range of vocabulary as well as using and expressing language.

Problem solving – taking time to think together or alone.

It was paramount that within our recovery curriculum and beyond, children had a range of opportunities to engage with activities which develop social skills. Therefore, class teachers used assessment data and the primary areas for communication and language, social and emotional development and understanding the world around us’ from Development Matters to inform planning and provision. As a THRIVE trained school, we also worked alongside our practitioners to plan class targets which could be embedded into the learning environment.

As part of our recovery curriculum, we intended to follow a 3‑part structure to support pupils. We began by fostering relationships with pupils, then ensured we embedded positivity and self-belief for pupils into our practice, and finally focused on areas to address where pupils need to be re-skilled to rebuild learning. Throughout this, we ensured that physical and mental well-being was prioritised.

Lizzie and Ian blog

Reflecting on these, we have embedded a range of techniques into teaching and learning.



R‑Time programme has been embedded across school, from EYFS to Year 6, to support children in building social and emotional skills, working with others and communication.

Children have been able to rehearse social skills in a safe environment and been supported in getting to know their peers and working with others.

Continuous provision – opportunities to plan learning, work with peers and review and develop next steps. Places to develop social skills – peg dolls representing children – able to take on their own roles and act out in certain environments. Construction area to build school, garage, zoo, etc.

As a result, relive missed experiences, take on family roles, act out social stories.

Outdoor activities and forest school.

Many children thrived in the outdoor area and were engaged in the activity. Children were able to develop problem solving and teamwork skills which were easily transferred to the classroom.

Whole class THRIVE assessments have been in all classes.

This has allowed staff to identify key areas in which pupils are struggling and implement activities in the classroom to address these.

Core curriculum planned around real life and familiar settings to embed knowledge. Interlinked to local knowledge.

Children were invested in the learning as they saw a purpose to each activity. They were motivated and engaged. Evidence of outcomes showed high quality responses to each activity.

Emotional scales have been incorporated in every classroom across school.

This has helped to embed opportunities for pupils to learn, understand and talk about their emotions. It has helped to normalise discussions about emotions in class and children are able to self-mange / regulate better.

Sentences stems.

The use of sentences stems supported those children who had difficulties in expressing how they were feeling at any given time. Children could confidently communicate how they felt at any given time.

Social and stories / reflecting on real scenarios.

Children had opportunities to role play real life scenarios. It enabled children to develop strategies to articulate how they were feeling and use appropriate vocabulary to communicate effectively.

This provision has enabled pupils to have time to talk and share with their peers. Staff across school believe that the opportunities for children to develop social and emotional learning is having a positive impact on all aspects of their school life. As restrictions ease over the coming months, children will feel comfortable when engaging in missed real life experiences and will be confident and successful in everyday life.

- Ian Medwell and Lizzie Say, Town Field Primary – Doncaster.


Bryce-Clegg, A. (2017) Effective Transition into Year One, Bloomsbury.

Carpenter, B. (2020) A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic. Available at: (Accessed: 14th March 2021)

de Leeuw, R., de Boer, A., Bijstra, A. and Minnaert, A. (2017) Teacher strategies to support the social participation of students with SEBD in the regular classroom’, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 33 (3), pp. 412426.

Department for Education (2017) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. Available at: – 2 (Accessed: 14th March 2021)

Department for Education and Department of Health (2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years. Available at:… (Accessed: 9 August 2019).

Watson, N. and Birckwood, V. (2020) Supporting Doncaster Schools to embed Trauma Informed Practice’ Supporting the return to school, Doncaster, 17th June. Doncaster: Doncaster Local Authority.

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