Research School Network: The Power of Relationships Sarah Stock from Newcastle Research School shares how the use of evidence has informed and shaped practice within schools.


The Power of Relationships

Sarah Stock from Newcastle Research School shares how the use of evidence has informed and shaped practice within schools.

by Newcastle Research School
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“Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

Rita Pierson

As a senior leader in a challenging primary school, I had seen an increase in challenging behaviour and I was determined to explore an evidence informed, proactive approach that we could adopt as a school to support our children.

Previously, we were focusing too much on being reactive and managing the challenges. We were aware of the complex lives of many of our children and realised that there was not one strategy or solution that would work for all and there were no quick wins’. We knew that relationships were key and by working together with the child, staff and parents/​carers we could begin to make a real difference. However, identifying precise routines to support this was challenging in our busy environment.

Our first step was becoming more evidence informed around behaviour and we looked to the EEF’s Improving Behaviour guidance report. The first recommendation really resonated with us: Know and understand your pupils and their influences’ – every pupil should have a supportive relationship with a member of staff.

At a classroom level, teachers were very welcoming, warm, knew their pupils well and had adopted many of the simple approaches as part of their daily routines for example, greeting pupils at the door. In order to support children who were finding school challenging we reflected on how we could work more proactively.

The EEF’s Improving Behaviour guidance report refers to an establish, maintain and restore’ model (EMR).

This model was developed from a small study with promising results. The EMR method involves focusing intentionally on the pupils who were most difficult to connect with, who may be most in need of a consistent, positive relationship.

It is recommended that this technique should take no longer than 30 minutes per week and can be completed during periods already spent with pupils, representing an efficient use of time.

EMR Model
EMR Model

We identified seven children who were finding school life challenging. We drew upon all school data e.g. attendance, learning and progress as well our discussions with teachers to allocate each child a champion.

Using the EMR as a tool, each child-champion would follow a three-stepped approach during the week:

  • A brief check-in on Monday to catch up on how the weekend had gone
  • A mid-week check in to keep in touch about how things were going and successes and any issues
  • Finally on Friday the champion would meet informally with the child for 15 minutes and reflect on the week. They would discuss what had gone well and how it could be even better which would inform any next steps.

The child-champion would also reflect on the week and unpick and explore any positives as well as any issues that have occurred, the idea being that we would start the next week fresh with any adaptations in place.

For example, Caleb found it difficult to start his day in the yard as he became very overwhelmed, so we made an adjustment where his check-in would be first thing on Monday. This helped him have an extremely positive start to the day and reminded him of the success of his previous week, giving clarity and consistency. Part of being a champion was to catch up with parents/​carers and let them know of the successes, whilst ensuring they were aware of new adaptations that were put in place. This approach really valued the child’s voice. The three-stepped approach focused on maintaining and when needed, restoring the relationship.

As with any strategy or framework it is often the small things that are done consistently well that have impact. Our child-champion was not a magic wand, but we did see relationships improve through the small adaptations that were made, children had more success and parents were more engaged.

EEF (2019) Improving Behaviour in Schools – To read the full guidance report click here.


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