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This research summary is part of an online module on refugee education – Chartered College of Teaching members can access this learning for free.


This article summaries the following original research article: 

Taylor S and Sidhu R (2012) Supporting refugee students in schools: What constitutes inclusive education? International Journal of Inclusive Education 16(1): 39–56.



The aim of this study was to contribute to a greater understanding of how schooling can help to integrate refugee children into schools and the wider community. Schools face significant challenges if they are to contribute positively towards the inclusion of refugee students in their country of asylum. Refugees face many barriers to inclusion, including attitudinal barriers and racism, while the medicalisation of refugees as subjects of trauma may compound their marginalisation by relegating resilient survivors to welfare dependency. 

Based on case studies of four schools, the strategies that they use to accommodate the needs of young people from refugee backgrounds are presented. Using these findings and other research, an inclusive model of good practice in refugee education is outlined.


What is the research underpinning it?

Four Australian schools were selected for this study. These schools were selected because of their reputation for working with refugee students. The analysis is based on an examination of policy documents and school prospectuses, along with interviews with principals and teachers. The schools reflect the diversity of Australia’s Catholic education system, which draws students from a broad cross-section of the Australian population. 

Due to the limited sample size and the original aims of the research, the conclusions of this paper are inherently speculative. More research is therefore needed to gain a deeper understanding of how educational institutions might play a more active role in facilitating transitions to citizenship for refugee youths.


Impact on practice

Targeted policies are essential to address the educational disadvantages of refugee students. Without these policies, and corresponding budgetary support, individual schools and staff will have great difficulty in translating social justice ideals into practical programmes to support refugee students. 

At a local level, key features of successful school programmes to support refugee students include:

  • a commitment to social justice, evident through an ethos that celebrates diversity and the promotion of values such as respect, acceptance and responsibility for all
  • a comprehensive support system to address the learning, social and emotional needs of refugee students and their families
  • strong school leadership, typified by principals who promote positive images of refugee students within the school and local community
  • an inclusive approach, typified by a culture of inclusion that celebrates refugee students as part of the multicultural and diverse fabric of the school; specific strategies to support refugee students to access the mainstream curriculum, such as the use of visual resources, may also be used – the challenge is finding an appropriate balance of supporting the special needs of the refugee students without ‘othering’ them
  • a whole-school approach to learning assistance that focuses on including ESL (English as a second language) students in lessons, rather than withdrawing them from the mainstream class
  • partnerships with community organisations to support refugee students’ social and emotional needs.


Key takeaways

  • Issues relating to refugee education require targeted policy and systemic support
  • Successful practices to support the schooling of young people from a refugee background are underpinned by an inclusive approach and a commitment to social justice 
  • Recognising the complexity of the needs of asylum seekers and refugee children, the schools in the study had comprehensive support systems in place to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of refugee students and their families.


Want to know more? 

Arnot M and Pinson H (2005) The education of asylum-seeker and refugee children: A study of LEA and school values, policies and practices. Research Consortium on the Education of Asylum-Seeker and Refugee Children. Available at: (accessed 20 October 2022).

Cassity E and G Gow (2005) Shifting space and cultural place: The transition experiences of African young people in west Sydney schools. In: AARE Conference 2005, University of Western Sydney, Parramatta,  27 November–1 December 2005. Available at: (accessed 20 October 2022).

Rutter J (2006) Refugee Children in the UK. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press. 


This research review is part of an online module on refugee education – Chartered College of Teaching members can access this learning for free.


English as an additional language (EAL) support is central to ensuring that refugee and asylum-seeking children remain and thrive in education. In addition to supporting their English language and thus academic development, EAL departments can play a crucial role in supporting the integration, inclusion and wellbeing of refugee and asylum-seeking children. However, reduced support from specialist local authority EAL teams across the UK has negatively impacted upon provision for learners (Gladwell and Chetwynd, 2018). With specialist expertise in schools becoming increasingly rare (NALDIC, 2015), there is a real need for schools to urgently increase their own capacity to support EAL learners.

The role of EAL specialists, in addition to providing specialist EAL teaching, should span the whole school, from contributing to whole-staff training, to working with curriculum planners to identify the language and literacy demands of curriculum content and identify suitable teaching strategies, to assisting classroom teachers in setting practical goals and objectives for EAL learners (Department of Education and Training, 2022). The importance of trained staff in schools is paramount (Gladwell and Chetwynd, 2018). Furthermore, schools with EAL departments will often include a physical space or ‘EAL Base’ (McIntyre, 2021a, p. 57) specifically for the use of new arrivals, which itself can play a very important role in supporting those new arrivals.


The different roles of EAL departments beyond English language support

Research conducted with teachers in three city-centre schools in England (pseudonyms used to refer to these), all known for their work with refugee and asylum-seeking children, has revealed the varied roles of EAL departments (McIntyre, 2021a; 2021b; 2021c). EAL departments may seek to: 

  1. Support new arrivals to feel a sense of safety. In Larkspur Secondary Academy (all school names are pseudonyms), EAL is part of the languages department. Safety is centred around recognising and responding to each child’s physical, emotional and psychological needs. Initially this happens in the EAL base, which functions as a transitionary safe space to support students’ integration. The EAL base celebrates diversity and offers an inclusive welcome – for example, through displaying words in a range of languages, helping new arrivals to feel safe as they settle into their new school (McIntyre, 2021a).
  2. Create a culture of belonging. In Jasmine Gardens Academy, new arrivals will initially spend time in the EAL base, which helps them to quickly feel a sense of belonging. From this base, new arrivals are then supported to feel part of the wider school community, with regular visits from children in their tutor group at break- and lunchtimes (McIntyre, 2021b).
  3. Celebrate success. In Lilac Lane, success is broadly conceived to include engagement in a range of open-ended activities that build confidence and self-esteem. The EAL department regularly shares knowledge through different forums to ensure that the whole school understands their work to support students to experience different elements of success. The department also works with individual faculties, leads aspects of whole-school training and shares advice about best practice in the termly teaching and learning bulletin. Outside of the school, the lead practitioner for the EAL department also regularly works with local teacher training providers (McIntyre, 2021c).


Although each EAL department has a slightly different role, they are united by an inclusive approach to the education of refugee and asylum-seeking children, which recognises that their needs extend beyond acquisition of a new language.

The importance of a whole-school approach

However, EAL specialists and departments cannot and should not bear the sole responsibility for students with EAL, including refugee and asylum-seeking students. The importance of a whole-school approach to continuing professional development for EAL has been recognised repeatedly. It is important to enable all teaching staff to understand:

  • how an additional language is learnt
  • the teaching and learning conditions that best promote the learning of EAL
  • the language and literacy demands of classroom activities
  • EAL teaching strategies to use in their classrooms
  • the stages of EAL learning 
  • the particular learning needs of the full range of EAL learners (Department of Education and Training, 2022).


Beyond these language-specific aspects, it is important that all staff develop their understanding of how to create a safe and welcoming environment for refugee and asylum-seeking students.


Key takeaways

  • Specialist EAL support is central to ensuring that refugee and asylum-seeking children remain and thrive in education
  • The role of EAL specialists is varied, working across the whole school
  • A whole-school approach to continuing professional development for EAL is important
  • An inclusive approach to the education of refugee and asylum-seeking children recognises that their needs extend beyond acquisition of a new language.

In the following video case study, teaching assistant, Jo Mead, shares her approach to supporting an autistic child with ADHD in a primary setting.

Before watching the video, we invite you to read about Jo Mead’s journey working as a teaching assistant.

My name is Jo Mead. I am a Teaching Assistant working with individual children with special educational needs in a mainstream primary school in Kent. I originally qualified as a nurse but found that working in a primary school suited me better once I became a parent. 

I began supporting children with low age-related attainment in maths and became fascinated in the way children learn (or don’t learn). My next role saw me working with a ‘looked-after child’ in the same school, a role I found much more challenging than I had expected. I started to find out more about what gets in the way of some children thinking and learning and how these barriers can be reduced. Following this, I started to work with a child in Reception who had recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My job share partner and I learned so much from this inspiring child (and subsequent others) who is now flourishing in a local special school in Year 11.

I have continued to work with individual children to enable and encourage inclusion in mainstream schools because I passionately believe that individuals and society benefit when children learn in inclusive classrooms.

The video below is divided into the following sections:

0.24 - Introduction

1.13 - What are the specific needs of the student you work with?

2.14 - What challenges did the student experience in the classroom?

4.08 - What approach did you take to overcome these challenges? What evidence-base informed your approach?

7.50 - What impact did this approach have on the student’s academic outcomes?

8.13 - What impact did this approach have on the student’s wellbeing and relationships in the classroom?

9.38 - What were the strengths and limitations of this approach?

11.13 - What are your top tips for other teaching assistants working with students with SEND?

N.B. Captions to be uploaded shortly.

Read Jo Mead’s full Impact article here:


Supporting students with English as an Additional Language (EAL) : Selected reading

Teaching assistants have an important role to play in supporting children and adolescents with English as an Additional Language (EAL). Students with EAL are not a homogeneous group. In fact, they are a diverse group, encompassing a range of English language proficiency, from those who are new to the language to those who are fluent. This reading list provides resources and guidance to support students with EAL at different stages of their language acquisition journey. It also provides more specific resources for the following groups of students including:

  • Newly arrived students with EAL (including refugees and asylum seekers)
  • Students with limited first language literacy
  • EAL students with SEND
  • Advanced EAL students


The Bell Foundation

The Bell Foundation is a charity which aims to overcome exclusion through language education by providing a range of high-quality, evidence-based guidance and resources for those supporting students with EAL, including:

  • A brief outline of EAL provision in the United Kingdom since 1966. 
  • An EAL Assessment Framework for EYFS , primary and secondary students. These will help you to identify the specific needs of your students and effectively track their progress. It also provides an accompanying list of classroom strategies to support planning and future assessment. 
  • A range of subject-specific and phase-specific resources to support the planning and resourcing of lessons. They also provide guidance for supporting EAL students in maths and science.
  • A range of phase-specific homework ideas to support EAL students with learning at home. 
  • A range of guidance and practical strategies specifically for teaching assistants working with students with EAL. 
  • An overview of effective pedagogical approaches to use when supporting students with EAL. 
  • Guidance on how best to use bilingual dictionaries in the classroom. 
  • Access to a variety of webinars throughout the academic year, providing support and guidance on how best to support EAL students in the classroom.
  • A range of research reports that underpin approaches to teaching and learning in EAL education.
  • A range of 'great ideas' to support students with EAL at different stages of their learning journey.
  • Guidance for parents about the English education system (both primary and secondary). This is available in 22 different languages.
  • A course (paid) specifically designed for teaching assistants supporting primary school students with EAL. 


Newly arrived students with EAL (including refugees and asylum seekers)

The term ‘new arrivals’ refers to a diverse group of students, whose proficiency in English may vary. The term usually refers to ‘children who are international migrants including refugees, asylum seekers, children of people working or studying in England and economic migrants from overseas’ (The Bell Foundation, 2022). The term is generally applied to students who arrive from countries outside the UK, rather than from another school within the UK. The guidance and resources below will support you to meet the diverse needs of this group.

  • The Bell Foundation provides a range of guidance and resources for teaching staff supporting newly arrived students with EAL.
  • The Bell Foundation provides a range of guidance and resources specifically designed to support refugees and asylum seeker students.
  • The Bell Foundation provides guidance and practical strategies to support Afghan refugee children and young people in schools. They also provide this webinar which includes further guidance and support for teaching staff.
  • This article provides context, guidance and practical strategies to support Ukrainian refugee children and young people in schools. At the end, it also provides a list of organisations and resources to further support these students. The Bell Foundation also provides a webinar which includes further guidance and support for teaching staff working with Ukrainian refugees. 
  • This British Council podcast explores how to effectively teach refugees, migrants and internationally displaced people. This podcast discusses how to create an inclusive classroom.
  • UNHCR’s 'Teaching about Refugees' page provides a range of high-quality and adaptable resources. Most notably, they provide guidance for primary and secondary teaching staff on how best to support refugee children and young people, both academically and pastorally.
  • UNHCR has compiled a list of books about the experiences of refugees, most of which are written by refugee authors.
  • Amnesty International has compiled a list of books  that explore the experience of refugees and asylum seekers. They have also produced accompanying lesson plans, discussion points and activities relating to each book.
  • The National Literacy Trust provides a reading list that includes stories celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. 
  • The International Rescue Committee provides up-to-date information about recent global crises. They also provide advice on how to support people who have experienced these.
  • Refugee Education UK provides a range of reports, toolkits and resources to support refugee students. 
  • Refugee Education UK provides a free newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest refugee education news. Subscribe here.
  • Phoenix provides a range of downloadable resources to support newly arrived students.
  • Amnesty International provides up-to-date news and information relevant to migrants and refugees. 
  • The Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH) provides this podcast that discusses how best to support refugee students in educational settings.
  • Twinkl provides guidance and resources to support new arrivals in the classroom.
  • For more information about supporting new arrivals in general, both in primary and secondary schools, the following guidance, although no longer official government policy, is useful and comprehensive.
  • This Flash Academy article offers practical strategies to support refugee children and young people develop confidence in a new educational setting.
  • This Realising Equality and Achievement for Learners (REAL) article offers six key strategies for supporting newly arrived students with EAL. 


Students with Limited First Language Literacy

These students may enter into the English education system with limited experience of schooling and no literacy, or limited literacy skills in any language, including their first language. 

  • The Bell Foundation provides guidance for teaching staff supporting students with limited experience of schooling or limited first language literacy.
  • The Bell Foundation provides guidance on how best to conduct a home language assessment.


EAL students with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND)

Having ‘English as an additional language’ is not considered a Special Educational Need (SEN). However, students with EAL may have additional educational needs, similar to their peers who have English as a first language. It can be difficult to identify the specific learning needs if a student does not have a high level of proficiency in English. The guidance and resources below will support you to identify additional needs in students with EAL and offer practical strategies to address them.

  • The Bell Foundation provides guidance and resources to support EAL students with SEND.
  • Tony Cline & Tatheer Shamsi’s (2000) report ‘Language needs or special needs?’ provides a comprehensive review of assessment and provision for EAL students with possible additional needs. The findings on pages 56-61 may prove most useful.
  • Rosamond, S. et al. 2003 report  ‘Distinguishing the difference: SEN or EAL’ provides a step-by-step guide for identifying the learning needs of students with EAL.
  • This Twinkl article outlines how educators can identify SEND in EAL students and offers a range of strategies that can be put in place to support them.
  • This Flash Academy article provides nine tips to help teaching staff to identify SEND in EAL students.
  • This guidance, provided by Oxford County Council, aims to support teaching staff in Early Years settings to identify SEND in EAL children.
  • This REAL article provides guidance about how to assess and support EAL learners with possible SEND.


Advanced EAL students

Ofsted (2005) define advanced EAL students as: “Pupils who have had all or most of their school education in the UK and whose oral proficiency in English is usually indistinguishable from that of pupils with English as a first language but whose writing may still show distinctive features related to their language background'. The guidance and resources below will support you to meet the needs of this group. However, these strategies will also work towards supporting all students.

  • The Bell Foundation's EAL Assessment Framework for EYFS , primary and secondary students will help you to accurately identify a student's proficiency level.
  • This guidance, provided by Cumbria City Council, offers a comprehensive guide for those supporting advanced EAL students. It also provides a range of practical strategies to support language development, more specifically it outlines possible language misconceptions and offers approaches to address this. It also offers  guidance specifically designed for teaching assistants working with advanced EAL students.
  • This SecEd article provides practical guidance and strategies for supporting advanced EAL students.
  • This 2005 Ofsted report outlines good practice when supporting advanced EAL learners with their writing at Key Stage 2. Page 4 offers key recommendations for schools and page 7 outlines specific recommendations for teaching assistants.


Other general resources and guidance:

  • The National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC) promotes the development of research, policy and practice in EAL education. They organise conferences and events, facilitate professional networks and produce a variety of publications, including the popular and influential termly EAL Journal. Visit their website here.
  • John Sharple’s (2021) ‘Teaching EAL: Evidence-based Strategies for the Classroom and School’ contains an excellent summary of the current context and outlines what the best EAL practitioners are doing. 
  • Hamish Chalmers’ (2022) ‘English as an Additional Language: An Evidence-Informed Guide for Teachers’ provides an excellent summary of the best available research in EAL education.
  • Jo Hutchinson’s 2018 report ‘Educational Outcomes of Children with English as an Additional Language’ examines the attainment of students with EAL in England. It also evaluates the impact of funding and provision for EAL students.
  • The chapter entitled 'English as an Additional Language' in Sameena Choudry's book, Equitable Education, provides a comprehensive overview of EAL education in England with a range of evidence-informed classroom strategies to support students with EAL.
  • This Department of Education (DfE) report analyses data collected in the 2018 school census regarding English proficiency of pupils with EAL.
  • The British Council provides a range of activities and resources to support primary  and secondary students with EAL. They also provide a wealth of resources to support teachers and teaching assistants with lesson planning and delivery at both primary and secondary level.  
  • This British Council report evaluates experiences of secondary school students with EAL. A summary of the findings can be found on pages 27-28.
  • This British Council report evaluates EAL practice in UK primary schools. The implications and recommendations of this report can be found on pages 15-16.
  • The National Literacy Trust provides a useful glossary of terms associated with EAL teaching. Within this, there is a very useful overview of the ‘EAL stages of proficiency’. 
  • The National Literacy Trust provides a useful video outlining 50 classroom strategies to support students with EAL.
  • The National Literacy Trust provides practical guidance to support the development of reading.
  • Twinkl provides an article (with accompanying resources) with top tips for teaching assistants when supporting students with EAL. 
  • This Flash Academy article may be useful for those new to supporting students with EAL. It clearly defines a range of key terms and acronyms used in EAL education.
  • The British Council provides a range of activities and resources to support primary and secondary with EAL. They also provide a wealth of resources to support teachers and teaching assistants with lesson planning and delivery at both primary and secondary level.  
  • Flash Academy provides a wealth of subject-specific resources to support students with EAL across different phases. They also provide a range of videos to support grammar teaching. 
  • Twinkl provides resources and guidance for those supporting students with EAL in an Early Years setting. 
  • Oak Academy provides a wealth of subject-specific and phase-specific resources that can be translated into a variety of languages.
  • This article provides a comprehensive overview of EAL education in the UK with a range of practical strategies to support students with EAL in the classroom.
  • This SecEd article provides an overview of the distinctive needs of EAL students with suggested approaches to meet these needs.
  • This Flash Academy article provides a range of strategies to support students with EAL to overcome the ‘silent phase’. 
  • Flash Academy suggests a range of extra-curricular activities that may support language development, including playing music, playing video games and taking part in drama activities. 
  • This Flash Academy article outlines how teaching staff can support students with EAL in maths lessons. This article gives an overview of the challenges that students with EAL may experience in maths and offers practical strategies to overcome these.
  • This Flash Academy article highlights the importance of using EAL students’ first language abilities in lessons.
  • This REAL article provides a step-by-step guide to scaffolding the secondary curriculum for students at the early stages of language acquisition. It provides some excellent examples of scaffolding the geography curriculum.  
  • This SecEd article provides guidance and practical strategies for teaching students with EAL in language-heavy subjects (English Literature, History, Geography and Religious Education).



The Bell Foundation (2022) ‘New Arrivals’ (online) (accessed on 08.11.2022)

Ofsted (2005) ‘Could they do even better? The writing of advanced bilingual learners of English at Key Stage 2’ (online) (accessed on 08.11.2022)


This research review is based on a chapter that was previously published in Muller and Goldenberg (2022), a report in our ‘Education in Times of Crisis’ series:

Müller LM and Goldenberg G (2020) Grief, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. In: Education in times of crisis: The potential implications of school closures for teachers and students. London: Chartered College of Teaching, pp. 21–24. 

Responses to trauma can vary according to the age of the child and when the trauma was experienced – either in early childhood or later on in life (Jones and Cureton, 2014). Some children respond to trauma by re-experiencing. This may involve re-enacting themes or events through play or drawing, having nightmares or showing distress when faced with reminders of the traumatic event (Scheeringa et al., 2003). Another symptom is avoidance. Children may avoid eye contact or contact with objects. Avoidance may manifest itself as refusal to participate in activities, to eat, or to socialise, particularly when situations, people or objects act as reminders of the traumatic event. Children may withdraw from a caregiver or teacher. Young children may also regress in developmental areas such as toilet training or speech (Cummings et al., 2017). Hyperarousal is a stress response whereby the body is in a state of high alert. Following trauma, the body continues to act as if it is under threat even if the stressful event is over. Hyperarousal can look like an inability to concentrate on a task, difficulty sleeping, irritability, anxiety and aggressive or destructive behaviour. People who are hyper-aroused are often easily startled and display exaggerated responses (Scheeringa et al., 2003). Some children may also become more clingy as a result of trauma, becoming more demanding of an adult’s attention. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by direct or indirect exposure to stressful or frightening events. What differentiates PTSD from a normal reaction to trauma is its intensity and duration. Symptoms may vary with the age of the child, but those lasting over a month after the trauma, including recurrent distressing thoughts, flashbacks and sleep disturbances, should be referred to a mental health professional (Grosse, 2001). Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, and children can be supported to manage trauma (Grosse, 2001). During a traumatic experience, a structure and sense of control, and accurate information about what has happened and what will happen next are important in helping children control their thoughts and feelings. Promoting predictability and consistency is helpful (Minahan, 2019). Debriefing is also critical, and this should be child-centered and non-judgmental. All expressions about the trauma are acceptable and should be validated by the listening adult, without probing for further details which may cause distress (Grosse, 2001; Kataoka et al., 2012).

A number of studies have suggested there may be a link between PTSD, including following natural disasters, and lower academic performance. For example, Shannon et al. (1994) who found the 9–19-year-olds reporting symptoms of PTSD in their study to have lower self-reported academic performance three months after a hurricane than those not reporting PTSD symptoms. Gibbs et al. (2019) argue that traumatic experiences can disrupt neuro-maturational processes, affecting the development of working memory and other cognitive processes that are central to academic development, citing evidence from the impact of PTSD on children’s academic development (Teresaka et al., 2015). 

What can teachers do to support children experiencing trauma? 

A qualitative study (Cummings et al., 2017) interviewed service providers who work with children and families following trauma about the knowledge and skills early childhood education teachers need to support children who have experienced traumatic events. From questionnaires and interviews, the report identified key strategies that teachers can use to create emotionally supportive environments for young children in particular. These include: 

  • Being attuned: Understanding and anticipating the needs of children and their families, and being able to respond sensitively. Being attuned involves being open and curious about how a child may be feeling, and showing them that you understand and can relate to that feeling. 
  • Conveying positive regard: Trauma or stress may lead to disruptive or uncooperative behaviour, but including the student as part of the class community, rather than isolating them as the ‘bad child’ is key. Starting afresh after a challenging day, welcoming the child warmly, and finding and communicating the child’s strengths are recommended. 
  • Collaborating with families and other professionals: Building a positive and respectful relationship with parents and being aware of the experiences and mindset their child is bringing to the classroom. 
  • Supporting positive social-emotional and communicative responses: Promoting self-regulation through music, play, art and stories. Encouraging students to express their feelings and learn what helps them to relax. 
  • Rethinking reactions to behaviour: Remain calm and be aware of why children might be behaving the way that they are. Avoid making children feel ashamed of their emotional reactions and instead allow time for them to practise adaptive behaviours. 


The report also highlighted that teachers may need to be aware of aspects of the classroom environment that can trigger trauma responses. Children who have been exposed to domestic violence or abuse may be triggered by loud voices, physical touch or fighting between classmates. Darkness and loud noises can also be sensory triggers. Seasonal changes and events can also trigger memories of traumatic events. For this reason, anniversary events need to be carefully managed. The study also identified that although there are some common behavioural patterns that appear in children exposed to trauma, behaviour and emotions manifest differently according to the context and the type of trauma experienced, as well as the individual characteristics of the child. 

As a common reaction to trauma is emotional and social isolation, helping children reestablish social relationships and make connections with others supports their wellbeing by promoting stability and recovery (Kataoka et al., 2012). 

A two-year research project looking at the impact of Hurricane Katrina on teaching and learning (Alvarez, 2010) found that allowing students to discuss and write about their experiences and stresses was an important part of returning to school. This was not just done when schools first re-opened; students continued needing to revisit and reflect on their experiences over time. Free writing and oral storytelling were used as tools. Building a positive learning environment required finding reasons for celebration and positive incentives for learning. In this context, students had faced extreme trauma and to accommodate changes in their behaviour, once academic lessons resumed, lessons were kept to small increments with lots of repetitive practice and rehearsal. Teachers described these changes in adolescents’ behaviour as including difficulty in acquiring information and maintaining in-depth study, passivity, numbness to learning, being more prone to arguments and needing more affirmation. 

School-based trauma interventions such as the Cognitive Behavioural Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS) (Jaycox et al., 2018) have been found to be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD and depression and improving academic outcomes in a range of contexts (Kataoka et al., 2003; Stein et al., 2003; Jaycox et al., 2010; Kataoka et al., 2011). However, they are designed to be delivered by medical health professionals. A pilot study of its adaption for delivery by teachers in schools (Jaycox et al., 2009) has shown promising results but further research is needed to corroborate these initial findings.


Key takeaways:

  • Although there are some common behavioural patterns that appear in children exposed to trauma, responses to trauma can vary according to the context and the type of trauma experienced, as well as the individual characteristics of the child.
  • Teachers can use key strategies to create emotionally supportive and positive learning environments for children experiencing trauma.
  • Teachers may need to be aware of aspects of the classroom environment that can trigger trauma responses.


Further reading

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) (2008) Child trauma toolkit for educators. NCTSN 

Martin Baker and Mike Glanville, The Safeguarding Company



Safeguarding addresses a school’s fundamental responsibility to protect children from harm, prevent the impairment of their physical and mental health or development and take action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.  

Safeguarding as a practice was formalised in statutory guidance for educators in England partly as a result of the tragic death in 2012 of Daniel Pelka, a student at a small primary school in the West Midlands. Daniel died of an acute head injury after his mother and stepfather had systematically starved, neglected and abused him. The following year they were both convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Although this was a clear case of parental abuse, during the serious case review that followed Daniel’s killing it surfaced that staff at Daniel’s school had failed to identify the ‘signs and symptoms’ of abuse and had missed opportunities to intervene at an earlier stage (Holt, 2013). 

In 2014 the statutory guidance, ‘Keeping children safe in education’ (DfE, 2022) was introduced and applied to schools and colleges in England. Initially eight pages in length, the current version of the guidance runs to some 164 pages and specifically requires that ‘governing bodies and proprietors create a culture that safeguards and promotes the welfare of children in their school or college’. Despite the specific reference to ‘culture’, which is also frequently highlighted in other guidance documents and very often referred to in Ofsted inspections, the guidance itself does not define what it means by the term.

In this article we explore the meaning of a culture of safeguarding, the impact that culture has on safeguarding practice and the choices that individuals make when presented with difficult safeguarding issues. We examine the concept of ‘bystander theory’ and the psychological factors that influence people when deciding to report a concern or intervene in a safeguarding situation. In particular, we review the research relating to bullying and harassment, the reasons why students themselves fail to act in certain situations and importantly, what factors can lead to their engagement. The article concludes with a summary of the steps that school leaders can take to develop a strong culture of safeguarding and why it is so critical to effective practice in school.


What do we mean by culture?

Culture can be thought of as the fundamental (and often, strongly held) values and beliefs of an organisation, profession or group of people made visible in their attitudes, behaviours, communications and decisions.  A frequently used if over-simplified shorthand for describing what is meant by the word ‘culture’ has been expressed as ‘the ways things are done around here’.  A culture may be explicit, for example, through observable habits, symbols or objects, or implicit, in the form of underlying values or norms.

The desired culture of an organisation is often expressed in the ‘values’ it proclaims.  These values are communicated to staff, students and the wider community and the publication of organisational values on websites is now commonplace. However, the process by which these values were selected, consulted on and agreed (if they were), and whether they are lived is often much less clear.  

In attempting to define what we mean by the term ‘safeguarding culture’ Marcus Erooga (2009; 2012) identified the following key components:

  • An explicit safeguarding ethos with values and behaviours that are both articulated and lived at each level in the organisation
  • Clear policies and procedures which make clear to staff what is expected of them and facilitate the raising of concerns
  • Courageous management who are prepared to act appropriately on concerns and staff who are prepared to challenge and raise concerns
  • Children and young people have a voice and mechanisms for raising their concerns which are taken seriously.


In this explanation, Erooga emphasises the importance of a culture ‘which is articulated and lived at each level of the organisation’. This whole-organisation approach is a critical factor in the context of safeguarding and culture. In the school environment the engagement of everyone in the organisation (especially the students themselves) is essential given the incredibly broad range of safeguarding issues that schools are having to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  

Erooga also refers to ‘courageous management’ which is of course an important factor, but we would also add the word ‘leadership’ to that sentence. The role of leadership at all levels of the organisation has a significant impact on how culture develops. At the top of the organisation those responsible for governance and senior leadership have an important role to play in determining the vision and values and for ensuring that safeguarding forms an integral part of these approaches. In setting the right tone, it is essential that senior leaders model the attitudes and behaviours they expect to see from others and that the standards for safeguarding are very clearly articulated. However, this responsibility for leadership extends throughout the organisation given that any adult working and/or volunteering in a school is effectively in a position of trust with obvious responsibilities towards children in their care. 


Culture and peer groups in schools

The existence of peer groups or ‘teams within a team’ can have a powerful influence on attitudes and behaviours within a school and can be in conflict with the stated values of the organisation. This can act as a major barrier to the development of a positive safeguarding culture. Relationships between students can act as such a barrier in education. The testimonies that were posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website in 2021 and the subsequent Ofsted review (Ofsted, 2021) revealed significant levels of sexual harassment and violence between students that caused a deep sense of shock and outrage to many people. One of the main findings from the Ofsted review was that schools and colleges were unaware of the extent of abuse between students going on inside their organisation. In fact, only one school (out of a total of 39 that were reviewed) could produce any relevant data on sexual harassment despite its prevalence in each of the inspected schools. Students themselves described their reluctance to report sexual harassment, mainly due to their lack of trust in the process, and concerns about being accused of ‘snitching’ by their peers. 

This all points to considerable cultural barriers operating inside many schools which are heavily influenced by peer groups that can have a disproportionate impact on the reporting behaviour of students. The consequence of this is that schools have witnessed significant under-reporting and have not been in a position to identify potential risk and harm at an early stage and are therefore not able to support those students who need safeguarding. 

Of course, the complex nature of these issues is very much influenced by much wider societal issues relating to gender and other forms of discrimination that are deeply rooted in both families and communities and are well beyond the influence of educators alone. But that does not mean that the values of the organisation should not be clear or that these types of attitudes and behaviours go unchallenged. If anything, it creates the requirement for an even stronger approach to safeguarding practice and the culture that underpins it.  


The bystander effect in safeguarding

The thought processes that individuals may be going through when deciding to report a concern or to intervene in an incident about safeguarding can be illustrated by considering ‘the bystander effect’, sometimes known as ‘bystander apathy’.  The case most often used to illustrate this theory is the murder of Catherine ‘Kitty’ Genovese in Queens, New York in 1964, a crime that was reportedly witnessed by several of her neighbours who at the time failed to intervene or contact the police for help. While there were inaccuracies in how the case was reported, it prompted social psychologists Latané and Darley (1968) to find an explanation for the apparently irrational behaviour of Kitty’s neighbours and their research identified three different psychological processes that might prevent bystanders from helping a person in distress: 

  • Diffusion of responsibility  
    • The tendency to subjectively divide the personal responsibility to help by the number of bystanders present. Bystanders are less likely to intervene as the size of the group increases because they feel less personal responsibility.
  • Evaluation apprehension 
    • Fear of being publicly judged
  • Pluralistic ignorance 
    • The tendency to rely on the overt reactions of others when defining an ambiguous situation leading to inaction. 


Latané and Darley subsequently proposed a five-step decision model of helping, during each of which bystanders can decide to do nothing:

  • Notice the event (or be in a hurry and not notice)
  • Interpret the situation (or assume that as others are not acting, it does not require a response)
  • Assume responsibility (or assume that others will do this)
  • Know what to do (or not have the skills necessary to help)
  • Decide to help (or worry about danger, legislation, embarrassment, etc.).


Latané and Darley’s work on the bystander effect in the 1960s prompted a wealth of research on the decision making of individuals within groups and the norms and expectations that can prompt helping behaviours and courage (Sanderson, 2020). So, when we think about the willingness of school staff (and students themselves) to report safeguarding concerns, or to respond in the right way to a situation it is important to consider these psychological factors and how they can influence personal decision making. 

In the case of bullying and harassment, research shows that students are reluctant to report concerns through fear of being publicly judged as a ‘snitch’ (evaluation apprehension) and are unlikely to report incidents if they think other students are not willing to intervene or discourage the behaviour (pluralistic ignorance). For example, one study from York University (United States) found that 80 per cent of bullying incidents take place in the presence of at least four other children. However, in only 25 per cent of the cases did any of the students intervene to stop or discourage the bullying (O’Connell et al., 1999). A more recent study of over 5,000 students showed that ‘perceived social norms (about bullying) were a stronger predictor of intentions to intervene’ (Kubiszewski et al., 2019). In other words, students were much more likely to conform to the assumed values of the peer group rather than invite potential negative social consequences (such as rejection or criticism). 

On the other hand, if students believe that others are willing to report concerns there is evidence to suggest that the reporting of cases increases and students are more willing to intervene. There have been a number of studies undertaken to evaluate this important question. In one such study researchers ran a poster campaign in five middle schools (in New Jersey) to challenge mis-perceptions about bullying by students. The posters contained information about bullying incidents and what students themselves felt about the issue. The messaging made it very clear that the majority of students were against any form of bullying (95 per cent) and that 80 per cent of students think that a member of staff should be informed if someone else is being bullied. The campaign led to a significant reduction in bullying across the five schools with an estimated 35 per cent reduction in the school which had the highest level of student exposure to the posters (Perkins et al., 2011). This evidence demonstrates that challenging student perception and social norms within school can be an effective means for tackling behaviours such as bullying and has significant implications for safeguarding concerns, especially those that involve peer-on-peer abuse. 


Why is a culture of safeguarding so important? 

Ultimately, the safeguarding culture of an organisation not only determines how policy, procedure and practice is implemented but also creates the conditions which lead to greater confidence in the system and a willingness for individuals to be more open and transparent across the organisation. We have seen how cultural barriers and negative social norms can have the opposite effect. Those barriers create uncertainty, a lack of confidence in the organisation and a reluctance to share issues and report concerns, which can lead to serious problems (the kind of issues frequently highlighted in case reviews). People are less willing (or able) to participate in the system if they feel their concerns are not being taken seriously, that they might be judged for reporting issues or they have not been equipped with the skills and/or systems that enable them to contribute in the right way. 

Of course, one of the primary duties of educators is to protect students from abuse, harm and neglect – this is important in its own right as well as to support learning. More importantly, we know that when things go wrong in childhood or adolescence the damage can be lifelong, life-limiting and, in some cases, life-threatening and even life-ending. Developing a strong culture of safeguarding that is trusted, resilient and open to change supports this primary responsibility and duty of care towards students.


How can schools develop a strong culture of safeguarding?

Developing a culture of safeguarding is not a tick-box exercise that can be introduced overnight; it’s an approach that necessarily involves every member of the school community and can take time to implement successfully depending on the individual circumstances of the organisation (see Baker and Glanville, 2021). However, a good place to start is with the governance, leadership and management of the school given that the impetus for any cultural change in the organisation has to come from its leaders. In considering the key strategic issues the following is a summary of the steps that a school may want to implement in the development of its safeguarding culture: 

  • Consider commissioning a cultural review of the organisation to establish a benchmark
  • Undertake regular safeguarding surveys with all key stakeholders (especially students)
  • Establish the means for students to report concerns easily 
  • Identify the key safeguarding risks that impact your school and community
  • Set out a clearly articulated vision, values and objectives for safeguarding which is communicated to all stakeholders
  • Integrate safeguarding priorities into your school improvement plan
  • Review the roles and responsibilities of key members of staff 
  • Consider the role of students in supporting your safeguarding plans
  • Identify and map the key influencers and peer groups in your school community 
  • Promote the reporting of low-level concerns about colleagues, including self-referrals
  • Identify and publish the data that will indicate whether or not your safeguarding practice reflects your desired safeguarding culture.


In developing a strong safeguarding culture, the organisation is putting in place the essential ‘keystone’ to successful safeguarding practice and minimising the risk of serious and complex safeguarding cases from ever happening in the first place. By prioritising the culture of the organisation, schools are more likely to develop an open and transparent approach which builds confidence, facilitates positive engagement and promotes the sharing of concerns from everyone inside the setting. 


Note that the authors of this article are the CEO (Martin Baker) and Chief Safeguarding Officer (Mike Glanville) of The Safeguarding Company, an organisation that offers chargeable services and resources to schools. 

Teaching assistants have an important role to play in supporting children and adolescents with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This reading list provides general guidance and resources to support students with SEND in the classroom. There is also more specific support for the four broad areas of SEND including:

  • Communication and interaction needs e.g. Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC)
  • Cognition and learning needs e.g. dyslexia 
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties e.g. anxiety
  • Sensory or physical needs e.g. hearing impairment 


This reading list seeks to support teaching assistants to further their learning journey and improve their practice. However, the resources may also prove useful for school leaders, teachers, pastoral leads and SENDCos.


General guidance and resources:

  • This is the recently proposed SEND and Alternative Provision Review (2022). The report outlines a series of proposals to improve SEND provision in England. There is also an easy read version, a short video version or a SchoolsWeek article which summarises the proposals. This Twinkl article explains how the proposals may specifically impact the work of teaching assistants. 
  • Various organisations and experts in the field have responded to the proposals outlined in the most recent SEND review. Some responses and recommendations can be found here: Education Select Committee; NASEN; Ambitious about Autism; Council for Disabled Children
  • This Education Endowment Fund (EEF) offers insights in the latest evidence-base around Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools. It also provides a range of research-informed strategies to implement in different school settings. It also offers a range of additional tools to support professional development, planning and reflection. 
  • The National Association of Special Educational Needs (NASEN) publishes a monthly magazine called  'Connect' which you can access online for free. These monthly magazines will keep you up-to-date with the latest in SEND education.
  • NASEN also provides condition-specific videos to support students with a range of different additional needs.
  • Robert Webster’s, 'The Inclusion Illusion’ explores how students with SEND experience mainstream schools. 
  • In this blogpost, Rob Webster explores the link between fostering an inclusive environment and improving working conditions for teaching assistants.
  • In this 2021 report, Webster et al. shed light on the significant impact teaching assistants had on students (particularly those with SEND) during the pandemic. 
  • In this 2022 report, Hall and Webster shed light on the changing role of the teaching assistant post-pandemic. The report also explores the impact of the cost living crisis on teaching assistants. 
  • The Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH) provides a series of condition-specific webinars throughout the academic year for staff supporting students with a diverse range of additional needs.
  • The Special Needs Jungle is a parent-led platform that provides a range of articles, guidance and resources to keep up-to-date with the latest in SEND education.
  • The Down’s Syndrome Association hosted this webinar that discusses the concept of ‘Inclusive Education’, specifically focusing on the inclusion of children with SEND in the mainstream classroom.
  • In this blogpost , Dr Chandrika Devarakonda, Associate Professor at the University of Chester, discusses the importance of an intersectional approach when it comes to supporting students with SEND.
  • This Tes article highlights the importance of a whole-school approach to SEND provision. 
  • Subscribe to SEN’s free monthly newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest issues and guidance in SEND education. 
  • This Scope reading list provides a range of storybooks featuring disabled characters and/or directly addresses the experience of living with a disability. 
  • Twinkl provides free access to a teaching assistant’s digest which includes articles, resources and guidance relevant to the role. This article offers 10 top tips for supporting students with SEND in the mainstream classroom.
  • The Bell Foundation provides guidance and resources to support EAL students with SEND.


Communication and Interaction needs

Children and young people who fall into this area could have disorders that affect their ability to interact with others. This includes Speech and Language communication needs, Aspergers, Autism and individuals with developmental delays.

  • Reports produced by Ambitious about Autism provide an insight into the impact of the pandemic and exclusions on autistic children and young people. The charity also provides guidance and resources that explain common behaviours displayed by students with autism, alongside practical strategies to support them.
  • The National Autistic Society provides a selection of articles and opinion pieces written by professionals and autistic people who share their knowledge, research and advice for anyone working with autistic people. 
  • NASEN provides a comprehensive guide to support girls with autism spectrum conditions (ASC).  
  • The Makaton Charity provides free resources for teaching staff to support students who use Makaton as their main method of communication. They also provide teacher reflections of using Makaton in the classroom. 
  • This Twinkl article explains how teaching assistants can best support students who have a stammer.
  • ICAN provides a comprehensive guide to support students with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).


Cognition and Learning needs

Children and young people who fall into this area could have moderate, severe or profound learning disabilities. Dyslexia and Dyspraxia also fall into this area.

  • Twinkl provides a range of articles that support teaching assistants working with students with Down’s Syndrome. They explore how best to support students’ social, emotional and physical wellbeing, support students academically and give an insight into real life experiences
  • The Down’s Syndrome Association provides specific guidance for teaching assistants working with students who have learning disabilities. 
  • The British Dyslexia Association provides a wealth of resources for supporting dyslexic students. 
  • The British Dyslexia Association also provides resources for supporting students with dyscalculia. 
  • The Helen Arknell Dyslexia Charity provides a wealth of videos and resources to support dyslexic students in a range of settings.
  • The Driver Youth Trust provides a range of teaching resources to support students with dyslexia and other literacy difficulties.
  • The Dyspraxia Foundation provides tips for PE teachers when it comes to supporting students with dyspraxia.


Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) Difficulties

Children and young people requiring support in SEMH might have been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Attachment and Anxiety disorders, OCD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder or other behavioural disorders.

  • ACAMH host regular webinars to support professionals working with students with a range of SEMH needs. All events are centred around evidence-based research and hosted by leading experts in the field.
  • The Mentally Healthy Schools website brings together quality assured mental health information and advice for schools.
  • Headspace for Educators offers educators access to free mindfulness and meditation exercises and resources for every age group. 
  • Place2Be provides a range of support, guidance and resources  for teaching staff to improve children’s mental health in schools.
  • The Anna Freud National Association for Children and Families provides a wellbeing toolkit to support secondary teaching staff to improve students’ mental health and wellbeing.
  • The ADHD Foundation provides a wealth of articles and resources to support students with ADHD. 
  • This Twinkl article provides an insight into the various ways teaching assistants can support students with their mental health.
  • This article outlines the current context and provides practical advice and guidance to support students with SEMH difficulties.


Sensory or Physical Needs

This area includes children and young people with Hearing Impairments, Auditory Processing Disorder, Visual and Multi-Sensory Impairment (MSI) Impairments and General Physical Disabilities including Hypermobility and other medical needs.

  • The National Deaf Children’s Society provides a wealth of phase-specific resources to support students with hearing impairments. 
  • This Twinkl article provides top tips for teaching assistants when supporting students with hearing impairments.
  • The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have produced a series of podcasts with practical guidance to support children and young people with vision impairment. 
  • The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) provides free braille resources to support KS1 and KS2 students. 
  • Action Cerebral Palsy provides information and guidance for professionals working with students with cerebral palsy. 
  • This toolkit provides resources for teaching staff to support students with hypermobility.  

Dr Verity Jones, Dr Chris Pawson, Dr Tessa Podpadec, Luci Gorell Barnes, Dr Sarah Whitehouse, Justin Vafadari

University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

This case study relates to research with 9-11 year olds. The project was funded by the mental health charity, Emerging Minds, and had ethical clearance from the University of the West of England’s (UWE) Ethics Committee. The interdisciplinary team of researchers sought to explore young people’s experience of racism and its impact on mental health in order to develop and inform teacher training programmes. This case study draws out evidence from the larger project to highlight how racism (considered here as a form of bullying) resulted in feelings of loneliness and impacted mental health and wellbeing.

The context

Racial inequality is embedded in the UK’s education system, with incidents of racist bullying being widespread across schools (Joseph-Salisbury, 2020). However, young people’s experiences of racism in the UK are most commonly reported in research with pupils at secondary school age and above (12+ years). The impact of racism on younger children’s mental health and wellbeing has been consistently overlooked in research in the UK.

There are a number of ways in which experiences of racism might impact primary school children’s mental health. Our research was focused on how experiences of witnessing or being the target of prejudice and discrimination might be distressing, and how these experiences and exposure to institutional racism might impact a child’s longer-term view of themselves and the world around them. We were keen to understand how racism might have shaped children’s identities and beliefs about their self-worth, as well as how negative social interactions might shape how they interpret future interactions and what they come to expect of people around them.

This project worked with young people in three inner city schools in Bristol. All participants in focus groups bar one identified as being black, Asian or belonging to another ethnic minority. The research team were predominantly white and welcomed the expertise of an advisory group from the community to inform practice and analysis of data.

The approach

The project used a creative, arts-based approach that allowed young people to reflect on their own lived experiences of racism in their own way. The activity was open ended in that the children were not asked to reach any sort of consensus or solution.

Each class of around 30 learners took part in a 45 minute workshop led by a socially engaged artist. A definition of racism and a ‘feelings’ word bank were co-created with the young people before introducing the idea of body mapping. Here, children used large pieces of paper and drew around each other to create a life-size outline of themselves. Once the children had their outline to work with, the team supported them to think about how external events around racism made them feel inside, recording these in the parts of their body outline where they experienced the feelings. The groups were encouraged to choose notation they felt happy with, including: images, symbols, words, emojis and colour coding, to show external forces, internal impacts and their different emotions. Young people were prompted to think about different kinds of racism, giving examples of covert racism, and uncomfortable situations in which they might be unsure if the event was racist or not. Children were asked if they felt comfortable to discuss racism with a white person, and with whom they would choose from their own lives to discuss their distress about racism. The maps acted as a space through which ideas could be articulated and understood. At the end of the session, children were invited to share their thoughts and ideas with each other. Workshops were observed by members of the research team. Following the workshop, groups of six to eight children took part in focus group discussions to reflect on their experiences, and teachers were interviewed.


Children recognised that racism was a form of bullying. As participants commented:

  • When you have a different colour to someone they will bully you because of it

  • It’s as if white people are loved more

This feeling of being different from others was experienced in multiple contexts and with multiple groups. The children talked about experiencing racism at home, when out and about and in school. They experienced racism from within their family, between friends and from strangers, known adults (including teachers) and children:

  • From my Dad’s family, they kind of just didn’t want to see me because I was mixed

  • It was when I was outside. One of them [white] people just said N word to me

  • A girl in my class said that my skin colour was like mud

Children would often comment that they weren’t sure if what they were experiencing was racism, but they recognised that what was going on made them experience a host of emotions including feeling uncomfortable, sad, anxious and angry.

Children commented that the way in which children and adults talked to them made them feel like they didn’t fit in and so they had to make changes. These changes included the way they did their hair, what they ate and what clothes they wore. Changes to presentation of self were made to fit in with the predominant white culture:

  • Some people in my old school and sometimes teachers, they wouldn't make fun of me for it, but they would make comments that made me feel quite like unproud of my hair. And so I had to start plaiting it and making it a bit smaller

  • I had to start doing my hair a different way because I used to wear like, a giant bun up here when it was out. And then I used to get made fun of it. And they used to like take it out and everything

  • When I go to my old school I wouldn’t, I really wanted to wear my turban. But my parents would say don't wear your turban because people might make more fun

Similarly, children spoke of feeling uneasy in certain places due to the way in which people treated them on the basis of their colour. This included the local shops, routes to school and the park:

  • I feel uneasy about going out and knowing that your kind is getting like targeted by other people because of your race, culture or religion

  • Some people might not like you or your kind. So you have to be like, more aware

In interviews with teachers racist bullying was often framed as perpetrators did not have knowledge to do otherwise. By framing the perpetrator as being ‘only’ a child without the knowledge or awareness required to act differently diminished the significance of the perceived racism. As teachers commented:

  • Because they are after all children, and they're still learning about the world

  • The child doesn't know what it means

Teachers were also found to sometimes discount children’s perspectives of a racial incident:

  • When he becomes upset there’s no racial component to it. He will complain of feeling excluded from things

Children indicated that they felt the response to racist incidents in school was often not appropriate:

  • At my old school, whenever I got bullied, like seriously, the head teacher would just do an assembly and wouldn’t do something like suspend, just give them a reflection or something. And I felt really angry about that

How do children cope with racism?

The study found that children often isolated themselves as a result of racism. They frequently talked about how they would not tell teachers about incidents:

  • I don’t feel comfortable saying it, cause sometimes I think of something and then I’ll regret it, so I don’t really like saying things out loud

  • I just keep it all in there… I don’t like saying about stuff

This appeared to be driven by concerns that an adult’s response is often undesirable:

  • Sometimes we’ll do lessons on like how you’re feeling, some people like to lie so the teachers don’t make a big deal out of it

  • I won’t tell the teacher because I feel like the teacher will go and tell all the other teachers in your year group and your parents

  • In my opinion, adults say, oh, talk to an adult if you like feel upset. I think, to be honest it’s more uncomfortable talking to an adult because like you feel scared of what they’re going to say, of what their opinion is

Children’s strategies to cope alone

Children indicated that they possessed a range of coping strategies, many of which were entirely independent of engagement with others or sharing their experiences (NB: Unfortunately, some are likely to result in contributing to the opacity of their experiences):

  • Screaming into a pillow – when I’m around people I wouldn’t want to show my anger. Then when I go home then I’m in bed and lay it all out

  • If I write it on a piece of paper then most many people can’t hear it

  • I live in a flat, I have this stool. And I take a cup of water, I go and kneel on my stool, I look out of the window cos it’s like a really nice view, and I drink my water as I do that and I found that really calm

  • I would close my door and try and lock it and then just like go under the covers and just have my own time for a while

  • I just read the Quran, just you feel calm, just the copy I have, and I just sit in my bedroom

  • Video games… I play a lot, to the point that I forget my surroundings and just focus on my game to the point where it’s bedtime

  • Drawing, sketching, anime, and things like that. It makes me feel happy and safe with my own characters

  • I just take my dog on a walk


We found evidence of psychological impact arising from experiences of racism among children. The children we spoke to were acutely aware of the prevalence of racism around them. With this in mind, it was unsurprising that children talked about anxiety and a need for vigilance, as well as a certain helplessness: responses that teachers were apparently unaware of. This helplessness is potentially exacerbated by what appeared to be children’s perception that responses to racism were often absent, unclear, or ineffective. We recommend that schools should:

  • acknowledge that there are multiple experiences of racism at a range of levels and that these can be triggered by local, national and international events
  • acknowledge that children’s experiences of racism are not always disclosed, but do have a psychological impact
  • provide ongoing explicit training for powerful and emotive discussions with children about racism
  • revisit the theme of racism regularly throughout the school year and not as a reactive measure to an incident in school or the media
  • acknowledge that despite the sensitive nature of discussions about racism, these discussions can be very powerful for children, and children welcome it
  • ensure that teachers recognise their positionality and journey towards allyship.

Recommended reading

More information can be found on the project's website, where a full report of the above will soon be available.

Reports by the Runnymede Trust 

In the following video case study, Helen Clarke, who runs a consultancy providing autism training to schools and organisations, discusses some common causes of anxiety for pupils with autism and outlines some steps that schools and teachers can take to avoid or address them.

The video is divided in to the following sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Minimising unfamiliarity
  3. Supporting communication methods
  4. Avoiding information overload
  5. Supporting pupils to express thoughts and feelings
  6. Implementing structure and routine to learning materials and the classroom environment
  7. Adapting the school environment to prevent sensory overload
  8. Reviewing and adjusting teacher expectations
  9. Coping with phobias
  10. Final thoughts


You can jump to each section by using the toolbar on the video.