Relationships and belonging
The relationships in a child or young person’s life are very important to their wellbeing and development. In a school setting, this means that their relationships with school staff, and with each other, should be nurtured and supported.
Schools should ensure that children and young people feel that they belong to, and are a valued part of, a school community. Students should feel that their relationships with the adults in the school are positive, consistent, and based on trust and mutual respect.
Schools should also help children and young people develop healthy relationships with their peers – through good quality relationship education, an effective whole-school bullying policy, and through peer support programmes.
Belonging to a school community
Generally, for a child to flourish and achieve in school they need to feel that they belong and are a valued part of the school community.
We are still exploring exactly which parts of ‘belonging’ to a school make a difference to children and young people’s progress, but we know they include:
- Positive, consistent relationships with staff: where children and young people believe that adults in the school care about their learning and about them as a person. They feel accepted by and able to talk to staff.
- Peer relationships: children and young people feel accepted and included by other pupils – and the school has low levels of bullying and conflict.
- School engagement: children and young people feel committed to and actively participate in their learning.
- Respectful and nurturing environment: the school generates a sense of community(drawing together parents, children, school staff, outside agencies) and creating a respectful, tolerant, safe environment backed up by authentic concern for pupils and families.
- Feeling listened to: children and young people feel they can voice worries and that their voice matters about what happens in the school.
Creating an environment in which children and young people feel they belong, feel valued and feel cared for is a whole-school responsibility driven by senior staff. It includes, for example, leadership and policies, but also involves all members of staff using their relationships to build that sense of belonging through every interaction.
Positive relationships in the classroom/school that are built on trust, kindness, safety and security are an important tool for change, linked not only to better child wellbeing but also to better educational performance.
All education settings should have a behaviour policy in place that focuses on preventing all forms of bullying among pupils. It can also be helpful to involve parents in designing these policies. Find out more about bullying and designing an effective anti-bullying policy.
The relationships that children and young people have with their peers are very significant to their development. Research has shown that children who have poor peer relationships might become more vulnerable to emotional problems and social adjustment as they grow up.
One way that schools can support the development of healthy peer relationships is through the teaching of good quality relationship education – through RSHE, Health and Wellbeing, etc. All four UK nations have a focus on helping pupils developing healthy relationships in their curricula, in both primary and secondary education.
For younger children, this generally involves teaching about:
- The characteristics of positive and healthy friendships and relationships
- How to recognise if a relationship is unhealthy
- Types of bullying and how to seek help
- Developing strategies to resolve conflict
For older students, this will also involve teaching about:
- Consent and respecting the boundaries of others
- Sexual relationships and sexual health
If children or young people show significant and ongoing problems with their relationships, discuss this with your pastoral lead and additional learning needs lead to problem-solve what might help. When a child or young person continues to struggle, it can be helpful for parents and staff to discuss how they might work together to help them learn good relationship-based skills.
Peer support programmes
Many children and young people find it easier to talk to their peers first, before they talk to others such as family members or professionals. As a result, there has been an increased drive to develop peer-based initiatives, particularly programmes that focus on accessing help and mental health support earlier.
Education settings are an ideal place to facilitate a peer support group. Peer Support is an umbrella term to encompass an array of interventions and approaches that may be offered across different settings. These might include peer tutoring, peer coaching, peer listening, peer mentoring, peer mediation, peer counselling, befriending and buddying.
Find out more about peer support, and develop your own peer support programme, with this tool from the Anna Freud Centre.