30 Jan

A model for best practice in schools


Client: A group of English secondary schools.

Licensee: Relational Schools.

Relational Schools works to put relationships at the core of school life. The starting point is a belief that supportive relationships between all members of a school are fundamental. Strong, secure, relationships can surmount social inequality, whereas weak or fragile relationships reinforce educational disadvantage.

Many studies support the assertion that the quality of relationships in schools matter. This has enormous implications for structuring classroom environments. Children cannot learn if they are frightened, unhappy or feel that they don’t belong. In addition, problems that remain into adolescence often last into adulthood. Students with insecure attachments in the home tend to experience dysfunctional and insecure relationships with staff. So if teachers can “disconfirm” historical insecurities then those students will fare better socially, emotionally and academically.

Until now, the inability to measure relationships has been a major barrier in persuading schools and government to engage with relationships as a policy imperative. Relational Schools, however, has been working with a number of secondary schools across England to exploit Relational Audit methodology to achieve a formal, structured analysis that is unique in the field.

The study

In a pilot study, most of the schools were either situated in areas of high material deprivation or drew much of their intake from materially deprived communities. It also focused on schools whose leadership team emphasized a Relational approach to issues such as class size, curriculum design and enrichment entitlement, with relationships acting as a driving imperative. Over 2,000 student-to-student relationships were assessed, as well as a large number of student-to-teacher relationships.

Main findings

Early findings suggested that traditional pastoral structures in the United Kingdom tend to lead to fragmented relationships that become more fragmented as children progress through school. By the time they reach Year 11, the key domain of concern is Commonality: their shared goals, their shared values were so weak that there was no sense of community or fraternity.

By contrast, the more Relational schools were remarkable in revealing the benefits of a Relational focus, as well as the potential to improve more dysfunctional relationships through a range of targeted interventions. For example, students in the schools that were intentional about relationship building:

  • Had a perception of being known and valued.
  • Made more progress than predicted based on their socio-economic context.
  • Reported feeling respected and feeling equal.
  • Were happier and healthier than their counterparts in the other schools and had less time off school.
  • Experienced declining levels of bullying as they progressed through the year groups.

Bullying is a significant indicator of wellbeing. An estimated half a million 10- and 12-year-olds are physically bullied at school, according to a recent study by the Children’s Society, which found that children in England were unhappier with their school experience than their peers in 11 other countries, including Ethiopia and Algeria.

In one case a school, described as a “family” by students, was considered by social services as the best environment in the region for looked-after children. This last point is tangible evidence which demonstrates the impact of Relational systems and processes at school level.