Case study: A focus on connection, care and confidence

Written by: Marie Beale | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A sense of family and inclusion has been created at Whitefield Primary School via the use of its core values of care, connection, and confidence. Marie Beale explains

“We value each child for who they are and prepare them for who they can be.” This is a mission statement that is central to Whitefield Primary School.

To provide a whole-school environment that supports every child, different strategies must be developed to allow everyone, whatever their need, to flourish.

If inclusion is at the heart of your vision, then everything you do must be underpinned by that practice – systems, policies, leadership approaches, management of resources... Your culture must be built from that foundation.

Whitefield strives to create a sense of “family” by focusing on three hooks that underpin our school values – build care, connection and confidence.

We follow the No Outsiders curriculum and use this and our values to build a narrative with the children that we are the Whitefield family – there are no outsiders in our school, everyone is welcome.

We have built this family and believe others can too by following five simple steps:

1, Invest in a solid team

This will give staff the ability to tailor their approach according to the needs of their pupils. With strong recruitment and training, ensuring new teachers are supported and work closely with experienced teachers, as well as regular staff development meetings, all staff will have the opportunity to set out different roles and responsibilities.

They will see that catering for all children’s needs is a team effort, that they can ask for advice, discuss any strategies that aren’t working, and highlight what resources or training is needed.


This has led us to change our performance management structures, building short-term Personal Growth Plans based on a teacher’s reflection and self-evaluation, explored through a coaching model.

This approach helps us to highlight “Plus Ones” which we can implement and review. Plus Ones is a concept created by teaching and leadership expert Mark Burns – @learnimperative – and come when we have professional learning that actually improves performance sustainably over time, enabling teachers and leaders to progressively go plus one” (see further information).

Informed by the great work of Chris Moyse – @ChrisMoyse, #ImproveNotProve – these impact both the progress of children and the development of staff.

Alongside this we have trained our ECT (early career teacher) mentors to use a similar coaching model. The ECTs work on their Plus Ones over a few weeks with experienced staff and are supported by whole-school training. Our coaches are constantly supported via coaching conversations with an external expert, too.

2, Establish a calm school environment

Ensure wherever possible that your environment is planned to maximise a sense of calm, clarity and low sensory arousal. Any routines are set out carefully and visually, and all staff trained to communicate and listen, seeking to enable children to access whole-class teaching with their peers as well as appropriate support as much as possible.


Clear and consistent expectations are set for classrooms and spaces across the school. This helps our neurodiverse children to feel safe and secure wherever they are in school and eases the impact of transition.

We have printed core classroom visuals which are clear and consistently sized. Laminated materials are minimised, and matt laminate used to reduce glare and sensory overload.

We have been fortunate this year to develop our year 6 classrooms into therapeutic classrooms with Shahana Knight, who has written about this approach previously in Headteacher Update (Knight, 2018). This has hugely supported our children and we will roll this out across the school over time.

3, Review your systems and know your children

Consider all your pupils’ strengths and what support they need. Don’t approach this from a deficit model looking at difficulties alone, build a “pyramid of need” which looks at a child’s attendance, home context, progress, wellbeing and SEN.

Think about systems that help collate and share information, internally and externally with professionals who your students may be working with. Together with regular staff meetings this will allow you to look at change at both the level of an individual child and strategically across the school.


We have been building on leadership training from The Difference to build a cohesive, tiered inclusion framework across learning needs, safeguarding, mental health and wellbeing, and family support. This is set out in three tiers:

  • Our offer for all children.
  • Our offer for those with defined needs or circumstances.
  • Our offer for those at the highest levels of need.

This framework gives a shared language and expectation to all involved with children and enables us to target support appropriately.

This has also involved thinking outside the box in terms of staffing and recruitment. We have recruited two specialist staff working at HLTA level who are therapeutically trained and hugely experienced in SEN practice. They are deployed in a flexible way across the school to give specific support to children, but also to “operationalise” Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and reports from professionals working with staff in classrooms to put into practice their recommendations in a practical way.

They can observe children in classroom situations and make small changes which increase inclusion. This has proven to be a preventative model, reducing the number of children who struggle and enabling early identification of needs, allowing us to implement support effectively and efficiently.

4, Focus on equity

This is fundamentally important – ensure all children are supported and build a culture where everyone gets what they need, not the same offer!


A few years ago, staff would have said that some children would challenge the provision given to others, questioning “why can’t I have that?”.

In fact, we have found that by teaching the children through our PSHE curriculum that everyone needs support in different ways, they now accept it is equitable and see those adjustments positively.

We have also found that by putting provision in place, other children who are finding the same thing difficult have also been identified and are then able to access that support themselves.

Staff training is key to ensure everyone in the classroom understands that our base offer of teaching can be designed to support all learners. For example, using the daily lesson visual timetables, which are clearly established in all classes and used consistently, means that all children develop their metacognition, and the use of sentence stems helps children with a poverty of language or working memory issues.

The use of technology is important too. All children at Whitefield are taught to use different technology functions such as screen readers and dictation.

5, Don’t forget attachment and trauma

Research earlier this year revealed that 84% of teachers reported “challenging family circumstances” as a safeguarding issue for pupils, while 41% have witnessed increased anxiety for pupils around mental health (Pearson, 2022).

As such, it is vital to ensure no assumptions are made. It is vital to remember trauma-informed practice to support all staff, families and children who may have a background of adverse childhood experiences.


Staff training again! All staff need to be aware of the challenges our children face from their life experiences or context and the impact that can have.

Our most vulnerable children often choose who their important adult is, so everyone needs to understand how to support them through a trauma-informed lens. We make this clear to staff in recruitment practices too – staff need to be comfortable and committed about this ethos.

We have completed the bronze, silver and gold Attachment and Trauma Sensitive Schools Award which has supported us in that journey.

Core to this approach is the ability to support staff by thinking through difficult situations with them, reviewing when things go badly and focusing on the child’s needs. Our skilled HLTAs can do that proactively as well as the leadership team.

This practice must be underpinned by a clear behaviour (or relationships) policy which provides staff with systems and skilled adult support to implement them. Some also think that trauma-informed means anything goes, in fact it recognises that high expectations and clear consistent practice enables children to feel safe and supported.


Ultimately the child must sit at the centre of everything we consider in terms of inclusive practice. Professor Barry Carpenter summarises this as a key consideration in his book Enabling Access (1996).

“Central to this debate (what inclusive education looks like) should be the rights of the child as a learner. How do we design learning environments and learning activities that will ensure that each child is an active participant in the learning process and not a bystander, a peripheral participant, watching the activity of others? How can we support families, teachers, and professionals to include those learners in all aspects of the curriculum to achieve this goal?”

Maintaining excellent inclusion requires constant review and reflection of practice – what are we doing, why, what are the impacts? It is an on-going journey for us and the children.

  • Marie Beale is deputy headteacher and SENCO at Whitefield Primary School in Liverpool.

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