Is the culture fostered by the school leadership team the most important intervention a child can receive?

Is the culture fostered by the school leadership team the most important intervention a child can receive?

What if…

Lily receives excellent support from a school that is genuinely inclusive at heart.

I can’t help but wonder, what if?  What if, from an early age, Peter had been offered the type of support, within the same sort of school culture, that Lily receives now.

You see, Lily is believed.  

Everything stems from this along with the inclusive culture that is fostered by the senior leadership team and seems to be pervasive throughout every part of the school she attends.

It seems to me, that the best, most specified and well funded, EHCP will not lead to the most effective support for a child if these two aspects of a school culture aren’t in place.  You can’t ‘make’ people want to do the right thing for a child.

Lily is believed and nurtured in her school.  It’s a relatively big school.  It’s not in any sort of special or privileged area.  They have a slightly higher proportion of children with SEND, I believe.

It’s not just Lily.  Weekly, she tells stories of the support that she sees other children receive – actually, not always direct support now I think about it, but accommodation.  Those that struggle to join in on school’s terms are facilitated to join in on their terms.  She tells stories about their alternative ways of contributing being welcomed and valued.  She tells me of nurture and activity groups… of fun, kindness and acceptance, I could go on.

For both my children, seeing how other children are treated matters, I have discovered.

From a very young age, Peter would watch carefully to see how other children with a difference were treated.  When he saw that their difference was not valued he resolved to mask his difficulties better and to work harder to blend in.  This was, of course, damaging.  When he saw fiddle toys removed from children that needed them he knew not to try this strategy for himself.  It was an effective way for the school to ensure he wouldn’t access help, so then, of course, they could justify not offering it with “He doesn’t want to be treated differently”.  The pervasive culture in his school was, that to be different like him should not be ‘allowed’.  In fact, at least one of his teachers would wax lyrical about how he shouldn’t be ‘allowed to feel different’.

There was so much I wanted to say in response but I knew it would have been futile.

From a school point of view, their approach worked.  “He doesn’t want to be seen as different” became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Peter worked relentlessly to blend in.  This was handy for the school who could report ‘fine in school’.  That old chestnut, that led to “We don’t see it in school, it must be mum.”   Peter knew that it would not be OK to ‘be different’ in those two schools.  The pressure of concealing his difference and his anxiety eventually became untenable and to quote his psychiatrist, “being pressured against his ability to withstand stress” broke him.

So what if?

What if he was believed from a young age.  What if he went to a school where differences were celebrated and individuals were valued for who they actually were?  What if he had felt that most of his teachers understood him well and he had a couple of trusted adults that he could turn to during the school day?  What if he could have had some small accommodations and felt that it was ok to accept them – that it was no big deal to need a slightly different timetable.  What if he had never felt the need to blend in with the other children or to mask his anxiety?


I think I am learning to trust Lily’s school.  It’s hard to trust again, but the evidence that she is cared about, as well as taught with a high standard of teaching, is relentless and cannot be ignored!  It’s so good to see that it really can happen that way.

In my opinion, for many of our children, being believed and understood is the most important intervention.  Without this foundation, opportunities for effective support will be missed, assessments will lack the depth they could otherwise achieve and strategies implemented will never be as effective as they could be.  In my opinion, if the culture of the school does not encourage and value diversity of all kinds, if leaders don’t role-model and enable all staff to value and embrace difference, then the staff will not be able to do their best for all the children they are responsible for.

It feels good to know that it can happen in some schools.  I hope that the voice, experience and expertise of these schools will be heard as loud as the sensationalist headlines about the ‘no excuses approach’ are.  That the evidence of supportive and restorative work will take priority over click bait and headline-grabbing lazy journalism…

  • If you think that your child is in a school like Peter’s primary schools then you may want to read my thoughts here.
  • My recommendations to service leaders and commissioners are here.

7 thoughts on “Is the culture fostered by the school leadership team the most important intervention a child can receive?

  1. What If? A question I seem to ask daily. We’ve experienced both in the same school but thankful we now have a team willing to work together with us and each other. The culture of the school can change with personnel so just hoping ours stay for a long time yet!


    1. fingers crossed 🙂 Same here. New senior team have made an incredible difference it seems but thankfully many of the existing teachers at this school were already brilliant. It seems they are able to do more with a different SLT and also, they seem so happy which is lovley​ 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My son is so desperate to conform it really is heart breaking. I often wish I had pushed more when he was reallly young to get things in place then. He’s in Y6, and we are counting down the weeks until he leaves, because they say he’s fine in school. The energy required to keep the mask is so immense and yet he continues, sometimes completely breaking down in the evening. He’s got a poorly chest this week, but one of his self enforced rules is he can’t let himself cough. And he hasn’t. And this is what it’s like at school the suppression of his natural behaviour either because he is keeping to his own rules or doesn’t feel comfortable being himself. It’s so very sad.


  3. I think “what if..” too – what if she had been supported to be herself and felt accepted; what if the personnel i spoke with had responded differently; what if the counsellor i fought for had picked up on her need to belong and understood the consequences further down the line if this didn’t happen. i am so pleased you wrote about P’s observation of the treatment of others and how this impacts on his own decision making. Professionals do not credit them with this amount of awareness. This is one of my major concerns in seeking a new school for daughter who has been out of the system for 2y with mental health concerns (autistic burnout from unknown autism). The ‘process’ does not take into account the highly perceptive and highly sensitive nature of these empathetic children. Carry on reflecting, I cannot imagine the pain you have to work through. I could weep an ocean but am too exhausted to shed one tear. You are like me, one foot in both worlds in terms of our individual children’s schooling and mental health. It sometimes throws my sensibilities into chaos! Learning to trust the school of our other child is indeed a cautious journey too. Ours also seems to be doing a much better job. And on we go…

    Liked by 1 person

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