Sir John Timpson: why understanding trauma and attachment is so important

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Category: Blog

Sir John Timpson led an online webinar on 27 June 2018. He explained his personal experiences with his late wife Alex of fostering 90 children and adopting two and their lightbulb moment when attachment was explained to them and they came across the work of Dan Hughes. This helped them understand some of the more challenging behaviours they encountered. Since then, John has helped a primary school where he chaired the governors develop from an Ofsted ‘special measures’ rating to ‘outstanding’, he has written books for foster carers, teachers, social workers and young people about attachment and most recently has been working with Virtual School Heads to encourage more schools to commit to becoming attachment-aware.

John’s 5 principles for schools working on attachment and trauma

Developing a national evidence base on effects of attachment and trauma training in schools

The Alex Timpson Trust is funding the Rees Centre to develop a national evidence base on the effects of attachment and trauma training in schools. Around 22 local authorities have signed up so far with over 100 schools. The Alex Timpson Attachment and Trauma Programme in Schools.


Judy Sebba and Helen Trivedi from the Rees Centre joined John for the interactive part of the session with more than 60 webinar participants, including school staff, practitioners, foster carers and adoptive parents.

Discussion covered the following areas:

Transitions between year groups lead to pupils experiencing new teachers. This is an additional challenge for pupils. If the attachment and trauma training for staff includes whole staff training then pupils are more likely to experience a consistent approach by staff across the school which can support pupils with the rest of the changes they experience through transition e.g. new classrooms to find, new subjects to learn.

Barriers to teachers teaching in an attachment aware way – There’s very little about any relational work in teacher training. This lack of skillset and awareness around these issues mean that teachers are poorly equipped and only have behaviour management systems to fall back on.

Some initial teacher education programmes (ITE) such as Bath Spa University, UCL and University of Oxford do include modules addressing attachment and trauma. Attachment awareness is now part of the core framework for initial teacher training, we need to make sure that all ITE programmes do this. Some Virtual Schools include this training with their trainee teachers e.g. Doncaster’s Virtual School offers a day to all ITE trainees in Doncaster schools.

While increasing the awareness of attachment and trauma issues among individual teachers is important, the commitment of senior leaders, particularly the head, is as John suggested, crucial. If there is not full buy in from the head teacher, individual class teachers in schools can address attachment and trauma issues sensitively with individual pupils but as soon as those children are in contact with other staff in the school, this effective work may be challenged.

Attachment and trauma awareness impacts on all pupils, not just those in care. Schools engage better when they realise this has application to a wide range of pupils. Incorporating an understanding of attachment and trauma in to lessons is possible e.g. discussion around how footballers feel when taking a penalty can lead to a discussion around bodily responses to stress, and then effective strategies for coping with stress. Discussions can also sensitively highlight how everybody’s perception of stress is different, and our thresholds differ. Eventually, this moves to supporting pupils to understand why different pupils react differently to events in school, and why teacher responses may vary accordingly. John also suggested supporting parents and carers to understand the school’s way of working in this approach, to help them understand why there might be perceived differences in how staff respond to children’s’ behaviour.

Zero tolerance behaviour policies were noted not to work for pupils with attachment and trauma needs. It was suggested that zero tolerance drives exclusions up, and to some extent is designed to ‘get rid of’ the problematic students.

Finally, it was concluded that there is an opportunity right now to promote this work since there is strong national concern for the mental health of young people – The Prince’s Trust is very committed to promoting good mental health.