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Attachment Awareness – Bath Spa University

Attachment Awareness and Emotion Coaching

Promoting well-being and positive learning outcomes for children in schools, the Attachment Awareness and Emotion Coaching project has worked with over 100 schools in Bath and North East Somerset.

The Attachment Aware Schools project includes:

  • A website – cited in a number of government policy documents
  • An annual national networking conference held at Newton Park
  • A local action research project with B&NES council
  • An emotion coaching project across the whole of Somerset, funded by Public Health
  • A local evaluation project with Brighter Futures, Bath
  • A national research evaluation programme with up to 8 virtual schools
  • Maintaining local and national networks of contacts in the statutory, schools, HE and voluntary sectors
  • Work with schools, Teach First and other ITE providers to influence initial teacher education programmes
  • Contributing to national policy and international forums on mental and emotional health, attachment awareness and behaviour management in schools

Project Goals

Learning Outcomes

To promote positive learning outcomes and well-being for all children, whilst supporting the needs of children who have unmet attachment needs and those who have experienced trauma and neglect.

Provision for Schools

To provide schools with new approaches to managing and responding to children’s emotional and behavioural needs, and help all children to understand and regulate their own behaviour.


To implement whole school approaches and facilitate more targeted interventions to meet a spectrum of need.


The emotion coaching project was inspired by a desire to investigate how a common approach to children and young people in an area of relative deprivation could contribute to improved well-being and outcomes. This we linked with our In Care, In School project, where young people in care and care leavers told us that a more empathetic approach in schools would help them, while our colleagues in B&NES Early Years team were concerned that even Reception classes were not recognising and responding to unmet attachment needs. We realised that our research methodology for emotion coaching could provide a sustainable approach for developing attachment awareness across all schools, while enabling us to secure evidence as to the longer-term implications.

Subsequent national reports such as the Health Select Committee in November 2014 and the Department of Health Future in Mind Report in March 2015 have pointed to the importance of addressing mental and emotional well-being issues in schools, while in November 2015 the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) report on children's attachment, to which Bath Spa was a major contributor, made a specific recommendation that research be undertaken into effective school based strategies. We are currently working with a number of partner organisations to submit a major funding bid to implement this.

Outputs, Outcomes, Impact

Academic Achievement

Among schools that participated in the programme, there were significant improvements in academic achievement (including reading and writing) between Time 1 (end of terms 1-2, 2014) and Time 2 (end of terms 3-5, 2015)

Attainment Gap

There was an accompanying decrease in pupils not meeting expected levels of attainment signifying how such approaches can lower the attainment gap

Behavioural Indices

In terms of the impact on pupils regarding the behavioural indices, there was a significant decrease in sanctions (lessons and incidents) observed between Time 1 and Time 2


In terms of the impact on the children regarding other behavioural indices, there was a significant decrease between Time 1 and Time 2 in sanctions (lessons and incidents)

Strengths and Difficulties (SDQ)

The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) which was used to assess strengths and difficulties experienced by a child revealed a statistically significant reduction in symptoms (overall difficulties)

Positive Impact

Overall, 97% of professionals agreed or agreed sometimes that Attachment Aware Schools training and the strategies impacted positively on their professional practice, 95% agreed or agreed that sometimes it impacted positively on adult self-regulation, 99% agreed or agreed that sometimes it impacted positively on pupils’ behaviour

Professional Practice

There was a positive impact on professional practice through the improved consistency in using attachment aware strategies like emotion coaching, through staff becoming more aware of pupils’ emotions, through improved understanding of the reasons behind pupils’ behaviour and their underlying needs, through staff looking for issues that may initiate poor behaviours, and through staff having practical behavioural strategies to support pupils, which  provided them with a clear structure for behaviour management


There was a positive impact on adult self-regulation as staff were better able to cope with challenging behaviours, they had increased empathy and understanding, as well as more confidence in tackling difficult behaviours, and their relationships with each other, with parents and with pupils improved

Pupils' Behaviour

There was a positive impact on pupils’ behaviour as the strategies helped pupils have a better understanding of their own emotions and they were more able to control their emotions and subsequent behaviours, leading to improved behaviour; and they improved their ability to problem solve and had better relationships with staff

Improved Environment

An Attachment Aware Schools audit revealed that participating schools improved their professional knowledge, competence and team work; created an improved attachment aware environment and direct support for adults and children; and increased the awareness and practice of senior leadership between Time 1 and Time 2

Vulnerable Pupils

Case study examples and vignettes indicate significant improvements in vulnerable pupils’ behaviour, attainment and ability to self-regulate


The first emotion coaching project (2010 to 2011) was a collaboration between the University, local schools and services (including the police, youth and children's centres) and the Melksham Community Area Board. This was followed in 2012 with a collaboration, also involving local schools and services, with Royal Wootton Bassett Community Area Board.

The original Attachment Aware Schools project, from 2013, was a collaboration with Bath and North East Somerset Council, Kate Cairns Associates (a private sector training organisation) and Fosse Way Teaching School Alliance. Training materials for national distribution were commissioned by the National college for teaching and Leadership in 2013/14.

Since 2013 we have been working with Kate Cairns Associates and virtual headteachers from across the country to develop a national evidence base to inform attachment aware practice.

Subsequent projects in Somerset (2015 to present) have been funded via Somerset Public Health and involve a collaboration with EHCAP, a local voluntary organisation and the Somerset Education Psychology Service.

Our current local authority partners

  • Bath and North East Somerset
  • Birmingham
  • Coventry
  • Derbyshire
  • Dudley
  • Haringey
  • Leicestershire
  • Northamptonshire
  • Stoke on Trent

Other partner organisations

  • Teach First
  • Universities Council on the Education of Teachers (UCET)
  • National Association of School Based Initial Teacher Trainers (NASBITT)
  • The consortium on Emotional Well-Being in schools

Students and Alumni

A large number of undergraduate students have contributed as demonstrators, peer mentors, chaperones and ambassadors. These are mainly from Education Studies courses, but also areas such as Psychology and Creative Writing. Postgraduate students have contributed in terms of data analysis (mainly Psychology graduates) and conference presentations.

The project has worked with over 100 schools in the Bath and North East Somerset, Wiltshire and Somerset County areas. A significant number of headteachers and teachers involved have been Bath Spa Alumni.

Press and Media
Funding Sources
  • Melksham Community Area Board 2010/11 – £5k
  • Royal Wootton Bassett Community Area Board 2011/12 – £5k
  • National College for Teaching and Leadership – £17K
  • Somerset Phase 1 – £70k
  • Brighter Futures Evaluations 2014 and 2015 – £12k
  • Individual Virtual schools 2014/15 – £4k
  • Somerset Phase 2 – £5k

Major Funding Bids in preparation.

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