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Secondary Recovery Curriculum

A trauma informed approach to supporting children

The social-distancing measures that have been put in place as part of the response to COVID-19 have disrupted the normal routines of children and young people and curtailed their freedom. Some will have found this time traumatic. 

By planning carefully how we re-configure our learning spaces during the gradual return to school, we can help children begin their recovery journey. 

This short video, which has been prepared by SEND Support professionals, considers the reasons why some children may have found the lock down period traumatic, how their experience might influence their behaviour and the ways in which education professionals can aid recovery by promoting the five pillars of recovery from trauma. 

A PowerPoint presentation is also available for use within settings and SEND Support Professionals can provide in-depth bespoke training, should it be required.  

Further information about the Five Pillars is provided below.

The Five Pillars 

International research into what people need in the immediate to mid-term aftermath of a mass trauma (which COVID-19 could be construed as) (Hobfall et al, 2007) has identified five key elements and this could be very helpful in guiding and informing intervention (including universal and targeted) in schools. These are promoting: 

A sense of safety 

In addition to communicating and implementing clear and feasible safety/social distancing measures, a sense of normality can be achieved through quickly re-establishing predictable and familiar structures and routines so that the students know what to expect. Familiar and caring teachers and tutors can help students to feel safe and secure. 

As always, communication of clear rules, expectations and consequences will create feelings of safety. Whilst it is inevitable that many things will have to be different to ensure safety and social distancing, the more that school can resemble how it was before the pandemic, the more students will feel reassured that not everything has changed and that some things have remained constant.  Therefore, wherever unnecessary changes can be avoided, this will be beneficial. 

A sense of calming  

Emotional containment can be facilitated by school communicating a sense of order and control (‘business as usual’) whilst also ensuring regular and frequent opportunities for students to talk about, share and process their thoughts, feelings and experiences in safe and supportive environments with familiar and caring adults.  

Whilst use of assemblies, tutor times and CPSHE lessons may be adequate for most students, some may require more regular and frequent opportunities to talk with an adult and a minority may require more specialist counselling or mental health support. Explicit modelling and teaching of relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, mindfulness/meditation and noticing /‘defusing’ unhelpful thoughts will help students to combat feelings of stress and anxiety.  

A sense of self and community efficacy  

Consider building community efficacy by involving the whole school in collaboratively planning the way forward through an activity such as weighing it up.  Giving students, parents and staff a sense of participation and agency will be hugely important, in motivating them and giving them confidence to engage.   

Acknowledging the achievements of the students in simply ‘getting through’ this period may be particularly helpful for those students who have not had a positive lockdown experience and who may be returning with feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.   

Many students will feel like they have lost time in learning; show them how you will address these gaps, consulting and co-constructing with them to heal this sense of loss. Reassuring messages that ‘all will be ok’ in relation to their academic journeys will be helpful in bolstering these students’ self-efficacy.  

Re-establishing baselines and setting students small, achievable and realistic goals.  As you develop them, share any plans for how upcoming learning/catch-up and or assessments will be tackled so that students have a sense of control and feel that the work will be manageable.   

A sense of connectedness  

Assemblies may have to happen in small groups (perhaps all watching on screen in their classrooms), but it is an important way to give a positive starting message, and encourage a sense of belonging to the school community.  

‘Tuning into’ the emotions of individuals and groups of students (for example, through the use of the ‘Emotion Coaching’ approach) and responding with empathy and understanding will enhance feelings of connectedness.  Appropriate levels of personal disclosure by staff to demonstrate that they understand and can relate to students’ feelings and experiences will also create feelings of connectedness. So too will facilitating opportunities for students to share, listen and support one another. 

A sense of hope  

Helping students to reflect on the positive changes that have come about as a result of this crisis (perhaps for them as individuals, but also for their families, communities, the country and the world as a whole) can be a powerful antidote to the seemingly constant stream of bad news within the media.  

Discussion and project work on how this pandemic may help to shape things for a better future could be a very valuable exercise as well as encouraging the students to practice gratitude and reflect on the positives in their everyday experiences, no matter how small.   

The Hope clouds exercise could be carried out with staff and pupils to generate a collaborative action plan.  Research suggests repeated experiences of positivity opens up cognitive pathways, which strengthens resilience, problem-solving skills and social bonds over time (Fredrickson, 2009). 


This programme is underpinned by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (an evidence-based psychological intervention which advocates acceptance of difficult feelings, application of mindfulness techniques and commitment to value-orientated actions to promote wellbeing) this is an excellent, practical and accessible framework which could be shared with the whole school community and used as a basis to support wellbeing in students and staff during and beyond this pandemic. Watch a video which explains the framework.

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