IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Supporting Wellbeing, Emotional Resilience and Learning in the Ipswich Opportunity Area

A teenage boy that appears to be upset has an adult hand placed upon his right shoulder (Photo: Rawpixel.com / Adobe Stock)

22 February 2023

In recent years, the number of children excluded from education at school, either through permanent, fixed-term, internal or self-exclusions, has increased (DfE, 2018). This can lead to a more fragmented experience of school and a deterioration in life chances for children who are already disadvantaged, as a disproportionate number of children at-risk for exclusion include those with special educational needs and mental health difficulties. The enforced period of school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have exacerbated this problem.

To better support at-risk young people in their community, the Ipswich Opportunity area, funded by the DfE, commissioned the UCL Centre for Inclusive Education (CIE) to support schools in finding ways to reduce exclusions. Participating schools took part in the Supporting Wellbeing, Emotional Resilience and Learning (SWERL) project, a Knowledge Exchange programme carried out in partnership with schools that helps schools identify key areas where they wish to implement change to foster better outcomes for their pupils.

One of these schools, Handford Hall Primary, identified building relationships, developing robust communications systems and improving whole system planning as key areas of focus to support pupils’ wellbeing and learning. The project is a powerful testament to Handford Hall Primary’s dedication to prioritising the wellbeing and mental health of their pupils.


To go about identifying areas where they wished to effect change to promote the mental health and wellbeing of pupils, the SWERL team and Handford Hall Primary first conducted a whole school audit. The audit revealed areas of strength that arose from changes put in place during the first period of Covid lockdown, such as the establishment of deeper relationships with families and whole staff buy-in to these relationships. Importantly, the school found that Teaching Assistants (TA) played a central role in engaging with families and working in partnership with the class teacher. 

The audit also clarified areas the school wished to improve on, centred around building on the relationships established during lockdown to make communication more effective, identify impact, and build an aligned communication policy. One key pathway they identified for doing this involved expanding the role of the TA as one of the key members of staff around children at-risk for exclusions, and making them central to the updated communication strategy.


After the audit, Handford Hall Primary designed an action plan to offer additional support and resources to foster relationships and communication, through maximising TA partnership building potential. They achieved this by raising the profile of the Teacher-TA partnership, providing TAs up to 3 additional weekly hours to support parent partnerships and child and family wellbeing, and providing laptops for TAs. 

This enabled TAs to more easily share good news and communicate messages, more effectively welcome families, and to enhance inclusion by more easily providing prompts and reminders. This led to increased confidence from parents, improved pupil attendance, and better efficiency in signposting to other services.


A case study of four families showed a documented improvement in pupil attendance and engagement during remote learning sessions, as well as increased parent engagement in online consultations. Additionally, having individual, TA-led admission meetings with parents was shown to contribute to a smoother transition for new pupils. 

School staff members reported a range of benefits, from being able to get to know parents better through regular phone calls, creating valuable and lasting relationships with families, feeling more able to communicate with parents and to hear their questions and concerns, to a stronger school community, better outcomes for children, and increased emotional support between staff.

As one staff member shared: “We discovered that although there were challenges through the Covid restrictions, having to rethink some of our ways of communicating with families strengthened the home-school partnership with many families.

“We aim to develop parent champions within the community to support other families to access education, health and wider community resources.”


Rawpixel.com / Adobe Stock

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