IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Creating Place and Belonging in Schools

Why schools need to be places of welcome and belonging.

Rock paper scissors playground game

We live in a world full of boundless promise and possibilities. It's also a world which can feel hostile and uncertain. And it's a world on the move: which is why place and belonging matter.

A message from Kathryn Riley

'Belonging' is that sense of being somewhere where you can be confident that you will fit in, and feel safe in your identity. As schools are one of the few shared social institutions which can create a sense of belonging or exclusion, it's vital that they are places of welcome and belonging.

A school is just a building. What happens in any school is down to the people in and around it: the children, their families, the staff - and the leaders. How leaders think, decide, act and reflect, and draw on their knowledge to create a roadmap of possibilities is critical to the well-being of children and adults.

Begin first by looking at schools afresh - through The Prism of Place and Belonging. A prism refracts the light, or breaks it into different parts. Once you do this, you understand how school life is experienced, who feels included who feels an outsider and what can be done to change this.

Whether you are a leader, teacher, support staff member, researcher, parent, community member, governor or policy-maker - and wherever you are in the world - I hope the information presented here will help you make your contribution towards creating schools which open up pathways to possibilities for young people.

Kathryn Riley, Professor of Urban Education
Co-Founder of The Art of Possibilities


The information presented here is drawn from an emerging body of research and development work about place and belonging, undertaken in countries in many parts of the world. These include Australia, Chile, Jamaica, the Netherlands, the UK, the USA and South Africa. Much of this work has been undertaken in schools located in ethnically diverse and socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods.  

The main contributors to this work are:

  • IOE: Professor Kathryn Riley, Dr Max Coates, Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic, Sol Perez Martinez and Rhoda Furniss
  • The Art of Possibilities: Professor Kathryn Riley and DancePoet TioMolina
  • Schools: Corelli College, Elizabeth Garret Anderson School, Mulberry School, St Anthony's Catholic Primary School, Bromley, St Paul's Way Trust School, Upton Cross Primary School, and schools involved in the Newly Qualified Teachers' Network led by Newport School.

In these pages, you will find practical tools, videos, research findings and analysis, all designed to help you think about two important questions:

  • Is 'this' school a place where children, young people, and adults feel they belong?
  • If not, what are we going to do about?

Video Series I: Place and belonging in a volatile world: the art of possibilities

Five short videos each of which explores issues about belonging in our uncertain world from different perspectives: young people, student-researchers (from both primary and secondary schools), teacher-researchers, school leaders. The videos also illustrate how to use poetry and music to create a sense of place and belonging.

Video Series II: Place and belonging in schools: unlocking possibilities

Four short films which - with the help of children from St Anthony's Catholic Primary school, Bromley and school leaders - explore key concepts about belonging, agency, place and space. The videos remind us that the seeds of transformation are waiting to be harvested and that the genesis for change and renewal lies in schools.

Booklet: Place and belonging in schools: unlocking possibilities

By Kathryn Riley, Max Coates & Sol Perez Martinez  (2018)
Designed by Lisa Jo Robinson

This practical and highly visual booklet focuses on how to create schools which are places of well-being, belonging and creative endeavour. Key concepts, tools and approaches are provided, and a model for change designed to generate a fresh perspective on school life. All of these are research-based and have been 'road-tested' with leaders, practitioners, community members, young people and researchers.


Key publications

K. Riley. (2013). Leadership of Place: Stories from the US, UK and South Africa, London: Bloomsbury.

Findings from a cross-national study on place and belonging which explores the importance of understanding place and context, from the perspectives of young people, staff and communities. Childrens' drawings help illustrate the daily realities of life - both in school and outside.

K. Riley. (2017). Place, Belonging and School Leadership: Researching to make the difference, London: Bloomsbury.

Findings from an innovative research and development partnership between the IOE, UCL and schools. The book explores how belonging is experienced and generated in schools and highlights the benefits to all concerned when young people and teachers engage in research inquiry. The book also offers tools and approaches designed to help school leaders develop their role as place leaders and place makers.

Other publications related to place, belonging and inclusion

See the range of publications by Kathryn Riley and colleagues related to place and belonging, and inclusion.

Further information

Want to know more about Kathryn's research story?

Watch the video: Research on schools as places of belonging

In a global context of change and uncertainty, Kathryn Riley builds on her pioneering work on place and belonging, and on the concept of Leadership of Place, to pose fundamental challenges to the beliefs, thinking and professional practice of educators and leaders and to ask: how can we create schools that are places of belonging and possibility?

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