Federation Inset Training – Academic Resilience

On Monday 11th April Cornfield School hosted a federation Inset training examine the principles and suggested tools of an Academic Resilience Approach.

The following blog post creates a narrative to share what we discussed on the day and facilitate sharing of ideas and practices developed following the training. 

We started the training by exploring the concept of resilience:



Each group had similar ideas about what resilience as a concept might mean, most discussing ‘bouncing back’ or ‘adapting’ when life provides us with difficult circumstances, adverse conditions or difficulty.





As we discussed, there have been many and varied definitions by academics over time and defining resilience is an important starting point for making changes to school culture in response to what we understand resilience to be. This is because our cultural (and academic) understanding of resilience has changed over time; from being seen as an inherent internal characteristic, to a socially, environmentally dependent and dynamic process, and, most recently, to be intertwined with a social justice approach about ‘changing the odds’ and tackling inequality. It is equally important that we have mutual understanding of what resilience means – because when we work with young people and try to develop their own resilience, seeing resilience as a malleable construct that depends on our own resilience as staff (modelled to the students and to resource us to work effectively) and interventions that we (staff) and they (students) make, meaning that a resilience perspective can be empowering rather than limiting.

And so we moved on to discuss Academic Resilience – making changes in the whole school, for staff and students to ensure those facing adversity continue to achieve well and experience school success. To achieve ‘better than expected outcomes’ for the young people we might say are disadvantaged or vulnerable. Clearly in our special school context we are familiar with the challenges that can inhibit progression in mainstream education, but statistics were shared about the significant attainment, attendance and exclusion gaps, specifically between students with SEN, LAC and those eligible for FSM and their peers.

The Academic Resilience Approach consists of a ‘plan do review’ process in which an audit is carried out in relation to the resilience framework. Good practice and priorities to improve are identified. Once changes are carried out another review takes place and so on in an ongoing self reflective school improvement process ideally linked to SIP.

We looked at the academic resilience approach (ARA) as a whole school concept, and watched a video where the analogy of a cleaner working at NASA who said their job was “to send a man to the moon” elucidated this concept. Everyone in the school community has an important role to play in the life of the young people we work with, for this to be lived and breathed in the school, ideas like ‘communities of practice'( where teachers, support staff, parents, local community members, students, governors, cleaners, catering staff etc etc are brought together in support of disadvantaged pupils to think collaboratively and creatively about what might work well) need to be in place and allowed to influence school policy and practice.

We then looked at the framework supporting ARA – the Resilience Framework, which looks at the basic needs, belonging needs, coping needs, learning needs and core self needs that underpin resilience in the research base.



Each group considered aspects of the framework that might be a priority for their own school and we discussed how this might differ, how the aspects might interlink and how one simple intervention might tackle multiple aspects at the same time.

We then moved on to a simple audit based on one element of the framework doing a RAG analysis of what was currently in place in school, then considering how we take this research further (pupil focus groups, surveys etc) and what potential new practice might emerge as a result.





Some inventive and creative suggestions were made about how to extend existing practice and some staff reported a high level of confidence in current school practice, welcoming an approach that was not an add on but a valuing of what works well and an opportunity to consider “tweaks” that could have a “positive ripple effect”. I like this idea very much and have already used it in my PhD work – thanks!

Moving on to specific strategies from the ARA resource base, groups planned out how to run a successful pupil voice session considering the varied needs of our students. Ideas flowed freely from using flashcards, to video, interviewing students past and present, role play, drawing, clay modelling, writing fiction based on school, trips to other schools to gather responses and so on. There was a strong sense that more could be done to harness student voice regarding ‘how we are doing’ in relation to the resilience framework as a starting point for our work on resilience and identifying what interventions might be needed.


IMG_6062.JPGThe Pyramid of Need was discussed. This is a points based system for identifying students most at risk needing long term and multiple  intervention, those needing short term or less complex intervention, and those who should do well without additional intervention. In mainstream schools, this might be based on point scoring for having SEN statement, being a LAC and so on, but as we discussed, in special school settings it is also useful when adapted to relate specifically to one group of students and one focus – e.g. y11 students in relation to developing ambitions and career aspirations. Interventions are then part of the pyramid to be displayed visually and shared with all staff. Ideally, students move from the top to the bottom and then out of the pyramid, though we also discussed ‘pyramids on pyramids’ like a christmas tree, where the need changes and therefore the child begins a new journey – e.g. moving from ‘having a trusted adult’ as very secure to ‘being independent’ as the new focus. Many pyramid designs were share ranging from trees, to roads, online versions and so on. Pleasingly, many were co-incidntally mirrored in existing resources for schools developed on ‘designing resilience’ programmes.


Lastly, we discussed ‘designing resilience’ (a collaboration between Brighton Uni design students, Boing Boing social enterprise and the community in developing resilience resources) and other events and opportunities to share school practice. In my previous blog post I discussed this event in more detail.

The federation are pioneers of ARA in special schools in West Sussex and certainly have a lot to offer in terms of expertise and brilliant ideas of how practice might develop.

My hope is that each school appoint a member of staff, or a group, to monitor the resilience work in their school who will communicate with me and perhaps even collaborate on a journal article / conference / forum where they can share our wonderful work. 

If you have elected to be this person, or have been elected (!) or want to be directly involved in  my research or begin your own, please comment below or email me to start up a conversation. 

Thanks to all for your excellent thoughts and participation on the day and apologies again for the rush to it all – it was unexpectedly shorter than we really needed but a fantastic thought provoker nonetheless for me and I hope for you too. 


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