A common language for schools

Julie Yarwood is the Chief Learning and Quality Officer for the Shaw Education Trust, a growing Multi-Academy Trust  providing education to children of all ages and all abilities. The Shaw Education Trust’s mission is to deliver positive life chances to its students, helping them to overcome barriers and equipping them with the skills that they need to thrive. Prior to joining the Trust, Julie was one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and prior to that, a secondary headteacher in an Outstanding school. Here, Julie talks to us about how and why they have been implementing Red2Blue across the Trust schools.

Julie discovered Red2Blue through one of the senior leaders in the Trust, who had become a certified coach and did some training with the central team. Immediately seeing the value of what Red2Blue could offer to students, the leadership team scheduled a Trust-wide Inset day and trained coaches who could roll out the programme across all the Shaw Trust schools.

The Shaw Education Trust includes primary, secondary and specialist settings, and implementing Red2Blue was not simply a case of a one-size-fits-all Red2Blue solution. In fact, Julie describes it as a “one size fits one” approach: “Every one of our settings is entirely different,” she says. “It would not be possible to have one approach for everybody because we have different sizes of schools, different ages of the learners and different demographics;  the approach taken with Red2Blue had to be bespoke to each setting.”

A pupil-centred approach

Part of the beauty of Red2Blue is that the one-page map makes it accessible and easy to adapt for any age group. Julie explains that in the primary schools, for example, they have developed age-appropriate Red2Blue materials. Likewise, staff working in specialist settings have worked on developing materials that are very accessible to their learners. “Our settings are pupil and people-centred, so everything we do is about things being right for the pupils in our schools,’ she says.

It’s only been a year since the Shaw Education Trust began to introduce the Red2Blue programme but Julie is already seeing its impact. One of the most powerful examples is in a primary school where one of the leaders reports that the Red2Blue ambassadors within her school are now able to identify the mindset of other children and can support them from a child’s perspective.

Children are more aware of their own feelings

“Children are becoming more aware of their own feelings. Whether they are in a ‘Red head’ or a ‘Blue head’ moment, they are able to manage that and understand that it is perfectly natural, while equipping them with tools to manage their own emotions,” Julie says. Coming out of the pandemic, which saw an increase in children’s mental health issues, having simple, straightforward strategies that they can use has become even more important. 

In the secondary school space, data shows an early indication of improved behaviour following the implementation of Red2Blue. “If our young people are able to self-regulate better, that can only increase their engagement, their ability to focus, to stay in the classroom and to learn well,” Julie says.

A common language to start with

An important part of Red2Blue’s success is that it gives students and staff a powerful common language. “Once you’ve identified what that common language means, you take away the extra time that is necessary when trying to describe feelings and emotions. It gives you very a simple language as a starting point that everybody can draw on,” Julie says.

As they continue to embed Red2Blue, the children are working well together, and the adults are using the common language to approach any issues that present themselves. When everyone is starting from the same place, there is no second guessing what other people are thinking. 

A toolkit for life

Developing resilience in young people and helping them to cope with the unpredictability of life is of huge importance to Julie and the Shaw Education Trust team. To this end, Red2Blue is giving students strategies that they can use on a personal level when things don’t go to plan. Julie believes the approach and techniques will provide lifelong skills that can help them with their studies, their careers, and guide them through every area of their lives. “The important thing is knowing that issues will arise, but also knowing what you can do when things don’t go to plan. That’s life, isn’t it?”

It’s not just the pupils who are benefiting from Red2Blue. Staff face many challenges in education, particularly leadership teams. Coming out of the pandemic, attendance levels are lower than they were in 2019, so getting all their learners to attend remains a challenge. Tackling issues around recruitment and retention is an ongoing concern for many headteachers, as is ensuring that new talent is nurtured.

Think clearly about what you can control

“Having techniques like Red2Blue to help you think about what you can control, and calmly thinking about what you can’t control is useful for any member of staff, in any school. We are dealing with human emotions, your own emotions, and those of other people, so it provides an important tool to help you think clearly,” Julie says.

The Red2Blue programme plays an important role in staff retention too. It is essential to demonstrating to existing and prospective staff that the Shaw Education Trust has a clear focus on their wellbeing. “Our staff is our biggest resource who look after our most precious cargo – our students,” Julie says. “We have to invest in staff in order to look after our young people. Investing in their wellbeing through a strategy such as Red2Blue can only be beneficial.

A positive mindset

Looking back at those who have influenced and encouraged her throughout her own career, Julie remembers a headteacher who had a poster on her wall with the John F. Kennedy quote, “We are not here to curse the darkness but to light a candle that can guide us through that darkness.” Those words helped Julie to realise that no matter how difficult things are, it’s important to always look for the positives.

She applies this to the young people in the Shaw Education Trust schools, some of whom face significant barriers in their life. “How can we help to change that? That’s where Red2Blue comes in – a positive mindset. What can I control to change this? What can I change in my own my behaviours?”

Julie explained that she has used this approach in meetings for example, starting with each member of the team to state a positive that has happened in the week.

As for the one piece of advice Julie likes to give to other people, it is “keep it simple”.  Whatever solutions are being proposed, they need to be straightforward and not filled with complicated jargon so that they can be understood and implemented by anybody.

“If we keep the approach simple, we’ve got a better chance of being successful,” she says. “And that’s where Red2Blue comes in. It’s very straightforward; anybody of any age can understand it. That’s the beauty of it.”

You can find out more about The Shaw Education Trust at https://shaw-education.org.uk/.

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