Supporting children to establish and maintain healthy, supportive and enriching relationships at all levels is important for parents and schools alike. The Mental Health Foundation’s report, ‘Relationships in the 21st Century’ demonstrated that good-quality relationships can help us live longer and with fewer mental health problems.

Yet our opportunities for benefitting from these relationships have suffered in recent months as the Covid-19 pandemic has seen children home from school, extended families relying on video calls, and friendship groups scattered.

As we look to our recovery after the pandemic, it is clear that schools will have an important role to play in re-establishing supportive, nurturing relationships not only between adults and children, but also between children and their peers. In England, the new statutory guidance on Sex and Relationships Education should prompt all schools to give time and space to considering the value and importance of relationships.

Nurturing supportive relationships in schools is a core principle for all children, but especially for children who have encountered trauma, adverse childhood experiences and disrupted attachments. As Betsy de Thierry puts it, “When a person has been hurt in a relationship, they can only be healed in a relationship.”

However, creating the network of good-quality relationships that children need, and supporting them to nurture relationships that help, and avoid those that harm, is not something that will be achieved in a few lessons in the classroom. A whole-school approach is needed that recognises, and actively promotes the value of relationships at all levels.

This is where FASTN’s newly-released guide, ‘Principles of Excellence in Relationships Education’, comes in. Created in collaboration with Parentkind, Care for the Family and Relate, among many others, the guide presents a set of principles designed to support schools to place healthy and reliable relationships at the heart of everything they do.

The 12 key principles encourage schools to place their relationships policy at the “core of the school’s culture and ethos”, and to consider “behaviour as the communication of feelings and needs”, before outlining the policy and leadership context that supports excellence in relationships education.

Over the past year, we have all had the opportunity to reflect on the importance and value of the various relationships in our lives. Perhaps we have also come to understand more deeply that the best relationships need to be nurtured and carefully tended. In a complex organisation like a school, it is vital that quality relationships are pro-actively and strategically supported. FASTN’s guidance is a good place for any school to start this process.

You can find out more about FASTN’s ‘Principles of Excellence in Relationships Education’ and download the document here: Relationships Education | Family Stability Network (FASTN)

By Rebecca Brooks, Education Policy Advisor, Adoption UK