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Case Study - Belvedere Academy - Changing The Changing Room

This week’s blog focuses on how the brilliant PE team at Belvedere Academy has used a Trauma Informed PE approach to create psychological safety for their young people to boost engagement in Physical Education.

What is Psychological safety?

The concept of ‘Psychological safety' was first introduced by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, and refers to a shared belief within a group or organisation that one can express their ideas, opinions, and concerns without fear of negative consequences, such as criticism, ridicule, or punishment.


It is a crucial aspect of creating a supportive and inclusive environment where individuals feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks, sharing their thoughts openly, and engaging in constructive dialogue.


In psychologically safe environments, individuals feel respected, valued, and supported, regardless of their rank or position. They can voice their ideas, ask questions, admit mistakes, and offer suggestions without the fear of being judged or reprimanded.

When people feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to contribute their unique perspectives, challenge the status quo, and engage in meaningful discussions, leading to improved problem-solving, creativity, and overall class performance.


Psychological safety is not the absence of conflict or disagreement but rather the presence of a supportive and respectful climate that encourages diverse viewpoints. It enables individuals to take calculated risks, learn from failures, and grow both personally and professionally. Schools that prioritise psychological safety tend to have higher pupil and teacher satisfaction, engagement, and retention rates.


Building psychological safety involves fostering a culture of respect, active listening, empathy, and non-judgmental feedback. It requires teachers to lead by example, encourage participation, and create channels for open communication. Young people should be encouraged to provide input, give and receive feedback, and develop trust with one another.

Background

The Belvedere Academy is an all-ability state funded girls’ Academy secondary school in Liverpool and is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust. We are delighted to work in partnership with their team as part of our ‘Liverpool RISE Up’ Trauma Informed PE programme. Their brilliant Head of Physical Education, Kate Reynolds, talks us through their approach:

‘The start of our Year 11 PE lessons probably look the same as many schools up and down the country. We stand in the corridor leading to the changing rooms with a smile on our faces to meet and greet the students. One by one they pass by until the usual crowd stop and say “Miss, I’ve forgotten my kit!”.


Now, we as teachers know just as much as they do that this kit has not been “forgotten” as it is now nearly December and this particular group of students have been without kit since the start of the year, giving various excuses ranging from the believable to the ridiculous! “We’re moving house and I’ve packed it away, I left it on the bus, I thought it was in my locker but I’ve looked and it’s not there!”


So here comes the reassuring smile and the teacher's response, “Don’t worry, you can borrow some.”


BANG.


Before you know it you're at war against the screeches of “eeeeeeeey I’m not wearing that, it doesn’t fit, it’s not been washed, it stinks!” No one is in a winning situation.

“You’re not joining in if you’re not in kit.”

“Fine I won’t join in.”

“Well I’m not doing it either then” cry three more pupils from the class.

Especially in girl’s PE we can find ourselves in a vicious circle getting nowhere, with nobody getting anything positive out of the situation. This is when we decided to use the RISE Up programme as a tool to guide the students back into PE.

Intent

To get these girls into a psychological safe space to find out what the barrier really was that was stopping them from engaging in PE. To then break down that barrier together so that PE became meaningful and enjoyable again.

Creating Psychological Safety

On their next PE lesson the students were met outside the changing room as normal with those who didn’t have kit being asked nicely to go and wait in the old fitness suite.


This was presented as a place where they could be as honest as they liked and would be free from judgement. Students felt like they could open up and be honest. They were then shown the first series of slides from the Rise Up Programme.

Intended Learning Outcomes:

Head - To understand what the RISE up wellbeing programme is.

Heart - To contribute to a safe environment for everyone in the class to discuss mental health, to try your best and listen to everyone’s contributions in silence.

Hands - To take part in a practical session

After outlining to the students why their curriculum was designed the way it was, and the importance of wearing appropriate clothing in order to take part safely, they were asked “What is it that we can do to help you to take part in physical activity safely when in school?”


We discussed the options available to them and found out they liked the curriculum as there were always options. We discussed the PE kit and found out that they weren’t averse to wearing the kit.


After some deep discussion the students told us they didn’t like carrying their kit around, most didn’t have lockers to store it in and they simply didn't like getting changed.

Solution : Wear your kit to school on PE Days.

I completed the school wellbeing scorecard and completed an adapted version of the Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale survey so that we could track the impact of the programme.


Implementation

The findings of the discussion were taken to the head of the school who agreed that year 11 could now wear their kit to school on PE days taking away the need to change into PE kit in the changing rooms.


This obviously isn’t a new situation for many, as many schools adopted this during Covid, however, our setting had reverted back to old ways. This simple change meant that the students in the discussion group felt a sense of belonging and a sense of being listened to, knowing that they were able to drive change for the better.


Before allowing the year 11s to come in their kit we surveyed their feelings. 70% of the year group said is was something they wanted to do, 24% said they had no strong feelings towards the change and 6% said they did not want this change to happen.

Impact

From that day onwards there has rarely been a student in year 11 without their kit on PE days. Students were given very specific boundaries to abide by. Their choice was either wear your PE kit to school, or change as normal, but you must be in your kit for lessons.


If wearing their kit it must be the school PE t-shirt and/or the school PE hoodie along with long bottoms. (This was especially important from a safeguarding point of view for students travelling across the city centre either before or after school).

If they still had the school leggings or tracksuit bottoms they were allowed to wear these, or black leggings could be an alternative. They could then change into the PE skort/shorts if they wanted to once at school. This has led to more engagement, more enjoyment and longer lessons due to most not needing to get changed.


Before they left for the summer we surveyed students again. This time 83% of the year group said it was something they wanted to do, 12% said they had no strong feelings towards the change and 5% still said they did not want this change to happen. That meant that 95% of the students supported the change, and we are working with the 5% to explore their reasons for a no reply to break down more barriers.


To review the impact of the programme, I re-visited the adapted version of our Short Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing scale survey for the perceptions of our children’s progress of their mental wellbeing. The results showed great improvement in all areas.

I also completed the school wellbeing scorecard again. Our score increased to 92% from 53%, showing an improvement of 39% from a good starting point.


Pre Intervention:

Post Intervention:

Moving forward

Our Year 11s are hopefully pathing the way for this simple change to be rolled out throughout the Academy. Younger students have been intrigued as to why the older students are allowed to wear their kit and we have made it clear that this is a trial and if they can act as role models and wear the school PE kit around school with pride, we will look to roll this out to other years next academic year.


It has also given us the chance to talk about hygiene and exercise; if they have worked hard and sweated during the lesson pupils have the option to change into their uniform as before or a change of PE top.


We have talked about different types of deodorants, sprays, creams, bars and roll ons and discussed why it is important to keep ourselves and clothes clean after exercise. These types of conversations would never have taken place before we built these more positive relationships with the students.

As the project was successful we decided to trial this with the younger year groups during our final few weeks and it continued to be a huge hit. We are exploring how to implement this across the whole school in the new academic term.


After further student voice regarding the kit, we have a new kit on sale from September for all students to purchase should they wish to. We now have a choice of top, one fitted with a V neck, and one straight with a round neck, a choice of bottoms including shorts, skorts, leggings and tracksuit pants, as well as a ¼ zip top and a rain jacket.


Students can wear any combination of this kit at any time of the year for any lessons. This is to reduce the anxiety around wearing PE kit, supporting students who need to keep themselves covered up for religious reasons and those who don't wish to wear a traditional “female” kit whilst remaining smart and keeping that sense of belonging to our school community. Feedback has told us that 82% of students across the school are happy with the changes which is positive to hear.’

Interested in how Trauma Informed PE could be a solution for you?

As Physical Education teachers, we understand the power of PE in positively shaping students' physical and emotional wellbeing. However, addressing the impact of trauma in your classes can be complex, especially with limited resources and professional development opportunities available.


We have spoken to dozens of brilliant PE teachers grappling with the above challenges over the last few years, just as we were.


We collaborated with leading experts in the field of trauma-informed practice and then road tested the adapted strategies in our own PE departments to make sure they work.


On the back of this, we have developed our Trauma Informed PE online teacher training course to equip you with the knowledge, strategies, and tools to effectively integrate trauma informed practices within your physical education curriculum in 7 steps.

Taster resources for you

If you would like to know more, we have got a range of taster resources for you to try. We have created the ‘Enhancing Engagement Scorecard’ to help you take the first step in implementing Trauma Informed PE practice within 2 minutes.

This scorecard acts as a valuable tool for self-reflection and continuous improvement. Click on the link to take the first step and get your score.


Additionally, we offer a ‘Taster Trauma Informed PE Course’ for you to Step 1 of our full course so you can develop your understanding of what a trauma-informed approach is, what Adverse Childhood Experiences are, and how this affects children in the classroom at the moment and their life chances, based on the ACEs studies.


Click here to complete this 1 minute form to receive your personalised login.



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