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Case Study – The Academy of St Francis Assisi - Enhancing Engagement

The Academy of St Francis Assisi (ASFA) is a coeducational joint-faith Roman Catholic and Church of England secondary school in Liverpool and is part of the All Saints Multi Academy Trust.

They are one of four fantastic schools we have partnered with as part of our ‘RISE Up Liverpool’ Trauma Informed PE pilot programme in collaboration with the brilliant team at Liverpool School Sports Partnership.

Each school we collaborate with is encouraged to implement the programme in the way that is best for their setting and young people. Teachers at ASFA have done a fantastic job of implementing the programme to create ‘meaningful PE’ experiences for a group of disengaged young people across multiple year groups through an intervention programme.

Inspirational PE teacher, Polly Johnson, will talk us through their intent for the RISE Up programme, how they implemented it, and its impact on their young people.


‘Physical Education can positively shape the lives of our young and impressionable students by giving them a sense of belonging and self-worth. At St Francis of Assisi we believe the key to breaking down barriers is within Physical Education and positive reinforcement.

During the 6-week programme we ran at our school, twenty two students with multiple needs and abilities engaged in our ‘RISE UP’ project P. The students were initially selected due to behavioural issues, mental health struggles or lack of engagement in PE. We wanted to support this group of young people so that they felt psychologically safe in our school and that they belonged, to improve outcomes for them.

I completed an adapted version of the Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale survey before we started and student questionnaires so that I could track the impact of the programme.


The students initially gathered together and were given the roles of Rise up leaders. Each student was given a T shirt and we held weekly meetings and activities for the students to lead.

This gave them a sense of belonging and straight away broke down some of their walls as they had been specifically chosen as leaders, for some of them this was a breath of fresh air as usually, they would be summoned to the teacher’s office for other reasons.

Week 1

All students met wearing their T Shirts. I completed a questionnaire about the likes and dislikes of school life for them individually. It immediately became apparent that it was not only PE that many of them where disengaged. I asked them their likes and dislikes and we agreed to meet up at lunch time that week.

The questionnaire hit on some common denominators for all students who are in different year groups. Some of these common denominators where ‘school is too loud’ ‘I don’t like the teachers’ ‘It's hard to make friends’ ‘I care what people think of me’ ‘I’m too unfit to do PE’

That Wednesday I took the students down to the assembly hall and together we completed 20 minutes of yoga and a 10-minute meditation session focussing on breathing.

The students really enjoyed the quiet and safe space that we created. To my surprise all the students fully engaged in this. This self-help trauma informed approach was something that they could do in their own time to help improve their mental wellbeing.

Week 2

The next week I wanted to focus on the student's mental wellbeing so I decided to run a cross curricular activity with food technology. The students researched the health benefits of certain fruits and made and named their own smoothies. The students then handed out samples of these smoothies to students in year 7 and year 8 at break time.

This is when my ‘ break through’ with the group happened. As they had had fun with me, felt safe with me and now had a sense of belonging I could see their body language and attitudes begin to shift and become more positive. Giving out the smoothies also created a buzz as other students now wanted a T-shirt and wanted to be part of the Rise Up programme.

Week 3

This week we had a picnic in the park. All of the students brought in something to share. We discussed how we were feeling in school and how our week was going so far. We made friendship bracelets out of loom bands and as a random act of kindness gifted them to someone else. After this activity to my surprise the students had all arranged to meet up again that night to ‘hang out’ together.

Week 4

In week 4 we met up after school. I had a very important task for the students to do this week and they sorted out food and clothes parcels for less advantaged people with our chaplain and The Whitechapel centre. When we do something nice for someone else, we release one of our happiness chemicals, oxytocin, which makes us feel loved.

Week 5

This week the students participated in ‘The Big Dig’ on one of our school's drop down days. The Rise up crew led a gardening project to help improve our school’s environment. As the students' confidence was now growing, they each led other students giving instructions to them about what they needed to do.

They were in groups of 4 and each had a section of our school gardens to oversee. It was a great opportunity for our young people to experience biophilia.

This was by far the most rewarding and happiest I had seen them, and I again had students asking me to be a part of the Rise up team.

Week 6

This week I wanted to finish with something that would push the team out of their comfort zone. It was year 6 transition day and as avid leaders they would now be responsible for leading the PE sessions with the year 6s. Each member was briefed on the rules of Dodgeball, and each given a specific role.

The students led the sessions all day giving clear and concise instructions to the year 6 students and ran the Dodgeball tournament with confidence.


At the end of the last day the students completed another questionnaire about school life and the difference was astonishing.

The students felt happier coming to school (especially on a Monday for Rise Up) they felt more confident. They had all become friends and more importantly knew who and where to go to feel safe.

Using their answers, I re-visited the adapted version of the Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing scale survey for the perceptions of our children’s progress of their mental wellbeing. I was delighted with their progress as all aspects improved following our programme.

Next Steps

The students are now eagerly waiting to continue this programme into September. The students now have a non-judgemental safe space and are more active and confident thanks to this project.’

How we can help you

If you would like to join our movement of inspirational teachers, then the RISE Up online teacher training course guides you and your colleagues on how to reduce students' anxiety, build their confidence, and create a sustainable early intervention mental wellbeing programme within 90 days.

Easy to follow videos and a comprehensive set of editable resources will save you and your colleagues hours of time planning and creating resources.

To take the first step, take our School Wellbeing scorecard here:

Free Gift - You will also receive complimentary access to our taster ‘RISE Up’ online teacher training course so you can learn how to move your school from reactive to proactive when identifying children who are struggling with their mental health in 1 easy step.

If engagement and behaviour was the biggest issue for you last year then why not try our 2 minute trauma informed ‘Enhancing Engagement in PE’ Scorecard.

Free Gift - You will also receive complimentary access to our taster ‘Trauma Informed PE’ online teacher training course so you can learn how adverse childhood experiences affect young people in your classrooms now and long after they leave your care. Take the scorecard here:

Do get in touch if we can help you prepare for the new academic year.

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