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The centrality of relationships in a school’s purpose

There has been much talk about the learning that was lost during the Covid pandemic. The suggestion is that young people need to catch up on curriculum content, in a world that has been rocked by the overturning of one of society’s taken-for-granted institutions - schools.

However, the very notion that learning can be ‘lost’ makes value judgements about the knowledge that matters above all else for young people, with their life experiences disregarded. In fact, research by Big Change and the Relationships Foundation showed that what matters most to young people (and what they really felt was missing, or ‘lost’ during the pandemic) was the role of school as a centre of their social and relational worlds [1]

There are multiple examples of research that show the centrality of relationships in the learning process and that, “fundamental emotions are involved in learning and run through the relationships of educators and learners”[2]. We must therefore prioritise the building and sustaining of relationships in schools, through developing emotionally healthy cultures in which adults and children alike can thrive.

The Centre for Emotional Health has been a key player in developing The Principles of Excellence in Relationships Education and in shifting the narrative around the importance of relationships in schools.

With a focus on the importance of daily, habitual interactions - between all adults (including parents), children and young people - a whole school approach to emotional health and wellbeing supports everyone in the community to flourish. We must enable schools to create cultures where relationships and space for reflection are prioritised, where adults and children alike are supported to consider and discuss these questions about who they are, their learning and their education.

The Relationships Education curriculum focusses on creating and enabling an environment that promotes everyone’s emotional health. When this is prioritised, children and adults are more likely to thrive.

Together with FASTN and Lisa Cherry, we have also developed a reflective tool to support the implementation of the Relationships Education Curriculum. This can be found on the TES website here.

If you’d like to talk to us about our work with schools and other educational settings, do get in touch by calling 01865 401800 or emailing us at

Bea Stevenson, Head of Education

[1] Gibbs, B and Ashcroft, J (2021) Pandemic as Portal: Listening to the voice of the school system to inform transformation: Available at Pandemic_as_Portal_report_FINAL.pdf (

[2] Smith , M (2001) Relationship, Learning and Education, available at Relationship, learning and education –


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