The Key Adult In School

Date Published


Reading time

7 minutes


The child who has a secure attachment to adults in the home generally has the capacity to enter into other trusting relationships and are more equipped to learn and thrive in school. Some children find it difficult to settle and there are many reasons why this may be however many of these children have difficulties around attachment. They may have experienced trauma/loss, disruptive relationships, born prematurely, looked after, adopted etc and may have disrupted connections in their life with adults for whatever reason. These children may find learning a struggle and will need a ‘key adult’. The key adult will need to be available and provide regular ‘check ins’ during the day.

Advances in neuroscience has proved that emotional growth and wellbeing is linked to academic success. For a child to thrive they will need to feel secure in school. If the child brings stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions to school their thinking and ability to retain information will be disrupted.

A key adult in school can help regulate the child’s inner emotions. They are attuned and responsive to the child’s inner working model, take time to build a rapport with the individual and actively develop a supportive attachment. They become the child’s ‘safe base’. The key adult models the role of a trusting adult in the child’s life. They will ‘provide a consistent presence for the child in school, be given time to spend with the child and will be able to check in with them at times of the day that require transition between places or adults’ (AFC 2021).

The key adult supports the child manage feelings of shame or guilt, regulate their emotions, support transitions, develop the skills to foster other positive relationships and scaffold growth (Adoption and Schools).

Skills of the Key Adult:

  • Understanding that relationships are key

  • Uses positive language, commenting aloud for the child, translating their actions into words.

  • Consistent and reliable, attentive, responsive and a caregiving capacity.

  • Show empathy

  • Communicating with the rest of the school, being the voice of the child

  • Understanding that all behaviour is communication and have the curiosity and patience to understand what that behaviour is telling you.

  • An understanding that they are not attention seeking they are attention needing.

  • Modelling desired behaviours

  • Providing emotional containment

  • Be patient and resilient.

‘The relationship between the key adult and the child with attachment difficulties will be pivotal in terms of the child’s learning’ (Bomber, 2008).


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