ACES and what next…

What a wonderful week for the school community. We were able to take the courageous decision to show the film “Resilience ” to parents, carers, headteachers, education officers, councillors and grandparents. I say courageous because to my knowledge we are the first school in the country to screen the film directly to our own parents. The film was inspired by research from 1998 and the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACES) in the United States of America. The premise directly makes a link between health outcomes in adulthood ( heart disease, cancer, mental illness ) and the experiences you have in childhood.

A very provocative film and certainly not for the faint hearted as it brings many raw emotions to the surface for most of us viewing it who have experienced any form of ACES trauma ourselves …but the message is also clear that we can all make a difference and do something about it.

If you want any evidence of the impact screening this film can have in your own community…please just scan our twitter feed at Burnside Primary School in Carnoustie to consider how powerful this viewing and material potentially is…

” I had no idea my life would impact upon my children in that way ,” “because I want the best for my children,” and “I am a good mother but after watching this I realise I could do better.” These are just a few of the comments written down and I suspect there are hundreds more which were not but were  just as powerful that were kept deep inside. I myself was overwhelmed when I first watched the film, even when the janitor and I were testing the DVD for a second time ..we both stood in silence watching the first few minutes of the film and he said to me ” that can’t be true,” it was the same response I myself had had the first time I saw the film…I just nodded at him.

One parent during the question and answer session had asked “What are our next steps?”

Before we address this absolutely necessary question we would like to offer our thoughts about the next steps for the film  …We think a Scottish version of the film would have had a similar impact but we would also like to see this happen when schools and authorities are able to share their own responses to ACES …in this way the film can also support others to share this  journey & build capacity with interventions which are making a difference.

We were fortunate to have David Cameron and Dr Suzanne Zeedyk in our midst that evening and we are absolutely positive, rich learning opportunities for communities all around the country will come from their collaboration.

In fact, Graeme Logan ( our Chief Inspector and Director of Education Scotland ) shared a research paper on the ACEs study just last week.


At this point I will also say we had over 220 adults attending and standing room only in a huge hall. We also offered a crèche to our parents to support their attendance and over 75 children attended this. Our amazing staff team and leadership team ran the crèche and enabled as many parents as possible to attend the film. This sums up what an amazing place to work and learn our school really is and without their support none of this would have happened.

Our school team planned ahead and the first step was to create a structure or framework so we could make the work manageable and streamlined. We came up with NEAR & FAR. ( Neuroscience, Early Intervention, Attainment, Resilience, Families, Adversity & Relationships.

We would advise any school watching this film to do the same. In this way it sits at the very core of the work that schools are already committed to …

After viewing this film as a school leader you become aware of the wide reaching implications of this research on your professional practice and it can be overwhelming.

The next step we would suggest.. is to provide learning opportunities under each area of the framework – how these look will depend on your framework but will offer lots of opportunities for innovation, collaboration and creativity…

1. Neuroscience  – better learning for parents and teachers on brain development and how they can support this day to day. This will build on the ACES film to include offers on parenting and further workshops on attachment. Our first foray into this was through the lens of a simple cycle which can build resilience called ” Relate, rupture and repair,” by Dr Allan Schore.

We formed a partnership with Dr Suzanne Zeedyk who invited us to a first screening of the film in the DCA in Dundee. We then sourced Dr Zeedyk’s book as part of our professional learning for every member of our school team. Following reading the text we received further training from Dr Zeedyk on attachment which will continue across the year. These are our first efforts in bringing research into daily practice in a simple way like “making up is more important than messing up,” from an approach highlighted by Dr Zeedyk.

2. Early intervention – better learning about what are the stressors for our children and families and then taking actionable steps with parents/staff/agencies to reduce it. We are using the wellbeing outcomes and our school aims flower as a discussion tool for this …. children’s voice is the driver for improvement. We also run “check ins” in every class with children at least three times a day to address their readiness to learn.

Attainment – we are using a “pedagogy” team to focus on planning. Does our planning drive high quality teaching? …and using collaboratives across the school to moderate our work. Is your planning each week in core subjects evidence of the highest quality teaching?

Resilience – continue to develop the idea that we are resilient to the extent we have the belief we are in control. So we develop our stuck strategies ( from P1-P7) and whole school plenary system so children can set next steps for any type of learning….we use our mantra of GRIT ( Get really into trying) which celebrates the idea of “we have passion and perseverance for long term goals.”

Families – our aim is to help families and this will be through the offer of parenting workshops supported by partners like Barnado’s, PEEPLE, Homestart and Women’s Aid.

Adversity – for every child we will begin to consider the impact of experience on children’s ability to thrive and focus on a “WIN”strategy.  “What I need,” is a forensic focus on a child’s learning behaviour we have developed. We will focus on the child’s main barrier to learning and use a combination of interventions to address and overtake one target which is shared across several partners and agencies. This will be adapted term by term to reflect the child’s progress.

Relationships – we will continue to operate an open door policy and staff at the gate to continue to change all our children’s biology. “Who we are” is more important than what we know. We have secured a number of partnerships all with the sole purpose of reducing stress and building capacity of children and families  to thrive.

Whenever you break new ground  ..each step is an unknown, a risk…but it is a risk worth taking. So what is the next step? Maybe this blog is it? But the journey of a thousand miles starts with that single step …..we are a very unique school in a supportive authority (Angus Council) with an outstanding team of professionals and families all dedicated to our mission of children and families being able to generate wellbeing outcomes for themselves.

This is our offer… all we ask is for your support so we can learn from each other…please share this widely if you are working in any school in this country so we can all collaborate on this …

Thank you for reading this …

Burnside Primary School…




ACES and what next…

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