Children succeed in school when their challenges are understood, and when the school is trauma-informed and responsive.

Research by Public Health Wales (2015) tells us that in a classroom of 30 schoolchildren you would expect to see 15 who have experienced at least one ACE, and 4 who have experienced four or more ACEs.

These figures may vary for different areas or demographics, but the message they give is the same everywhere: teachers have to deal with traumatised children in the course of their work every day. Understanding how trauma has affected their pupils, and how teachers can get the best out of the children in spite of it, can transform the classroom experience for both teachers and children – and also benefit non-traumatised students too.

Below we share two case studies of schools that have adopted trauma-informed approaches and the difference this has made. Before that, take a look at the statistics from the Welsh ACE Study of 2,000 people aged 18 -69 carried out in 2015:


Lincoln High School, Walla Walla (Washington state)

Lincoln High was the alternative school you only sent your child to if other schools had failed them. Most students didn’t turn up and there were five gangs in the building. Many of the students also came from disadvantaged backgrounds, with four-fifths of them receiving free lunches.

This changed when new headteacher Jim Sporleder made it his mission to transform the school’s culture. Staff were trained to reduce stress and develop relationships with students, with respect, teamwork and hope all key to the new approach. A Health Center was also set up to provide mostly mental health support for the students.

As a result of these and other changes, the school’s performance was turned around in many areas:

  • The average number of days spent in out-of-school suspension fell by more than 75%
  • Its graduation rate nearly doubled, while the number of seniors enrolling in college trebled
  • The number of fights went down by 75%
  • Nearly 90% of teachers reported changes in their students’ behaviour after they’d received counselling


St Cuthbert's Primary ACE Pathfinder School, Blackburn with Darwen (UK)

St Cuthbert’s Primary ACE Pathfinder School are reaping the benefits of Blackburn with Darwen’s early adoption of the ACEs framework.

The school established a core group to drive their initiative, with twilight training sessions and all policies now viewed through an ‘ACE lens’. They also measured children’s emotional well-being and compared it to academic success. As a result:

  • Standards improved for all children, with attainment now above the national averages for reading, writing and maths
  • Progress for their most vulnerable pupils has improved significantly, with 51% making better than expected or accelerated progress once their social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs were addressed
  • Their OFSTED rating rose from ‘Good’ to ‘Outstanding’