The contribution that an understanding of attachment theory can make to schools and learning outcomes is considerable. There are links between attachment, behaviour and learning.
Behind every child who misbehaves and underperforms in school there is a story, and the story is acted out in the classroom. While it is the pupil’s behaviour that will trigger exclusion from the classroom or school, these pupils often also have severe underlying emotional difficulties that can be related to attachment difficulties with their parents or carers.
Attachment theory helps us understand the implications of early experiences in relation to later life outcomes, including learning. It traces the experience of early attachment with a significant carer, the negotiation of separation from that relationship and consequent capacity to experience loss and absence of that person.
For the schoolchild, the patterns of attachment established in infancy can have a significant impact on the child’s behaviour and capacity to learn in the classroom.
Contained anxiety can facilitate thinking and learning in school while excessive uncertainty can inhibit thinking and learning. The pupil is developing the capacity to cope with uncertainty and so to experience the unknown and to explore what they do not know – the basis of learning. In order to learn, you have to tolerate not knowing and to turn to others for support and protection when challenged by uncertainty – the basis of engaging and learning with the teacher.
Story Links is a parent-partnership intervention to support pupils with attachment anxiety. It uses therapeutic Storywriting to support pupils’ emotional well-being and reading skills and the intervention involves pupils, parents and teachers in the co-creation of stories that relate to the pupil’s emotional issues. Evaluation shows that the intervention improves home/school relationship, increases the involvement of the parent in their child’s learning and improves pupil behaviour and attitude to learning.
Dr Alan Sroufe has done extensive research on the impact of attachment on pupils later learning in school. Attachment Theory in the School Child