Solutions Focused Coaching in Schools – the way forward

Solutions Focused Coaching in Schools – the way forward

Case note 1:

“Some members of my team who are in school now starting to deliver Solutions Focused Coaching sessions shocked the socks off the school and surprised the young people – two very, very good sessions with two disillusioned young people. It was an incredibly uplifting professional experience to break through that original cynicism, disillusionment, disengagement …. They actually came into school to meet the SF Coach and went away from the session having been very reflective, really happy about their sessions. It shows a different side of a young person ….. it was a habit of thinking that ‘they won’t turn up’.”

This comes from a member of the Achievement for Children Early Intervention and Support Service, during an online meeting last week. It points up the potential of Solutions Focused Coaching as way of reaching and supporting children and young people, given a well-designed training course and effective follow-up.

The AfC team completed my online course a month ago and are already making a positive difference in children’s lives with SF Coaching.

The development of SF Coaching in Schools builds internal capacity for the provision of whole-school, first-level support for children who struggle with schooling, to help them manage their own stress and anxiety and the behaviour that springs from it. Even a small fraction of the 1 million strong school workforce in the UK working with children to build their resources for dealing with life stresses and strains takes some of the pressure off specialist external support services. 

SFC answers the question of how can we help children whose behaviour challenges school systems, yet can seem to be so hard to reach. 

SFC also meets the first-level needs of children who have experienced trauma before and during the pandemic, who are consequently hyper-alert to threats to their safety and behaving accordingly, without turning to punishment and exclusion for behaviour errors. 

Can SFC extend to the problem of school refusal, where attending school has become a daily problem for a growing number of children and young people? 

Case note 2:

“A home visit with a very, very closed individual ….  when I asked her ‘what’s your best hope?’ or ‘what do you like doing best?’ she was really shocked, because I suppose everyone has always focused on ‘Why are you school refusing? Why aren’t you going in?’ But to be asked that, she suddenly smiled and actually started to talk to me about her art and the cooking she wanted to do.

I’m not very practiced at it, but it was just taking small steps and I said I’d come to visit her this week to do more of it. Coming straight off the training course, you offered a structure for this work by using the script in the first place ….. for me, it makes me more confident.”

Seeing children struggle ……

Disengaged, disruptive and withdrawn behaviour, emotionally related school refusal, underachievement and exclusion are long-standing issues in schools. It is clear that the children who present with these problem have unmet needs that can make school and schooling hard for them and the people around them. At the top end, referrals to children’s mental health services rose by 35% in the year before the pandemic and have continued to rise markedly over the last year.

…. and responding

In response, AfC as an innovative education services provider is moving ahead with a behavioral health solution, where we can see children’s behaviour as communication of their needs rather than deliberate and intentionally rule-breaking. Making this shift in mindset develops strategies based on understanding and meeting children’s identified needs in place of one-size-fits-all discipline which by definition cannot meet the wide-ranging needs of the diversity of children. Moving on to develop SFC in schools does not mean abandoning discipline. In practice it works smoothly with the rules and reminders set up to establish social and academic boundaries, while bringing those children who need a different approach to the centre of the support and change process.

Moving from problem focus to solutions focus

The science underpinning recovery from trauma and the capacity of the brain to reshape itself, is accessible and solid. Together with the growing understanding of the centrality of human relationships for good mental health and wellbeing SFC provides the foundations for effective support for wellbeing, self-motivation and self-regulation, supported by the findings of Implementation science on how to implement effective change in organisations. 

I started my own journey from problems to Solutions Focused Coaching in 2001 and over the years since then I’ve tested its reliability a wide range of applications, from schools to the mental health clinic to residential services among others. When people first come across the solutions focused approach they often say “Why haven’t I heard about this before?” My reply is “I’ve no idea with the about it now.” 


With the current wave of issues around children’s mental health and school engagement, with the Whitehall Department for Education’s announcement of yet another project looking at how schools are approaching this through their behaviour support approaches, SFC is a timely response.

The time is right for doing something different. 

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