The SecEd Podcast: Trauma & adverse childhood experiences

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

This episode looks at how secondary schools can support students who are living with trauma or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). We consider the common challenges, how to respond, and offer some tips for school staff.

We ask what form trauma and ACEs can take and what impact this can have on young people and their education, including the particular impacts we often see at secondary level.

We discuss the signs to look-out for that a student is living with trauma and the key tenets of effective support, including how to build strong relationships and trust, how to create safe spaces, and how to “be curious” about students.

We talk about behaviour as a form of communication: how to handle incidents and meltdowns, how to be curious about the causes of behaviour, and how to engage with students who are on “high-alert” or battling with “fight-flight-freeze-fawn” – and why “connection before correction” is crucial.

We discuss the four domains of safety, child-centred planning, as well as attendance and emotionally based school avoidance and the importance of predictable and reliable routines.

This episode is hosted by Pete Henshaw, the editor of SecEd, and our guests are:

  • Dr Pooky Knightsmith is a passionate ambassador for mental health, wellbeing and PSHE. Her work is backed up both by a PhD in child and adolescent mental health and her own lived experience of PTSD, anorexia, self-harm, anxiety and depression.
  • Steven Russell is the founder of Elements SEMH Support. As a child, he lived with nine foster families, was placed into two children's homes and attended five schools. This experience has led him to create Elements:

To hear other SecEd podcasts, or to subscribe for free to new editions, search for 'The SecEd Podcast' in your podcast streaming application of choice. Or visit

For details about The SecEd Podcast, or to suggest future topics, email editor Pete Henshaw at


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