Preventing Adverse Childhood Experience key to tackling the attainment gap

Date: 12th July 2017

A new report by NHS Health Scotland discusses how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can exacerbate the educational attainment gap and investigates how the negative effects of ACEs can be mitigated.

The report, entitled 'Tackling the attainment gap by preventing and responding to Adverse Childhood Experiences', aims to inform thinking about the impact of adverse childhood experiences and how to use the Pupil Equity Funding to reduce the attainment gap.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are defined as 'stressful events occurring in childhood' and include abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction. The report details how those who have experienced four or more ACEs are more likely to smoke tobacco, be a victim of violence, and are twenty times more likely to have been incarcerated at any point in their lifetime. This is because ACEs 'can create dangerous levels of stress and derail healthy brain development, which can result in long-term effects on learning, behaviour and health'.

NHS Health Scotland emphasise the importance of children and young people who have experienced ACEs having access to healthy relationships both within and outwith the school environment:

"Our brains are shaped by the relationships we have had from birth and therefore impact on our future emotional health and wellbeing. Children and young people who have experienced ACEs and who may not have received the emotional comfort for a healthy start in life will develop ways to respond and cope. This can result in children and young people being unfocused, disruptive, controlling, withdrawn, and destructive within a school setting"

Access to youth work can give young people the opportunity to form relationships with trusted adults which is important particularly for vulnerable children and young people as it can help to re-engage them in learning.

The report provides key questions to inform action on closing the attainment gap which include:

  • What could the school environment do to support family nurture and the issues affecting parents/carers that lead to adverse experiences in children?
  • Is the school a nurturing and caring learning environment with children's rights underpinning its work?
  • Is the importance of developing trusting relationships with children and young people at the heart of learning? Is the importance of teachers and other adults as attachment figures recognised as a way to support children's readiness to learn?