Theme 3: belonging and agency

The NEU’s ‘Belonging’ research highlights that staff retention is far greater where teachers know that they can make a difference and they have a strong sense of personal and professional agency in their school.

Creating belonging as an intentional and purposeful practice from individual to system level has promise of a robust approach.

The NEU commissioned research, 'Place and Belonging in School: why it matters today' offers examples of how ‘belonging can support teacher retention and the positive affects to the wider school community. The leaders of these schools saw their role as enacting the agency of staff and students and bringing parents on board.

Teachers matter. They are the key influencers for children. Research tells us that the most significant factor for young people – in terms of whether they experience a sense of belonging or exclusion in school – is how they perceive their relationships with their teachers. How staff feel will affect their relationship with their pupils.

We found a shared language of belonging in the schools we visited, not only for young people but also for staff. Discussions with staff revolved around two matters. The first was what belonging meant to the children and young people in their school. The second set of discussions with staff revolved around their own experiences: to what extent did they feel a sense of belonging in the school?

When you feel you belong

  • You can be more creative, innovative and confident.
  • You feel respected and accepted.
  • You’ll stay longer in an organisation and make more of a contribution.
  • You have a sense of well-being and agency.
  • You feel more involved and committed to your job.

In the schools included in this Inquiry, there are few problems about staff retention. Teachers stay. One teacher summed it up as follows: “you commit and know you have a future and that encourages you to be yourself and to innovate.” These teachers know that they can make a difference and they have a strong sense of personal and professional agency in their school. Agency is the belief that what you do makes a difference, and have the skills and opportunity to do it

Welcoming families and communities into school is a key aspect of creating a sense of place and belonging. The research highlighted that parents were more involved in school life as they came in and out of the five schools with confidence and ease.

For children at Parklands, belonging is about love, respect, and being part of a family. Read how the school’s ‘connectedness’ brought leaders, educators and the community together.

Parklands Primary star of the week drawing
Illustration: ‘Star’ of the Week

It is a Friday afternoon in Leeds and it is pouring down. Parents and grandparents pick their way through the puddles to reach Parklands Primary School, pushing buggies and clutching umbrellas. Their homes are mainly located in Seacroft, a large 1950’s post-war Council Estate which today is an area of high unemployment and deprivation.

The school is hosting its weekly ‘bestseatsinthehouse’ assembly which celebrates the achievements of their children. Children compete to show how great they are – at spelling and tables, geography and science...any aspect of their school life.

One of the ‘Stars’ of the week is ‘Miya’ who is introduced by her teacher in the following terms:

“‘Miya’ where do I start? She’s a lovely girl, caring and hard-working. She has a positive attitude to everything that she does. She is hungry to learn. She’s a credit to her parents and herself.”

Winners from the ‘bestseatsinthehouse’ assembly spill out into the hallway, eager to spend their awards on the new Vending Machine. However, it’s a Vending Machine with a difference, not fizzy drinks or crisps but books: the classics, ‘The Three Musketeers’; mysteries of the past, ‘The Totally Dead Dinosaurs’; and the chocolate fix, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.

Action for change

What learning and development is taking place in schools to encourage a cycle of connectivity and effective relationships?

What approaches could encourage parents to see school as their community place?

Cover graphic

Get involved

Share best practice with other members on how your school is creating a sense of place and belonging and register your interest here to be more involved.

Creating a sense of place and belonging in schools
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