Trauma-Informed PE Series 1/3: Relationships are at the heart of Physical Education

Over the next three weeks we will be showcasing a series of blogs looking at Trauma Informed Physical Education. The next two blogs in the series discuss ‘What is trauma informed PE?’ and ‘Examples of how you can implement Trauma-Informed PE in your setting’.

Neil Moggan road tested a trauma informed approach at a secondary school in the UK since September 2022 and will share his journey, his learnings, and how it has helped the young people he serves. Neil takes up the story here:

My why

I wanted to deepen my knowledge of trauma informed practice to help young people to recover from trauma and particularly the impact of covid for the children I taught.

As we returned to education in a post covid world, like many schools across the country, the pandemic had taken a significant toll on staff, the children we serve, our local community, and there was considerable instability and disruption.  My journey to Trauma Informed practice started long before that though.

13 Year Life Expectancy Difference

There was a 13 year life expectancy difference for our young people depending on what side of the main road outside of the school they were born on.   We tended to serve the children from the lowest socio-economic area in Norwich.  When I first heard that statistic 7 years ago the initial shock turned into anger followed by a deep desire to take action to make a difference for these children.  None of us choose where we are born and the situation we are born into.

Feeling helpless

I vividly remember when three 12 year old girls, Sarah, Phillipa and Amy, were brought in late to my gymnastics lesson.  The teacher with them explained that the girls were really struggling with anxiety and asked if they could just sit out the lesson.  This was the point that I realised just how far the average child’s mental health had fallen since the start of my teaching career in 2004.  It felt like I had been hit by a sledgehammer.

As a Director of Sport, I felt totally helpless that I had no strategies to support them and help them feel better.  It fired me into action to research wellbeing in more detail so I didn’t have to feel so helpless ever again.  

Taking Action

Initially, I focused on reducing obesity and we were recognised for our work by Sheffield Hallam University researchers who created a case study on us as one of the top 5 out of 250 schools with similar demographics.  This case study was presented to the Department of Health & Social Care to inform the government’s obesity strategy. 

This programme and its recognition strengthened my resolve for wanting to focus on transforming the quality and quantity of our young people’s lives. One of the best academic frameworks I found for this is Dr Peggy Swarbricks 8 Dimensions of Wellness (Swarbrick, M. (2006) A Wellness Approach. Psychiatric rehabilitation approach.) 

I didn’t just want to help our young people live longer, I wanted to give them the mental and social skills alongside the physical aspect so that they could not just survive but flourish.  I also wanted to develop their financial literacy so they could develop the resources they needed in order for them and their future families to thrive.  

Lockdown, time to think, and contrasting emotions 

I appreciate that people had very different experiences of lockdown.  For many it was incredibly challenging being boxed in with freedoms limited and opportunities to connect with loved ones curtailed and great trauma taking place.  For others, it was a welcome chance to spend time with loved ones, take a break from the stresses of daily life and reevaluate. 

The first lockdown in the spring of 2020 was a chance for me to slow down and reflect, spend precious time with my young family, work with and invest in our key worker children and have time to research, plan and experiment with mental wellbeing strategies based on the mental fitness pyramid. 

Our key worker children were lapping up the strategies I was experimenting with and teaching was incredibly fun.  I had access to the school fitness suite and it was a chance to prioritise my own healthy habits around exercise, sleep, nutrition, hydration and mindfulness.

I was first introduced to Trauma Informed Practice around this time through some excellent training through Beacon House where I first came across techniques such as the benefits of repetitive activities and pushing against heavy objects to regulate the amygdala.

A very different lockdown

The second lockdown in the winter of 2020/21 was the complete opposite.  We lost an ex-student through intentional self harm,  it was devastating personally but even more so for his friends, family and the wider school community.  He was a cheeky chappy who I had become more and more fond of as the years progressed, from first meeting him in lower school to regularly working out with him during after school fitness club in his final year at our school.   

I hadn’t realised he was struggling with mental illness after he left school and I was kicking myself.  Why didn’t I focus on mental wellbeing earlier so that he maybe could of benefitted.  I was heartbroken for him, his friends and family and the wider community.

The fitness suite had  been closed during this lockdown due to Covid restrictions.   I was missing that opportunity to regulate my amygdala through weight training, the dark mornings and afternoons were not helping, and the hours and hours facing the computer screen throughout online learning definitely did not suit me or my mental wellbeing.


Schools returned and we worked incredibly hard as a team of teachers to make the school a fantastic place for our young people to attend every day to learn and recover from Covid. 

Our early intervention programme was getting stronger every week as we found out what strategies worked with our different groups of children.  We developed more and more innovative ways to implement an early intervention framework across the school.   

The RISE Up programme I had created contributed significantly to the school being awarded the afPE quality mark with distinction for our innovative approach to recovery. By now I had created Future Action and I started to successfully train innovative teachers across the world to deliver the programme in their schools through our RISE UP Early Intervention mental wellbeing online teacher training course.

The come down

As time progressed in a post lockdown world, like many schools across the country, the pandemic had taken a significant toll on staff wellbeing.  This was especially true for our staff team who had worked so tirelessly in incredibly challenging situations, the children we served, many of whom had started the pandemic in one school and were now in another school away from the teachers and established relationships to keep them flourishing, and our local community who were also grappling with the economic challenges that Covid had presented. 

There was considerable instability and disruption resulting in the Academy changing Trust.  

Within the space of 12 months we had lost our brilliant head teacher and his fantastic deputy, our chair of governors and approximately 50% of our staff.  Any school in the world would have struggled with that amount of change, but particularly ours due to our local context. This level of change was starting to have a significant impact on the behaviour of many of our children who were crying out for some stability and love, having been through such a traumatic period.  

I had never been more committed to transforming the live chances of our young people but for the first time in my teaching career I was struggling to build the quality of the relationships I wanted with my young people, particularly with my most challenging children.  

The behaviourist approach I was using to try and maintain high standards was just not working for me and my young people anymore.  In fact, it was pushing my young people further and further away from me. I needed a new solution to deal with this unique and incredibly challenging situation.


I had to find a solution as my current strategies just weren’t working in my setting anymore and I had to ask myself some tough questions.  The answers coming back to me weren’t always very easy to digest either.  

I enrolled onto the TISUK Diploma in Trauma and Mental Health-Informed Schools so I could deepen my knowledge of trauma informed practice to help young people to recover from trauma and particularly the impact of Covid for the children I taught.  


My intent was to transform relationships to improve wellbeing, behaviour and engagement.

I knew that if I could do that then attendance & progress in the short term would increase as well.  The second part of my intent was to improve my young people’s life chances in the long term.


That Autumn term in 2022 experimenting with Trauma Informed Practice was one of the most rewarding of my career as I became more emotionally available for my children and colleagues, I developed greater empathy and my relationships transformed with many of my most challenging young people to get the very best out of them despite the wider issues in the Academy.  

I focused on prioritising relationships by creating psychological safety, I used physical activity to help pupils self regulate and feel like they belonged in my classroom, and I created opportunities for children to play wrapped in care. I managed behaviour without retraumatising our young people but still maintaining high standards, and I used trauma informed practice to create wider school impact such as using sport as a sanctuary for our young people. 

A story of transformation

My relationships with all children I taught were transformed but particularly my most challenging young people as they felt psychologically safer so they were calmer.

This shift created a safe and supportive environment where students felt understood and valued, leading to increased engagement and a significant boost in progress and attendance.

In particular, my most challenging students in my exam PE groups, experienced a remarkable increase in their predicted grades by 1.5 grades in 1 term. Their attendance also improved by 5%. This demonstrated the power of trauma informed practices in positively impacting academic outcomes.

Not only did my young people benefit, but I experienced a renewed sense of joy and fulfillment in my teaching. By creating an environment that prioritised wellbeing and connection, teaching became enjoyable again, leading to an improvement in my own wellbeing.

Do we need to take to action?

I believe from the evidence base and my experiences and conversations with teaching colleagues across the country, that the impact of lockdown has fundamentally changed many of our children, making teaching harder than it has ever been.  Many children are now increasingly hypervigilant and feeling unsafe in Physical Education triggering the fight, flight, fright response.  This is leading to increased behavioural problems, disengagement, and poor attendance.  

We have to adapt to our young people in front of us, to create psychological safety first, so that they can flourish and we can thrive as teachers.  Without adapting to our young people, our role is going to get harder and harder, resulting in more and more excellent colleagues leaving the profession to the point where we will be struggling for PE teachers to teach our children.

The Secret Formula for Transformational Teachers

From my experiences I learnt that to become a transformational teacher and improve our children’s life chances in a post-lockdown education world, we need to focus on the following formula: 

Outstanding relationships through Trauma Informed PE + Opportunities for Physical Activity & Play + Early Intervention Mental Wellbeing Strategies = A Transformational PE Teacher in a post lockdown education world.

Spreading the message

From road testing various trauma informed techniques and approaches in my school, I created the ‘Recover Roadmap’, a 7 step process to guide innovative PE teachers how to implement trauma informed practice in their PE departments to transform relationships, wellbeing, engagement, behaviour & progress in the short term, and more importantly their children’s life chances in the long term.

Over the next two blogs, we will explore:

  • What Trauma Informed PE is?
  • Examples of how you can implement Trauma Informed PE in your setting.

How we can help you

If you would like to know more, we have got a range of taster resources for you to try. We have created the ‘Enhancing Engagement Scorecard’ to help you track your progress in implementing Trauma Informed PE practice within 2 minutes.

This scorecard acts as a valuable tool for self-reflection and continuous improvement. Click on the link to take the first step and get your score.

Additionally, we offer a ‘Taster Trauma Informed PE Course’ for you to Step 1 of our full course so you can develop your understanding of what a trauma-informed approach is, what Adverse Childhood Experiences are, and how this affects children in the classroom at the moment and their life chances, based on the ACEs studies.

Click here to complete this 1 minute form to receive your personalised login.


We have created a ‘Trauma Informed PE’ Online teacher training course to guide you in 7 simple steps how to implement the Recovery Roadmap in your PE department to transform relationships, wellbeing, engagement, behaviour & progress in the short term, and more importantly your children’s life chances in the long term.

To find out more visit our website.  

Please quote PEScholar10 to receive a 10% discount if you go on to purchase the course.

For the next blog in this Trauma Informed PE series, ‘What is trauma informed PE?’ click here. For the final blog of the series, ‘Examples of how you can implement Trauma-Informed PE in your setting’, click here

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