Creating Safe Spaces for Learners

3 min readMar 15, 2023

This is our first-ever guest blog from Dr Paula Christie, Lead: Research and Enhancement at College Development Network (CDN).

College Development Network (CDN) works with Scotland’s colleges to develop their people, share their great work, and enhance student success. Through the work of its Research and Enhancement Centre, CDN is exploring the impact of poverty and trauma on the future success of college students in Scotland.

As many as 240,000 children and young people in Scotland are brought up in poverty and tackling child poverty is a top priority according to the Scottish Government. More than a third of UK households are grappling with fuel and food poverty as the consumer price index increased 9.2% year-on-year for December 2022.

Poverty is not a new subject for colleges in Scotland — for many years a significant proportion of the college student population has traditionally come from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds. In 2022, 34% of college students were from the 20% most deprived postcodes in Scotland.

Colleges play a crucial role in tackling poverty and inequality and in driving a more inclusive economy. This is the theme of the third of the CDN Research and Enhancement Centre’s ‘Pathways from Poverty’ reports. Trauma-informed practice is an approach grounded in the understanding that exposure to trauma can impact an individual’s neurological, biological, psychological and social development.

Through an in-depth study of the approach taken by West Lothian College to addressing the challenges faced by its learners, their families and their community, CDN’s research team examined the role and impact of a college in post-pandemic Scotland.

Colleges have indirectly always focused on poverty, inequality, and inclusion. Scotland’s colleges have long offered a route to connect people to the skills and experience needed to take on new opportunities to study and to work. Without this role as a driver of educational and career progression, fewer people from deprived backgrounds would have the support and chance to gain the qualifications that can be a passport to better work and greater wellbeing.

Creating a safe space for learners to develop is more important than ever before. The realities faced by students coming from poorer backgrounds are complex, and a whole-system approach that factors in all stakeholders is pivotal to overcoming these complexities. By establishing an environment in which vulnerable learners can prosper, colleges are breaking down barriers to education and widening access, often with the benefits extending beyond the learners and into the wider community. The trauma-informed approach is an important step in steering students away from a crisis and offering them a positive future.

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