Square Pegs

Inclusivity, compassion and fitting in – a guide for schools

By: Fran Morgan , Ellie Costello , Ian Gilbert

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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 246 x 174mm
Pages : 376
ISBN : 9781781354100
Format: Paperback
Published: February 2023

Written by Fran Morgan with Ellie Costello and edited by Ian Gilbert, Square Pegs: Inclusivity, compassion and fitting in – a guide for schools is a book for educators who find themselves torn between a government/Ofsted narrative around behaviour, attendance and attainment, and their own passion for supporting square pegs and their families.

Over the last few years, changes in education have made it increasingly hard for those children who don’t ‘fit’ the system – the square pegs in a rigid system of round holes. 

Budget cuts, the loss of support staff, an overly academic curriculum, problems in the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system and difficulties accessing mental health support have all compounded pre-existing problems with behaviour and attendance. The ‘attendance = attainment’ and zero-tolerance narrative is often at odds with the way schools want to work with their communities, and many school leaders don't know which approach to take.

This book will be invaluable in guiding leaders and teaching staff through the most effective ways to address this challenge. It covers a broad spectrum of opportunity, from proven psychological approaches to technological innovations. It tests the boundaries of the current system in terms of curriculum, pedagogy and statutory Department for Education guidance. And it also presents a clear, legalese-free view of education, SEND and human rights law, where leaders have been given responsibility for its implementation but may not always fully understand the legal ramifications of their decisions or may be pressured into unlawful behaviour.

Bringing different perspectives and expertise together in one place, Square Pegs aims to help school leaders and staff support children (and their families) more effectively. The authors cover a wide variety of topics – including school attendance, building relationships, trauma-informed practice, and behaviour management. Featuring contributions from more than 50 individual authors, this is an accessible, dip-in, dip-out book – perfect for busy school leaders. 

Suitable for all professionals working in education and the related issues surrounding children and young people’s mental health, as well as policymakers, academics and government ministers.

Picture for author Fran Morgan

Fran Morgan

Fran Morgan founded Square Peg in 2019, following her own daughter’s struggles in the education system, having seen clear evidence that there were (and still are) a growing number of square pegs. After 14 years working in this field to support other parents and effect change, she has now retired to pick up the reins of her copywriting business.  

Picture for author Ellie Costello

Ellie Costello

Ellie Costello joined Square Peg as Director in 2020, having experienced life as the parent of children with underlying needs which impacted their ability to access and ‘fit’ the education system. She now runs the organisation, as well as working as an Expert By Experience with local authority and health teams in her home county of Warwickshire.


Picture for author Ian Gilbert

Ian Gilbert

Since establishing Independent Thinking 25 years ago, Ian Gilbert has made a name for himself across the world as a highly original writer, editor, speaker, practitioner and thinker, and is someone who the IB World magazine has referred to as one of the world's leading educational visionaries.

The author of several books, and the editor of many more, Ian is known by thousands of teachers and young people across the world for his award-winning Thunks books. Thunks grew out of Ian's work with Philosophy for Children (P4C), and are beguiling yet deceptively powerful little philosophical questions that he has created to make children's – as well as their teachers' – brains hurt.

Ian's growing collection of bestselling books has a more serious side too, without ever losing sight of his trademark wit and straight-talking style. The Little Book of Bereavement for Schools, born from personal family experience, is finding a home in schools across the world, and The Working Class – a massive collaborative effort he instigated and edited – is making a genuine difference to the lives of young people from some of the poorest backgrounds.

A unique writer and editor, there is no other voice like Ian Gilbert's in education today.

See for yourself.

Ian was winner of The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society's inaugural Educational Writers Award (Nov 2008) for 'The Little Book of Thunks' - Click here for more information on the book.

Re-framing the Education Debate with Independent Thinker, Ian Gilbert.

Click here to read Ian Gilbert’s blog.

Click here to read Ian's article in International Teacher Magazine.


  1. This book should be on the coffee table in every school staff room! Every teacher will find at least one chapter relevant to their practice and the Square Pegs in their class. While it deals with some difficult topics it is not a misery memoir, it is enlightening and provides hope that reasonable adjustments can be made that will mean there could no longer be any Square Pegs in our school.

  2. Square Pegs is a book that highlights those children with a range of additional needs who often don’t fit in at school.  Their needs are often misunderstood and complex. However, Fran and Ellie have curated a range of authors and experts who, in one book, provide understanding of their needs and strategies for including them in schools with compassion. This book is a veritable toolbox of information for understanding; strategies for inclusion and is a must for anyone in the profession or those about to enter it. I can’t commend it highly enough.

  3. The book is well-structured and guides the reader through definitions, current issues and practical tools in a clear and accessible manner. Each chapter is written with a distinct focus by a different author, and each offers approaches to support young people as well as inspiring reflection upon current systems, highlighted by real-life experiences, whilst maintaining statutory duties… Key points, theories and support strategies are regularly clarified by clear diagrams, visual representation of theories, tables providing clear action plans, and illustrations and children’s word, all of which provide useful summaries and points of reference throughout the text.

    Overall, I found this a very interesting, informative and powerful book to read. The easy-to-read, jargon-free style and the clear structure allows the reader to access topics that are of interest. Whilst I feel the content is most useful for school managers, there are certainly resources, information and tools that could be used in EP practice and EP training.

  4. …A thought-provoking and hope-inducing read, highlighting the widespread challenges that children, young people and families continue to face when navigating school inclusion, belonging and attendance. It gives a collection of theory and experience that provides a wealth of knowledge, and viewpoints from a range of individuals, from headteachers and youth workers, to parents and lawyers, all offering a valuable and insightful contribution to understanding and supporting ‘square pegs’.

  5. Fran Morgan and Ellie Costello didn’t write this from a researcher or practitioner perspective, but through the eyes of experts by experience and their passion, desire for justice and genuine empathy for square pegs is evident throughout Square Pegs. One of the biggest strengths of the book is its ability to pull together so many voices and give equal weighting to experiences, case studies and theory.

  6. All in all, I was left with a renewed belief that often, changing school systems is the best way we can meet the needs of individuals. In a post covid world this book gives us a timely reminder that as Educational Psychologists we play a valuable role in supporting schools to make adaptations and inclusive environments in line with legislation, rather than providing a ’one size fits all’.

  7. One of the most powerful aspects of the book is hearing about the travails of individual children from those who’ve tried to help them. Sometimes their stories end badly, being chucked out and finding the well-trodden path into the youth justice system. Or they endure crushingly poor mental health which scars the rest of their lives. Other times the story ends upliftingly. And it’s these stories that are so very valuable in Square Pegs.

    At the heart of Square Pegs is a plea for flexibility. For not treating all students the same. In this sense it tackles the fundamental distinction between equality and equity. Gove and his acolytes have cleverly marshalled arguments around equality as guarantees of social justice: all children should have the right to the same core body of knowledge, and only by treating everyone the same can we ensure standards across the board. But, as the nine-year-old at the start of this review shrewdly points out, treating everyone equally doesn’t make everyone happy.

    Read the full review here.

  8. The authors tackle the widespread, almost epidemic problem of children who are unable to access normal learning environments, or those who are being excluded or forced out of the system due to behavioural issues or persistent non-attendance. The authors are both experts with considerable lived experience. They are the founders of the Square Pegs organisation, which strives for change in the one-size-fits-all education system that frequently fails those children who are neurodiverse, suffering from the effects of trauma or from a poor socio-economic background.

    The two authors primarily act as editors, as the book is a collection of works from a wide variety of over 50 individual contributors, including headteachers, lawyers, parents and people with lived experience. Fundamentally, the book is a guide for schools and is aimed at teaching staff. However, the content is not weighed down with heavy educational jargon and is therefore easily generalisable to parents or those working outside of direct education such as social workers or support workers...

    Read the review in full here.

  9. I warmly welcome this excellent book. Square Pegs is a must read for parents, teachers and all who want an education system which reflects and rejoices in the diversity and individual needs of children.
    I particularly like the practical tips and advice to help those supporting children who find the schools experience challenging.  It should also give educational policy makers and regulators much food for thought in their oversight of our educational system.
  10. This book is essential reading for everyone in education or anyone who is a parent. At times disturbing and sad, and with a level of honesty rarely seen, the authors give a candid account of the reality of our system for some students – those who don't easily fall-in with our increasingly narrow and punitive education system. Square Pegs fired me up to do more and keep pushing for what I believe in – these are 'uncomfortable truths' of our system which prioritises competition, individualism and conformity. History is written by the victors they say, and too often, education policy is written by those who have been successful within that system. These are hard voices to listen to, but listen we must, and use those insights to get into action. Well done for the courageous, authentic and rigorous work. 

  11. Our education system is failing our children and young people. It is a one size system that does not fit all (far from). Square Pegs is a compelling metaphor that cuts right to the heart of the emotional barriers preventing so many from attending school. It is also a great book which brings together a range of voices to provide an essential toolkit for anybody working with or living with square pegs. It contains practical advice, useful resources and, most importantly, a poignant insight into not fitting in. I am sure that this book will make the lives of lots of children, young people and their families easier. I also hope that it and the wider square peg movement will ultimately lead to a reform of education so that our system allows everybody to not only fit, but to thrive.

  12. A must read for everyone invested in education, highlighting the real risk of how education can cause harm but more importantly, the real opportunity that education offers to heal and embrace the position it has of being a protective factor for so many children and young people.
  13. Square Pegs shares real life case studies as well as bringing in theory and ideas for practical solutions to put into practise today. The system of trying to fit square pegs into round holes will never work, it leaves those that are already struggling and marginalised even more broken. The law around school attendance and the whole current framework of our education system needs to change, this is a massive task and will not happen quickly. However, there are practical ideas in this book based on real case studies to support those willing to consider a change of narrative and create a positive difference. Education needs to be inclusive and supportive, children, young people and their families should not be penalised due to their differences and inability to fit in. The consequences of the current education system not meeting the needs of so many is devastating...

    Read more here.

  14. In an engaging, thought provoking and practically realistic analysis, Fran Morgan, Ellie Costello and their wide range of associates have unravelled the implications for learners of all ages who fail to ‘fit in’ or ‘conform’ within certain schools and colleges. They highlight the continuing inadequate responses to promote effective access, inclusion and strategies for engagement and progress for a growing number of learners.

    Key features of the compelling, insightful and at times challenging book is that it encourages practitioners at the coal face, in a wide range of roles, to discuss what works for them by offering positive and practical strategies for teachers at all levels.

    This is an outstanding book in terms of content, awareness and relevance of the issues facing schools with increasing numbers of learners falling by the wayside.  The authors enable the reader to reflect on real issues that arise and ways forward to promote potential. The book will be a major asset for teachers and lecturers at all levels to develop confidence, awareness, and personal safe practice to promote change. In particular, it serves as a reminder to all senior managers to change the mind set from re-shaping the square peg to broadening the round hole.

  15. This book should be an essential piece of reading for everyone who works with, or is interested in the lives of children who struggle to be included or are often overlooked. In the midst of a lot of noise and anger about a failing system, it focuses our attention on the humanity of children, their individual needs and how to support them to succeed. The short chapters mean it is a book that can be dipped in and out of regularly, looking at excellent legal and practical advice as well as inspirational stories of success.

  16. Our high-stakes, test- and exam-focused system is failing too many children. It literally fails those who struggle to attend school or are marked as failures in exams. It metaphorically fails those who attend and get their grades, but at a personal cost to themselves, their love of learning and their families. This will continue to be the case for as long as schools are judged in the main on test and exam results, placing the burden of whole-school success or failure on children’s shoulders.

    For the good of every child and, indeed, of educators themselves (most of whom want to provide the best possible learning experiences and strive to do so in spite of our one-size-fits-all model for education), it’s time to listen to the canaries in the cages – the children who simply cannot cope, let alone thrive, within our restrictive, reductive system. Change made for those who suffer most will benefit the whole school community.

  17. No child should miss out on a good education and the chance of opportunities in life just because their school doesn’t give them the support they need to succeed. Most schools cherish and value the children who have special educational needs; there are also some who do not place inclusion high on their list of priorities, and exclude or marginalise children rather than provide the mental health and therapeutic support they need. 

    Recently, a 13-year-old girl with autism gave me a list of what a good school for her would look like: well-organised, supportive, calm, focused on learning, there to help. These are all things we would want to see for every child in every school. After spending two years out of the classroom because a succession of schools was unable to meet her needs, she went on to find a school which understood her and provided the springboard she needed to do well. She went on to achieve great things in her GCSEs and is now in sixth form. Like Square Peg, I want all schools to see the potential in all children and provide the support they need.

    We should all be grateful to Square Peg for all they do to advocate for children who need most help, and for showing how schools and parents can work together with children to provide a positive environment to learn. Every child deserves the best start in life, and positive outcomes for all children must be at the heart of a successful education system.

  18. In order for a society to become healthy, whole and progressive, it must be willing to listen to the square pegs that it has created within itself. It is when square pegs choose to be silent and when they choose to communicate that we must pay careful attention to, for the sake of all of us. Everyone who was gifted with a square peg in their life will tell you so. Square pegs are our compass and our orienteers: they are the first to notice when we lose our way, the first to see that we have crossed our own boundaries, and the first to feel when we single-mindedly keep digging one-shaped holes. This is why this book had to be written, and this is why it must be read by anyone who cares about the education system of this country.

    I have been following Fran, Ellie and their many supporters, diligently collecting piece by piece of evidence for several years, to assemble the overly complicated puzzle of square pegs, to improve our society. The result is brutally honest, yet optimistic. It is visionary yet chooses a pragmatic approach and offers many quick wins. It offers a sensitive choice of a diverse set of writers, through which one thread of pearls is coming out very clearly: it is about compassion, consent, community and relationships. It is about holding our societal compass close to our hearts and struggling to keep it safe. This is the struggle of all of us – or at least it should be.

  19. In recent years, many schools in England have started to implement strict policies around behaviour, curriculum and attendance. As the screws tighten, more and more square pegs (read ‘deeply distressed young people’) have started voting with their feet. When you stop going to school, it creates all kinds of problems: home visits, financial penalties and, incredibly, the threat of custodial sentences for the parents and carers of persistent ‘offenders'. The fact that so many young people should choose such strife over attending school should tell us something very important about their lived experience of our one-size-fits-all education system. It seems likely that increasing numbers of square pegs will continue voting with their feet until we reach crisis point. But this crisis can be averted if we listen to the voices of those affected now. This brilliantly curated book is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in creating a more diverse, empathic, responsive educational ecosystem that works for all young people.

  20. Making schools more inclusive is essential to ensuring the well-being and ability to thrive of every young person. Creating a sense of belonging and using trauma-informed strategies to help the system welcome the square pegs, rather than continuing to force them into round holes, is clearly the way forward. The current government one-size-fits-all approach, particularly to SEND and behaviour, needs a rethink. 

    This book offers a wealth of practical examples of how collaboration between schools and families, alongside the will to make a culture shift, can lead to successful inclusion practices. It is very readable and contains practical advice and solutions, framed within the current educational context, that leaders, teachers and support staff can use to create the right systems and support to ensure that every child and young person really is more than just ‘fine in school’. 

  21. This book is steeped in the experience and expertise of families, teachers and leaders. It tells the story of a system that is fraught with unintended consequences, brings the lived experiences of young people alive and challenges the notion of one-size-fits-all strategies. The voice of school leaders and teachers, ambitious to see the young people in their care thrive, roar at us across the page. It’s a book of confidence for professionals and parents alike to rise above the distracting noise about attendance, exclusion and ‘what works’ narratives. A much-needed book ensuring the voice and experience of young people is heard and helping to inform what happens next.

    It’s a must-read for everyone with a vision of an education system that can be ‘fixed’ through collaboration and brave actions. 

  22. This is a book that is firmly on the side of children as they try to come to terms with a school system that is designed to encourage conformity. It highlights the way some schools manage to set the child at the heart of what they do in every sense of the term. There are case studies that shine a light on the child's perspective and solutions offered for other schools to try. Reading it is both heart-wrenching and uplifting ... but uplifting wins.

  23. There is an old African saying: ‘Until the lions have their own historians, the tales of glory will always be written by the hunters.’ Fran Morgan has assembled here some lions and while they don't write too many tales of glory – although there are some – they do make us all realise why so many square pegs unnecessarily gain so little from our schooling system. Twelve years ago, Michael Gove sent a King James bible to every school. The next secretary of state for education should send a copy of this book to every new head teacher and put it on the reading list for all initial teacher training courses.

  24. This is one of the most riveting books on education I have read in a long while. Its aim – to provide practical solutions for schools and families struggling with the increasing number of children who don’t thrive in our current system – could not be more timely. The array of richly qualified writers places compassion, purpose and student autonomy at the heart of best practice. Their approach would surely work not just for those who avoid school, but for those stuck within it. Square Pegs is a must-read for parents, governors, staff and students who’re up for a quiet classroom revolution.

  25. ‘It's not that she wouldn't, she couldn't.’ These words, written in the introduction of the book, struck a chord with me. The educational system we work in has, in my opinion, been created for the round pegs who fit perfectly into the round holes and yet the young people in our schools are all unique and are not carbon copies of each other. This book is utterly refreshing in that it addresses the biggest of misconceptions – that we should treat all children the same. Not all young people are the same and the sooner we learn how to teach and support them in the way they each need, the better it will be for all. This book explains what the issues are and how as a profession we can begin to address this. I cannot recommend this book enough. Thank you, Fran, Ellie and all the contributors for helping us to better understand and support our square pegs. 

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