Circle of Friends

Circle of Friends

What is a Circle of Friends?

Colin Newton is interviewed by Jenny Trott on behalf of parents of disabled children who may be concerned about friendship and support, 2018

“In an intact group the pool of shared understandings is like a shared bank account of the group wealth”

Circle of friends is an approach to enhancing the inclusion, in a mainstream setting, of any young person, who is experiencing difficulties in school because of a disability, personal crisis or because of their challenging behaviour towards others.

The ‘circle of friends’ approach works by mobilising the young person’s peers to provide support and engage in problem solving with the person in difficulty. ‘Circle of friends’ is not the same as ‘circle time’ but many of the skills and techniques used by teachers in ‘circle time’ can be used to support the ‘circle of friends’ process.

I read your Creating Circles of Friends book from cover to cover over the summer and found it truly inspiring. I am hoping to work with my schools this year on introducing and persuading them to trust and believe in this very powerful and effective approach. I just hope that I can convey the enthusiasm and passion that your book has instilled in me.

Dr Bryony Curtis – Educational Psychologist

We can offer training or we can come and set up a circle for you – just give us a call!

We specialise in autism in mainstream schools, inclusion of students with disabilities, education psychology, autism education, community building and training on inclusion.
Special Children October Edition 2012

Click here for the full article


Circle of Friends in action – featured on Channel 4

Derek Wilson of Inclusive Solutions is featured contributing to the Circle he has initiated at Hogarth school in Nottingham. Aaron is a young man with labels of autism and Downs Syndrome. Look at this wonderful inclusive process and the benefits for all the children present.


Over the past 16 years we have been encouraging the use of ‘circle of friends’ in a wide variety of primary and secondary schools across the UK and beyond, often with very successful outcomes. A major advantage of the approach is that it does not involve a major commitment of time from teaching staff. This is because the true work is done by the peers themselves, not the adults. The adult’s role is to meet with the circle and the focus child for around 20-30 minutes weekly to facilitate their problem solving in the early stages. Successful circles will often become largely self-sustaining and provide support for the focus child without the need for regular adult input. When there is careful planning and real commitment from the facilitator, results from the process are seen very quickly.

‘Pupils throughout the Scottish Borders have given their views on what makes the school experience a positive one, whatever their additional support needs. It shows the huge importance pupils place on friendships and relationships. Being included in the academic dimension is not enough. Children and young people value social and cultural activities – eating with others, going on school trips, taking part in games and activities with their friends. They know they need help, but want it to be as discreet as possible’.

Kathleen Marshall, Scotland’s Commissioner for Scotland and Young People 2007
Introduction to ‘Access All Areas, What children and young people think about accessibility, inclusion and additional support at school’ 
Read this short Article on creating Circles of Friends
Colin Newton and Derek Wilson invite closing reflections after a day in Tower Hamlets, London on their training on ‘Circle of Friends approach to friendship and inclusion.’
Work with Open Society in Armenia with a range of Countries on ‘Circles of Friends’ a great tool for inclusion. Made new friends and connections in Georgia, Belgrade, Moldova, Ukraine, Mongolia and many other places…. November 2014
Sarajevo, Bosnia – Training on Circle of friends. Wonderful group of passionate educators. The group really appreciated our range of teaching styles. There was even a Sarajevo TV film crew recording us for live TV.

Check out this wonderful animation created by the DUGA Blog Circle of friends page organisation to whom we provided training on ‘Circles of Friends’over recent years.

We specialise in autism in mainstream schools, inclusion of students with disabilities, education psychology, autism education, community building and training on inclusion.

Check out this edition of Special Children featuring Arousha’s Circle of Friends. We worked with Bluecoat School staff and the Inclusive Education Service in Nottingham to set this circle up. Colin was Arousha’s link educational psychologist for a number of years and supported her transition to secondary education. Arousha has completely challenged many assumptions about who can cope in our city secondary schools!! Well done Arousha!


Our Books and Resources

Creating Circles of Friends book and DVD

This is a book for everyone because it is a book about relationships and their importance in all our lives.

We specialise in autism in mainstream schools, inclusion of students with disabilities, education psychology, autism education, community building and training on inclusion.
We specialise in autism in mainstream schools, inclusion of students with disabilities, education psychology, autism education, community building and training on inclusion.

If you are a special educational needs co-ordinator, a form tutor, a primary class teacher, a youth worker, a support assistant and you are concerned about the isolation of young people you know with a disability or difference, then this is the book for you. If you are a parent of a child labelled disabled, it is likely that you already know the difficulties facing your son or daughter in achieving the breadth of friendships and relationships that others take for granted. This is the book for you. You may also be aware of your own need, as an adult, for support and perhaps have a wide circle of friends upon whom you can rely. The work described here will help you reflect on this need and consider ways in which you can strengthen these relationships.

Purchase our practical handbook ‘Creating Circles of Friends’ from our online shop

Buy our Circles of Friends Pack including both the book and the DVD:

Circles of Friends Pack


Or, Download the Circles of Friends Impact Video here:

Circle of Friends Impact Video

Many other downloadable Videos on sale in our Videos section!




‘This book has been based on Canadian Research and offers a simple but well-tried and tested solution/technique to help with re-integration into main stream classroom for children with behavioural problems.
The “Circle of Friends” technique is based on inclusion rather than exclusion and works by looking at the problem the child has in their social life and by involving their classmates to help them rebuild their social circle. This ultimately leads to the child learning more appropriate social behaviour, which will enable them to get on better with their peers. Obviously this in turn helps them to rebuild a peer group relationship and to continue to work on problems that will lead to more acceptance and inclusion rather than exclusion from these groups.

Using step by step directions on how to set up a “circle of Friends” case studies and examples/templates of handouts which can be used both by parents in the home situation and by others who work with or care for the children out of school activities and well as being used in school. This helps to reinforce the technique across all aspects of the child’s life which essential for optimum consistency and effect.

The authors bring the “circle of friends” technique in an easy to read and well set out and written format. This gives everyone who reads this the encouragement to use the technique to its full potential. Therefore giving the child support, encouragement and help to integrate back with maximum chance of success for acceptance and friendship.
Ideal for use in all schools especially with those children who are on the verge of exclusion.’

Caroline Hensby –

‘This book has been written by practising educational psychologists who are deeply committed to the inclusion of all pupils in mainstream schools. It begins by looking briefly at the idea, rationale and origins of Circles of Friends, which Colin and Derek define as:

“… an approach to enhancing the inclusion, in a mainstream setting, of any young person (known as the ‘focus child’), who is experiencing difficulties in school because of a disability, a personal crisis or his or her challenging behaviour towards others. (This approach) works by mobilising the young person’s peers to provide support and engage in problem-solving with the person in difficulty” (p.4).

The authors continue that it is for all people – including educational psychologists, teachers and youth workers – who work with youngsters who are labelled and marginalised in various ways. “Ultimately”, they say, “it is a book for everyone because at some time in our lives, all of us are likely to have needs that are not typical” (p.4).

Beyond the two introductory chapters, the book systematically and thoroughly outlines the processes involved in establishing Circles of Friends from ‘Getting Started’ to examining the ‘Circle in Action’. Further chapters consider the issues of teacher and pupil outcomes, case studies, the theoretical basis of Circles of Friends and FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). Based on the authors’ extensive professional experiences, these chapters are full of sound practical advice for those wishing to adopt this powerful strategy. The book concludes with a comprehensive and up-to-date appendix of additional resources, including video material and internet websites, to which the interested reader might turn for further ideas and information.

As a whole, the book is written in a lively, non-technical, engaging manner with numerous cartoon-style illustrations and it is highly recommended reading for all people who are professionally involved in trying to help children with relationship difficulties.’

Professor Helen Cowie, School of Psychology and Counselling, University of Surrey Roehampton

Read Review of our ‘Creating Circles of Friends’ book by Association of Educational Psychologists


Let us come to you and your team or organisation – wherever in the world you are – and provide you with direct inspirational training on how to set up Circles of Friends.

Let us model the approach in your school, community or college setting. Seeing is believing!

Click here for more training information


Who else might benefit from a Circle?

Circles of Support and Accountability (link to their detailed manual of practice on-line) are an organisation in Toronto, Canada who are building circles of support around sex offenders.

They were not formed to compete with existing service providers. They were formed to assist:

  • those considered by many to be the “untouchables”, or the most marginalized in our society
  • those for whom there was little or no support
  • those for whom there was no support from other governmental or non-governmental service or agency

COSA originated to meet the unique needs of sex offenders, because no one else was stepping forward to do so.



Full article providing practical outline and introduction to this approach:

Circle of Friends

Recent Evaluations of Circles of Friends

Recent Evaluations

Joanne McLaughlin, Woodland National School, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, Ireland

Joanne recently completed a Masters Dissertation with the aim of establishing the impact of Circle of Friends on the self-esteem and social inclusion of a boy in primary school who had dyslexia.

Circle of Friends Masters Dissertation

Circle of Friends for a child in public care

Circle of Friends for Child in Public Care

A peer based approach to supporting children with autistic spectrum disorders in school

Peer Based Approach

Popcorn and Skittles: a really moving way of setting up a Circle devised in Vermont, USA

Popcorn and Skittles

Irish educational psychologist Bronagh McCloskey provides an extremely clear account of the values underpinning Circles of Friends and how to set them up

Values Underpinning Circles of Friends

Circles of Support – Stirling Scotland. The Circles Project facilitates school based circles of support for disabled children.

Stirling Scotland

Enduring Circle of Support

Click here to read about and watch useful video of Colin and Derek introducing Circle of Friends to West Sussex.


Our Training will inspire…

Creating circles of friends

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Contact Us

Colin Newton

0115 955 6045

Doug and Maggie

01473 437590

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