Resilience Interventions – a review of school based approaches




In this week’s blog post, I share a recently conducted review of school based approaches to raising the achievement of ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘vulnerable’ pupils (by Hart and Heaver, 2015, access here:

These categories (of disadvantage and vulnerability) refer to students from backgrounds of complex social disadvantage and with special educational needs, as well as other indicators of risk of underachievement at GCSE (according to the latest DfE figures) such as race and gender.

Why resilience?

The concept of resilience (doing better than you might have done considering adverse conditions) is highly significant to school context, in which teaching and learning depend on human interaction and are subject to the influences of family, school and cultural and political systems.

As evidenced by the current attainment gap, children and young people from backgrounds of complex disadvantage, are significantly less likely to achieve good outcomes in school (an accepted measure of which is 5 A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths) or continue to further education. The concept of resilience is concerned with the adaptive processes an individual or system might develop in order to ‘alter responses to adverse events so that potential negative outcomes can be avoided’ (Zulkoski & Bullock, p. 2298). In this way, applying the concept of resilience to students, and indeed the school system, can be seen to challenge rising inequality and seek to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged young people.

Reviewing what’s out there

In Hart and Heaver’s 2015 review, the authors have considered 22 resilience based interventions with reference to previously identified strengths / weaknesses of resilience research in the current literature to score the approach and consider its utility in addressing these inequalities. The approaches range from individual competency focus (e.g anger management, coping strategies etc, to peer mentoring, to staff / student mentoring and whole school approaches)

One key finding of the review were that interventions frequently did not adequately consider how they would serve the needs of children with SEN or poor attendance who could not access the programme in the expected way. Additionally, many approaches were costly for the school and reliant on external support of ‘experts’ to implement the program, giving rise to dual problems of resistance of staff and lack of sustainability.

Evaluative research such as this report suggests that interventions that rely solely on external agencies to identify student support needs and develop existing practice are unlikely to achieve sustainability due to a lack of integration across school, community, local and national system levels. Involvement of staff and students in the strategic planning and implementation of a programme may be more likely to ensure value or culture change as well as reducing future reliance on external resources and support (Hart & Heaver, 2015). So a systems based approach is proposed, in which needs of disadvantaged students are identified and existing practice is considered in light of current research to see what could improve or support effective current work. Once ideas are generated as to how to better support these students, the key is in integrating the ideas at all levels of the system, from individual students, to classes, to staff, the whole school, across networks of schools, with parents and the wider community.

Implementations established in this way have more chance of making positive lasting change, as can be seen in the Sutton Trust reviews of Pupil Premium spending, which indicates that schools that choose interventions based on robust evidence and sustainability, will benefit more in the long term.

Read the full review of available approaches here:

Have you had experience of any of the reviewed approaches? Have you worked with the concept of resilience with young people and if so, how useful have you found the concept to be? Have you had experience of something not reviewed here and like to offer your experiences? Please do share in the comments box. Commenting is free and does not require signing up. 



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