Context matters

In an article titled Context Matters in Programme Implementation, Clarke, Sullivan and Barry (2010) argue that socio-economic and cultural differences can determine, to an extent, the success of school based implementation programmes.

In spite of strong previous evidence that improving children’s social and emotional competencies will enhance their academic performance, the vast majority of these studies are randomised control trials – or RCTs. This has led some to highlight a gap in knowledge between what we know works in a research context, to what happens in real life application with variations that are uncontrolled for or unexpected. In RCTs, it is assumed that the intervention itself will be the only differing factor rather than the wide range of contextual differences.

As we know, schools are fantastically complex social systems, with many interrelated elements working together as one whole. Introducing an intervention programme to this system results in an interplay between the intervention system itself, those implementing it and the context it is being introduced to.

The school as a system will provide support or barriers to the successful delivery of the programme. Commonly identified factors for the success of the school based programme are:

  • Strong administration in school context
  • Shared decision making with parents, teachers, leaders and local community
  • Open and clear communication patterns
  • Support for the programme
  • Strong leadership
  • Stability in terms of resources and personnel
  • Time to deliver the programme free from competing pressures
  • Belief that the intervention is necessary and will be likely to work
  • Staff feel skilled to deliver programme and involved in creating or tailoring it  

This specific study highlights the significant role that whole school (including the geographical location, economic and political landscape and so on) context plays especially in disadvantaged school settings.

The specific intervention this study refers to is: Zippy’s Friends, an international emotional wellbeing programme for primary school children in DEIS schools (designated disadvantaged schools by the Department of Education and Science) in Ireland.

Zippy is a stick insect and his friends are a group of young children, and the stories show them confronting issues that are familiar to young children – friendship, communication, feeling lonely, bullying, dealing with change and loss, and making a new start. Each story is illustrated by brightly coloured pictures.

The programme is delivered by trained classroom teachers over the course of 24 weeks. The programme aims to teach children how to identify and talk about their feelings and cope with difficulties such as bullying, conflict, loss and change. Delivered as part of the compulsory personal, social and health education programme, the intervention took place in two schools:

School A: Large, urban Catholic state school with a high proportion of children from travelling and international families. The vast majority of families were in low socio-economic brackets.  

School B: A much smaller school (about a quarter of the size), a state Protestant school.

The interviews held with participating teachers, parents and students highlighted some key findings. Firstly, the fact that many of the teachers in School B lived in or near the local community and that students tended to travel much less distance to attend the school meant that the school was more supported by the local community. The teachers reportedly had a good understanding of difficulties students could face and the community was described as ‘close knit’.

School B also had stronger relationships with other schools and local community events, whereas school A’s involvement in local community was generally restricted to services provided by statutory and voluntary organisations.In school A, parental involvement was very low in comparison to school B – where parents attended sports events, helped with resources and so on. This was especially important because the programme was expected to be implemented at home, backing up what was learnt in school. Counselling, talking things through and communication were seen as priorities in School A whereas they were rarities in School B. Attendance was a big issue in school A but not school B, contributing to the amount of time students actually completed the programme activities.

The perceived lack of social cohesion in School A’s community, in addition with a lack of parental involvement and low attendance were seen to be barriers to the success of school based intervention.

Even though the schools were both in disadvantaged areas and not that far apart geographically, the intervention was being introduced in two very different whole school contexts in terms of ethos and implementation. In terms of the implications of this study, it suggests that school programmes will need to ensure schools are ‘fertile’ ready for intervention including the support of staff and local community. Also, interventions may need to be bespoke tailored to the specific context they will be applied in, even if we know the basic programme mechanisms work (in this case social learning improves academic outcomes). In what way they work and for whom is different in each case of application.

For policy makers, this is also important since at present, context does not factor in to curriculum and education policy making greatly. Decisions are made about what children are capable of at each age and stage without adaptation for personal circumstance, needs, location or other context. To what extent can we plan for and within specific contexts? Whose job is it to differentiate our approach? Policy makers, heads, teachers? If interventions rely so greatly on context, then we know that other standardised approaches such as exams will also.

Please let us know if you have a story to share of context determining success/failure outcome in either an intervention or regular school activity/curriculum. Would be interesting to share and try to identify patterns of what works, for whom, and in what circumstances. 


Teacher Burnout

This blog is all about dispositional affectivity amongst school teachers. Wait, wait, wait, stick with it, this is actually quite interesting! You might recognise yourself in the description of a high PA or NA individual – or others you work with, and consider how you can best utilise social and emotional support to avoid burnout at work. 

Although this article was published in 2006, this highly relevant and important piece of research is particularly of significance amidst current coverage of teacher burnout and stress. If we can identify successful ways of avoiding teacher burnout in ways that don’t depend heavily on external practitioners and resources in a time of cuts, we can nurture and preserve the valuable resources of excellent teachers we already have. 

The article I’m discussing is from the Journal of Organisational Behaviour and is called Emotional Support and Job Burnout amongst High School Teachers: is it all due to dispositional affectivity?. The authors, Kahn et al, investigate the relationship between the contents of emotional social support and job burnout among high-school teachers. Previous research indicated that the link was not clear, even though intuitively, this doesn’t seem right. Kahn et al propose that this is because previous research has not distinguished between dispositional positive and negative affectivity. In other words, emotional and social support colleagues offer to one another can have a protective effect in preventing burnout, but only if it is the right type of emotional and social support. 

The authors give a useful overview of the issue of burnout amongst teachers, both for the individual (mental and physical health problems, impact on personal relationships etc) and the school (turnover, absenteeism amongst staff and less productive or effective teachers – therefore poor student performance). In addition to impacting day to day running of the school, issues of teacher burnout impact financial issues such as paying to hire and train new teachers as well as loss of productivity when teachers are off sick make this a critical issue for headteachers and leadership in an age of tight financial budgets.

Some research identifies that teachers, and in particular secondary school teachers, experience and report more burnout than any other caring profession including nurses, mental health professionals and doctors.

Whilst the press has publicised figures such as 50% of teachers remaining in the profession after 5 years and more than half considering leaving on their second year, these figures do not give us insight into the impact of burnout on those who remain in the profession, for example, Maslach et al. (2001) report that there are widespread organisational withdraw behaviours that occur long before teachers leave the profession. These could include lower production of work, expressing cynicism / lack of motivation, absenteeism, considering leaving the profession and so on. Teachers can feel detached from their work and have a low level of confidence that they are making a difference. Teachers can also be negative or cynical to those they work with as a way of coping with their own feelings of stress or burnout.

Whilst the authors recognise that social support of our colleagues can help prevent burnout, they cite Beehr et al. in the distinction that the contents of emotional social support reflect the topic that is being discussed, and these contents can be positive, negative, or non-job related. Beer et al’s study was of nurses – they found that as positive support increased, emotional exhaustion and cynicism decreased, but negative support and non-job support were unrelated to burnout.

Positive affectivity refers to the trait or disposition of a person more likely to be energetic and experience positive moods. High-PA individuals are more likely to seek social support than low-PA individuals. High PA people are less likely to feel burnt out, partly due to the protective factor of their good mood, and also due to the fact that they will seek out and receive positive support from other high PA individuals.

Conversely, those with high NA often experience events negatively and are more likely than low-NA individuals to use emotion-focused coping to manage their negative moods. High NA individuals reported less positive support, less empathy support, but more negative emotional social support (because those high in NA have more unpleasant emotions for which to seek support, and their support appears to focus on these unpleasant emotions).

So…The authors set out to test the theory Beehr developed about nurses in relation to teaching staff (339 high school teachers (229 women, 110 men) from the United States). They used a survey to measure teachers PA or NA (so potentially this could be used as part of teacher training or recruitment although the obvious problem of whether individuals would respond truthfully would be a major issue).

Once the NA and PA had been measured, individuals completed a questionnaire based on how often they access social emotional support and what form it takes-“the content areas of emotional social support measured are positive support (four items; e.g., ‘We talk about the good things about our work’), negative support (five items; e.g., ‘We talk about how we dislike some parts of our work’), non-job-related support (four items; e.g., ‘We discuss things that are happening in our personal lives’), and empathy support (five items; e.g., ‘My coworkers tell me they sympathize with what I am saying’)” and a burnout measure called The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI; Maslach et al., 1996) which is a commonly used 22-item measure of three components of job burnout: “emotional exhaustion (nine items; e.g., ‘I feel emotionally drained from my work’), cynicism (five items; e.g., ‘I feel I treat some students as if they were impersonal objects’), and professional efficacy (eight items; e.g., ‘I can easily understand how my students feel about things’)”.


Teachers who experienced high amounts of NA and low amounts of PA reported higher levels of job burnout than those who experienced low amounts of NA and high amounts of PA. Affectivity was also related to the contents of emotional social support, particularly the use of positive and negative support. Finally, teachers who engaged in more (vs. fewer) communications with positive content with coworkers (i.e., positive emotional social support) experienced lower levels of job burnout, and teachers who engaged in more (vs. fewer) communications with coworkers dealing with negative content (i.e., negative emotional social support) experienced higher levels of job burnout.

In other words – having positive social and emotional support from your colleagues can foster good mental physical and emotional health as well as prevent work stress and burnout. However, getting locked in to negative cycles of cynicism or moaning about what you dislike with colleagues can have the opposite impact. 

Interestingly, it made no difference whether the person seeking support was a high PA/NA individuals as to the impact on burnout, but high PA individuals were more likely to naturally seek out positive support and therefore less likely to burnout.


What are the implications for how and what we choose to communicate with each other as colleagues? How can we use this emotional and social support as a healthy support of our practice rather than a precursor to burnout? 

As always we welcome your ideas, experiences and thoughts on this research. 

Thanks for reading! Who knew dispositional affectivity could be so fascinating eh?





School change – Teacher Perspectives

For any whole school change process to be successful, teachers (and other school staff) need to feel that the initiative or intervention is needed, worthwhile (it is likely to solve a current problem, improve practice or outcomes) and manageable within current time and resource constraints.

Whilst programmes in school geared towards improving social, emotional learning and mental health often have positive outcomes, there is less research to suggest the outcomes of these programmes can be sustained (relying as they often do on funding and external support) or what factors contribute to the success of an intervention where they have worked particularly well.

Freeman, Wertheim and Trinder’s 2014 paper: Teacher perspectives on factors facilitating implementation of whole school approaches for resolving conflict, presents multiple case studies of a conflict resolution programme called Enhancing Relationships in School Communities (ERIS). The article presents the findings from in depth interviews with participating staff, who having been on the training about ERIS, had led groups within their school implementing curricular and policy changes based on the ERIS model.

Staff were asked to report the ‘most significant change’ that had occurred in the project – which was potentially a leading question. Nevertheless, many positive changes were reported, both in content of curriculum and how all staff were managing conflict in the playground, particularly use of language.

All participating schools were primary schools. One significant piece of feedback was that the vast increase in complexity in a secondary mainstream school system might have rendered this intervention more problematic and presented a greater range of barriers to overcome.

Freeman et al transcribed all the staff interviews and used the emergent themes to form a “Model of process and structural factors facilitating implementation of a whole school conflict resolution programme, based on implementation team perspectives” which is a catchy name indeed (see image above the blog post)

Whilst the elements staff identified as key to the programme’s success (such as providing resources, getting the timing right, clarity, providing feedback etc) may seem like common sense, as the authors identify, research to ask STAFF what is important to making positive changes stick in schools is few and far between, so collating all the ideas here in a model is useful.

Interesting also, was the importance of flexibility, adaptability and co-production. Whatever the programme being introduced, staff needed to feel they had been part of creating or at least adapting the intervention in order to sustain their motivation in delivering it, particularly when competing pressures or other, less engaged staff threatened the success of the project.

A common concept I have come across in the literature on school reform so far is ‘change fatigue’ – resulting form school and national policy changes at a pace that is overwhelming and unmanageable for staff. So it makes sense that staff identify appropriate time and support for professional development as a priority as well as clarifying the purpose and priority of the intervention.

Establishing a ‘core’ team of implementation leaders within the school seemed to help lead the intervention, but I wondered as I read the article what the feedback about non ‘core team’ staff might have been, would they have been as positive about the impact of the project having not been as involved in it? If so, how was the learning form ‘core team’ translated to whole school? If not, how could the staff team as whole have been further involved in the design and planning stages?

Engaging in cluster groups with other schools (including what is referred to as ‘lighthouse schools’ that will provide examples of good practice), and marrying up the new approaches with what already works (AKA not reinventing the wheel) were also seen as positive aspects of the intervention.

This is a particularly interesting topic for me, since my PhD thesis will focus on school staff perspectives of the effectiveness of the Academic Resilience Approach, and in particular, barriers or facilitators of any positive change.

I’m curious to know if I have similar findings or whether I will need to reconsider this model in the light of my findings.

I would really welcome feedback on this from a range of school staff and teaching experience, the following questions won’t form part of the PhD but they could help to direct my interview questions with staff:

In whole school approached or interventions yo have experienced before, what were the top three barriers (if any) to the success of the project?

In whole school approached or interventions yo have experienced before, what were the top three factors that contributed (if successful) to the success of the project?

In your opinion, are top down (directed initiatives) or bottom up (based on identified practice need) initiatives more successful and why? If a combination of both, which elements work best from each?

Finally, what makes a good project sustainable?

As always, thanks for reading and comments are really welcome!

Federation Inset Training – Academic Resilience

On Monday 11th April Cornfield School hosted a federation Inset training examine the principles and suggested tools of an Academic Resilience Approach.

The following blog post creates a narrative to share what we discussed on the day and facilitate sharing of ideas and practices developed following the training. 

We started the training by exploring the concept of resilience:



Each group had similar ideas about what resilience as a concept might mean, most discussing ‘bouncing back’ or ‘adapting’ when life provides us with difficult circumstances, adverse conditions or difficulty.





As we discussed, there have been many and varied definitions by academics over time and defining resilience is an important starting point for making changes to school culture in response to what we understand resilience to be. This is because our cultural (and academic) understanding of resilience has changed over time; from being seen as an inherent internal characteristic, to a socially, environmentally dependent and dynamic process, and, most recently, to be intertwined with a social justice approach about ‘changing the odds’ and tackling inequality. It is equally important that we have mutual understanding of what resilience means – because when we work with young people and try to develop their own resilience, seeing resilience as a malleable construct that depends on our own resilience as staff (modelled to the students and to resource us to work effectively) and interventions that we (staff) and they (students) make, meaning that a resilience perspective can be empowering rather than limiting.

And so we moved on to discuss Academic Resilience – making changes in the whole school, for staff and students to ensure those facing adversity continue to achieve well and experience school success. To achieve ‘better than expected outcomes’ for the young people we might say are disadvantaged or vulnerable. Clearly in our special school context we are familiar with the challenges that can inhibit progression in mainstream education, but statistics were shared about the significant attainment, attendance and exclusion gaps, specifically between students with SEN, LAC and those eligible for FSM and their peers.

The Academic Resilience Approach consists of a ‘plan do review’ process in which an audit is carried out in relation to the resilience framework. Good practice and priorities to improve are identified. Once changes are carried out another review takes place and so on in an ongoing self reflective school improvement process ideally linked to SIP.

We looked at the academic resilience approach (ARA) as a whole school concept, and watched a video where the analogy of a cleaner working at NASA who said their job was “to send a man to the moon” elucidated this concept. Everyone in the school community has an important role to play in the life of the young people we work with, for this to be lived and breathed in the school, ideas like ‘communities of practice'( where teachers, support staff, parents, local community members, students, governors, cleaners, catering staff etc etc are brought together in support of disadvantaged pupils to think collaboratively and creatively about what might work well) need to be in place and allowed to influence school policy and practice.

We then looked at the framework supporting ARA – the Resilience Framework, which looks at the basic needs, belonging needs, coping needs, learning needs and core self needs that underpin resilience in the research base.



Each group considered aspects of the framework that might be a priority for their own school and we discussed how this might differ, how the aspects might interlink and how one simple intervention might tackle multiple aspects at the same time.

We then moved on to a simple audit based on one element of the framework doing a RAG analysis of what was currently in place in school, then considering how we take this research further (pupil focus groups, surveys etc) and what potential new practice might emerge as a result.





Some inventive and creative suggestions were made about how to extend existing practice and some staff reported a high level of confidence in current school practice, welcoming an approach that was not an add on but a valuing of what works well and an opportunity to consider “tweaks” that could have a “positive ripple effect”. I like this idea very much and have already used it in my PhD work – thanks!

Moving on to specific strategies from the ARA resource base, groups planned out how to run a successful pupil voice session considering the varied needs of our students. Ideas flowed freely from using flashcards, to video, interviewing students past and present, role play, drawing, clay modelling, writing fiction based on school, trips to other schools to gather responses and so on. There was a strong sense that more could be done to harness student voice regarding ‘how we are doing’ in relation to the resilience framework as a starting point for our work on resilience and identifying what interventions might be needed.


IMG_6062.JPGThe Pyramid of Need was discussed. This is a points based system for identifying students most at risk needing long term and multiple  intervention, those needing short term or less complex intervention, and those who should do well without additional intervention. In mainstream schools, this might be based on point scoring for having SEN statement, being a LAC and so on, but as we discussed, in special school settings it is also useful when adapted to relate specifically to one group of students and one focus – e.g. y11 students in relation to developing ambitions and career aspirations. Interventions are then part of the pyramid to be displayed visually and shared with all staff. Ideally, students move from the top to the bottom and then out of the pyramid, though we also discussed ‘pyramids on pyramids’ like a christmas tree, where the need changes and therefore the child begins a new journey – e.g. moving from ‘having a trusted adult’ as very secure to ‘being independent’ as the new focus. Many pyramid designs were share ranging from trees, to roads, online versions and so on. Pleasingly, many were co-incidntally mirrored in existing resources for schools developed on ‘designing resilience’ programmes.


Lastly, we discussed ‘designing resilience’ (a collaboration between Brighton Uni design students, Boing Boing social enterprise and the community in developing resilience resources) and other events and opportunities to share school practice. In my previous blog post I discussed this event in more detail.

The federation are pioneers of ARA in special schools in West Sussex and certainly have a lot to offer in terms of expertise and brilliant ideas of how practice might develop.

My hope is that each school appoint a member of staff, or a group, to monitor the resilience work in their school who will communicate with me and perhaps even collaborate on a journal article / conference / forum where they can share our wonderful work. 

If you have elected to be this person, or have been elected (!) or want to be directly involved in  my research or begin your own, please comment below or email me to start up a conversation. 

Thanks to all for your excellent thoughts and participation on the day and apologies again for the rush to it all – it was unexpectedly shorter than we really needed but a fantastic thought provoker nonetheless for me and I hope for you too. 

Designing Resilience Showcase





This blog is a belated review of the ‘designing resilience’ showcase event at Brighton University.

The concept of the day was to showcase the result of a longer project exploring how the research on academic resilience could manifest in practical tools to use in schools an other settings with young people and others in the community.

In combining thinking  on academic ‘resilience’  and ways of designing, making and creating that design students had become specialised in, several tools were brought to life and having been developed and trialled, they were displayed at the event and participants had the chance to try them out.

Many of the designs were still prototypes and most were collaboratively designed tools, created with and alongside those who could use them, such as adults with learning difficulties who created and designed the idea behind the ‘sun and clouds’ game ( a giant board game based on snakes and ladders exploring coping with difficult times and positive strategies) , and young people from the Headstart project in Blackpool who co-designed the ‘resilience roadmap’. This had meant that designing and making the tools was quite labour intensive but there was a huge buzz about the ideas being brought to life and seeing the finished product.

In the virtual resilience house and street, a computer game with accompanying virtual reality headset allows you to explore the ‘building blocks’ of resilience and play out real life scenarios where ‘resilient moves’ are given as options. The design is based on minecraft and oculous rift and I could really see this being successful in school environment, especially accompanied by teacher led sessions.

A graffiti wall was displayed which contained embedded videos using augmented reality. Messages can be recorded and attached to moving images of characters or animals as a sort of distancing tools so that young people can record their experiences or resilient moves they have made, which come to life as you hold your phone over the screen.

Really exciting event full of ideas, many more than I have elaborated on here.

Here is a link to a ‘storify’ with some images too.

Resilience tools can be easily adapted to many environments. Would be great at the next federation inset to showcase some of the tools developed.



From turbulence to preturbance



In this week’s post I want to explain a little about the theory of turbulence in relation to school change or reform, and also apply this theory to students own development and change as they learn and develop.

In systems theory (which underpins my research), it is accepted that change is not possible from a state of equilibrium. Equilibrium in a system (such as a school that is made up of multiple parts to form a functioning whole) is equivalent to death. Systems theory states that from chaos, from the brink of failure and destruction, real change is possible. This is because all the aspects of the system are under threat and therefore have to adapt to their environment or any challenge in order to survive.

For example, Brian Beabout discusses responses of schools in New Orleans post hurricane Katrina. This was an area of schooling under strain before the disaster, poorly resourced and with massive problems of inequality. The destruction of school buildings, many staff leaving and the decentralisation of the running of the schools during the storm was the tipping point that forced inevitable change.

Turbulence theory (Gross, 1998) helps us to further understand this idea of optimal levels of threat to the system and change that might occur as a result. Turbulence is defined as any change in the school’s environmental conditions, for example a drop in funding, a sudden rise in student numbers, having to move buildings, staffing issues and so on. When the people that work in these schools are prompted to consider re-organsing the school in some way as a result of these environmental changes (such as making changes to how the budget is spent, hiring new staff, changing curriculum and so on), the turbulence becomes preturbance (which means that a change has been analysed by school staff who have considered changing organisational practice as a result).

There are of course, varying degrees to which the school will experience environmental change. Gross defines the different types as:


Light turbulence signifies an issue that requires some attention, but poses little threat to the school system’s functioning. Moderate turbulence poses measurable challenges to the system, and must be addressed in some way so that the school can continue to function. Severe turbulence is a strong disruption to the school system that could lead to collapse if immediate action is not taken. (Beabout, 2008)

In extreme cases (Gross referred to these as extreme turbulence), school reform was abandoned altogether – there was too much change to or around the school system to even consider making further efforts to change – no stability as a foundation for change if you will. Beabout asserts that the optimal amount of turbulence to a school system for healthy changes to occur in school as a result is moderate turbulence at the school level would be ideal for instituting educational change. This type of turbulence gives the school some time to learn about the problem and to collaborate on next steps in a way that higher levels of turbulence might not (Beabout, 2008).

Schools are known as ‘nested systems’, i.e. they are not a system in isolation but a system made of parts (people, organisations and practices) that is, itself part of a bigger system of parts (e.g. federation of schools or a county of schools) that is part of a bigger system (e.g. national schools, education policy), that is part of a bigger system (our country/culture). Applying turbulence theory to schools therefore, is acknowledging that turbulence does not occur in isolation n any component of the nested system but across multiple layers of the system. The ‘butterfly wings’ analogy rings true – one change in the system can have ripple effects of turbulence elsewhere.

This means that changes in policy can present turbulence of varying degrees at school level, and conditions of adversity for students or staff in their home lives can have an impact across the whole school system. Therefore, if we want to make positive changes in both school structure and culture that are sustainable – what is important to consider is: what are the factors creating ‘turbulence’ in our system? As a whole system, are we experiencing light, moderate, severe or extreme turbulence? What can be done to stabilise the system enough to make change manageable but still possible? What changes need to occur in the system to adapt to changes surrounding the system?

Finally, because it is the focus of my study, I am considering the current attainment gap that exists between disadvantaged / vulnerable students (as defined on government reports – those entitled to FSM , LAC and with SEN) and their peers. This is something schools need to adapt to, to respond to and to make internal changes to address the issue. Our changing culture / environment no longer accepts this gap and wants to close it. Considering how to do this, in the context of staff, students and schools experiencing their own personal and professional turbulence is the key to long term change in this area.

Beabout’s thesis can be found here:

Gross’s theory here:

As always, please feel free to comment and share ideas – I’d love to hear from you all, especially if you can think of a time when an external change prompted internal consideration of how schools might adapt and whether this was successful.

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.