Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan local authorities were commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government to run a project in response to the National Behaviour and Attendance Review (NBAR). The focus of the project was the assessment of behavioural, social and emotional difficulties and early intervention. It was named Working on Wellbeing. Those involved in the project were very clear from the start that if it was to be effective it would need to capture the imagination of all those involved, to recognise and value the work that had gone on before and to start from the aspirations and goals that the groups of schools had for their children and young people.
Collaboration was a strong element of the project – between schools, across agencies and between local authorities. The Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend local authorities wanted to use the project to share practice between the two authorities so that they could extend their practice by learning from each other’s strengths and through collaborative developments.
Eleven schools were involved in the project: five primary schools and one secondary school in the Porthcawl school cluster and five primary schools that volunteered from Barry. Each school identified a target class for the assessments and intervention – Year 4 and 5 classes in the primary schools and Year 8 in the secondary school. Two project teachers were appointed and have been key to taking the project forward in the two local authorities.
The project developed a process that firmly linked the goals of the schools for all children and young people with an assessment of social and emotional experience, identification of the support needed and action. The process can be summarised by the five-step model in the diagram.
Developing the SEL framework (step 1)
The first step of the project involved a school-based enquiry into the qualities that individuals need to be a ‘good’ citizen within the localities involved. These were identified through a simple schoolwide activity and were judged as to whether they were ‘good’ for the community and/or ‘good’ for the individual: only those that met both these criteria were listed and used in locality-wide discussions.
At a development day representatives from the schools involved used the qualities listed to explore and decide what skills a child might need to learn to develop each of them. These skills were grouped and developed into the locality’s distinct social and emotional learning (SEL) framework.
This step of the process was an essential starting point as it engaged the school communities and helped them to contribute to developing their vision, take ownership of the work and understand its core purpose. One school displayed the qualities in the school’s entrance hall as a constant reminder to all its members of their aspirations.
Reviewing the current position (step 2)
Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan local authorities were already actively involved in considerable activity to support the social and emotional development of children and young people. Therefore, the next step of the process involved a systematic review of the provision that was currently available against the SEL framework that was established in step 1. Work with a specially created ‘provision-mapping tool’ also provided an opportunity for staff to reflect upon the skills that each of their interventions was designed to develop and find out if there were any gaps or overlaps in provision.
Alongside the completion of the provision-mapping tool each school carried out a learning needs analysis (LNA). The focus of the LNA is to help in developing the expertise of school professionals in supporting the needs of children and young people with behavioural, social and emotional difficulties. Using the prompt sheet, the strengths of the workforce were identified alongside the areas requiring further professional development. This then formed the basis of the learning needs analysis. An action plan was drawn up for the school outlining specific areas for development.
Assessment was a core part of the project but it was important to ensure that the tools selected really found out what was considered important by the school communities involved. The schools chose to use survey tools developed by Robin Banerjee.
My Class provided information about the pupils’ relationships within a class or tutor group, levels of peer acceptance and rejection and behavioural reputation within the group – whether they were seen as cooperative, disruptive, shy, aggressive or a leader. My Feelings provided information about the pupils’ positive and negative social experiences at school, feelings of anger, sadness/depressive symptoms, worry and anxiety and self-perceptions. Finally, an additional survey (My School) was developed using the elements of the SEL framework to identify the social and emotional ethos of the school. It was completed by all members of the school community to identify strengths, areas for development and differences in perceptions held by pupils and staff.
Planning actions (step 3)
Collaborative planning was the key to the project – providing an opportunity to draw together information and data collected at whole-school, class and individual level. Analysis of the completed provision maps showed where there were general gaps in provision, and analysis of the My School, My Feelings and My Class surveys provided a profile of needs in the school and LA. For example, both clusters of schools identified a need for comprehensive whole-school provision but were at very different starting points. The schools in Porthcawl had no systematic whole-school programme of work on SEAL in place. Following an analysis of the survey results, staff decided to use Primary and Secondary SEAL to focus on developing a sense of belonging; building a community of learners; rights and responsibilities; problem-solving; and managing worries and anxieties. Most schools in Barry had already received support to develop SEAL, and they chose to build a new scheme of SEAL work.
Working with colleagues from the project team, school staff members carefully examined and reflected on the survey assessment results. This helped them to: 1) gain a deeper understanding of the children and their social experiences at school; and 2) identify key areas of focus for individual pupils and groups of pupils with particular needs (eg support for a number of ‘invisible’ quiet children who were highly rejected and experienced high levels of negative emotion). Interventions were identified with reference to the completed provision map to ensure that they actually addressed the SEL skills that had been identified as relevant. Where appropriate interventions were not available within the school, staff could use the data to decide which new approaches they should introduce from those available across the two local authorities.
Examples of intervention
Implementation of planned actions (step 4)
The information collected by the schools and the in-depth meetings that followed enabled project teachers to offer effective and focused intervention to the schools, classes/groups, and individuals. A major emphasis was placed on sustainable practices, so the project teachers worked in a consultative and collaborative way with school staff to build new ways of working that could continue after the conclusion of the project.
Review (step 5)
Review is an essential part of the project. The children/young people repeated the My Class and My Feelings surveys after six months and this indicated that the project has already had a positive impact with significant reductions in victimisation/negative school experiences, anger, anxiety, depressive symptoms and negative emotions.
This short article can only provide an outline of the project and how the local authorities involved attempted to make some very powerful links between the schools’ vision, assessment and intervention. In the words of one of the teachers involved – ‘It has helped us to join it all together.’ It is hoped that the process will be incorporated into the ongoing work of schools and support services.
The authors of this article are Dr Robin Banerjee, University of Sussex; Nichola Jones, group manager, Inclusion Bridgend; David Davies, principal educational psychologist, Vale of Glamorgan; and Deborah Michel, codirector of the Centre for Wise Education