What makes Behaviour and Education Support Teams (BESTs) effective?
Behaviour and Education Support Teams (BESTs) are multi-agency teams, which bring together a range of professionals, working to support schools, families and children, who present or are at risk of developing emotional, behavioural and/or attendance problems.
The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has examined key operational issues, gathering data on the impact and effectiveness of the teams*. BESTs were seen as having a positive impact on:
- children and young people in four main areas of attainment, attendance, behaviour and wellbeing
- parents and carers through improved access to services and better parenting skills
- school staff through increased understanding and new strategies for managing and supporting children with behaviour and emotional difficulties; access to specialist support.
The report identifies six predominant themes as being key to effectiveness.
1. Multi-agency composition of teams
The inclusion of staff with varying professional backgrounds and specialisms was seen as a key factor with the benefits of this multi-agency approach being:
- ability to take a holistic approach to educational, health and social needs of children and families
- collaborative pooling of skills and exchange of expertise around casework and interventions
- opportunities for professional development.
Several of the BESTs in the case-study sample had an extended brief, including professionals from youth or play work backgrounds.
2. Suitable accommodation
The benefits of having a distinct base or centre (school-based or otherwise) from which to operate being:
- facilitating team cohesion in the early stages of operation
- enabling the BEST to establish its identity with schools, other local services and indeed internally.
School site locations were seen to have key benefits of establishing close working relationships and facilitating access for staff, pupils and families. However, workspace and facilities were often more satisfactory than those available in schools.
Whether physically based on site or through the significant amounts of time spent in schools, the BEST approach was seen to have increased ease of access to services for schools and families through:
- quicker and less bureaucratic referrals
- more convenient and ‘comfortable’ meetings in schools or family homes.
Clear, frequent and open communication between schools and BESTs was regarded as essential and strategies highlighted as facilitating this were:
- regular planning and review meetings
- specified key contact person in school providing a link for referrals and liaison.
During the setting-up of BESTs, an initial ‘launch’ to schools, establishing the role and remit of teams helped enable smoother relationships as work developed.
5. Thinking multi-agency
A willingness to ‘think multi-agency’ was associated with communication within the BEST teams. This was helped by:
- regular meetings (on both a formal and informal basis)
- willingness of team members to share information and ideas
- openness to a truly multi-agency ethos.
This linked to practitioners seeing themselves as part of a unified team with a lack of hierarchy or ‘preciousness’ about roles. This required a readiness to blur professional boundaries at times and step outside the margins of traditional roles and specialisms.
6. Holistic approach to children’s needs
Addressing the health, domestic and social welfare concerns of children and families was seen to provide the foundation on which work to improve attendance, behaviour and attainment could be built.
Where the work of BESTs included this family-level intervention, they were seen to provide a crucial link between home and school, enabling both parties to become aware of and better understand the ‘whole picture’ of the child’s circumstances.
The effectiveness of a holistic approach to children’s needs included attention to issues at parental level. BEST team members holding social worker or family worker roles primarily carried out this type of work. Other members such as mental or medical health practitioners were brought into the case as appropriate.
The way forward
In terms of cost-effectiveness, interviewees were not able to present measurable evidence, but BESTs were regarded as value for money based on impacts produced so far for the following:
- possible long-term gains for society (eg reduction in offending; better employment prospects for young people)
- advantages of the multi-agency approach (eg streamlined referral systems).
With the end of dedicated funding for BESTs in 2006, interviewees suggested that schools might consider buying in the services of the BEST team. However, school staff felt that current budget constraints made this an unlikely scenario.
Another option would be for schools to carry on the type of services offered by BESTs themselves.
* Evaluation of Behaviour and Support Teams Authors: Karen Halsey, Caroline Gulliver, Annie Johnson, Kerry Martin, and Kay Kinder – National Foundation for Educational Research.
Copies of the full report (RR706) are available online at: www.dfes.gov.uk/best.