Building resilience in learners

Description of the innovation

We know that absence, whether from school or from class, has a significant impact on pupil outcomes; this can include pupils asking for time out of lessons or simply not attending school at all. The aim of this project is therefore to test whether an emotional health and wellbeing intervention can be effective in improving pupil’s wellbeing, which may in turn have a positive effect on their resilience, so that they feel settled in the classroom, are able to attend lessons and improve their school attendance.

The intervention, called ‘My Big Life’, was a six-week series of classes based on cognitive behaviour therapy principles. Each session lasted for one hour per week and was delivered as a life-skills lesson to a class of 25. The sessions aimed to develop pupils’ emotional wellbeing and provide them with strategies to cope with difficult emotions and situations. Pupils were given a small My Big Life card that summarised the techniques to use as a step before an exit card (exit cards provide time out of the lesson for the pupil; time out of the lesson may be limited to a few minutes or last the whole lesson).

The application of these skills was supported by completion of a daily reflection journal, supported by a trained member of staff, where pupils recorded any situations they faced, what strategies they employed and how they felt about the outcome. Over the period of the intervention pupils gained an increasing toolkit of strategies that they were able to employ.

Summary of the evaluation

This research has been a collaboration of six rural secondary schools in Devon and Dorset, led by Sidmouth College, that worked together during the summer term of 2017 to deliver the project and evaluation. All schools delivered the My Big Life course to one group of Year 7 or Year 8 pupils selected based on their identified low attendance, achievement, attitude to learning and poor behaviour.

A total of 268 pupils were involved in the trial and analysis. In the intervention group there were 136 pupils and in the control group 132 pupils. We collected the following data pre- and post-intervention from existing school reporting systems: attendance, behaviour concerns, progress, attitude to learning and homework. We also asked all pupils in the year group to complete a self-evaluation of wellbeing using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS).

During the analysis and report writing stage, we collaborated with the University of Exeter to further analyse the collected data to ensure that conclusions were drawn from sufficiently robust data.

Summary of findings

Pupils’ self-reported wellbeing (measured using WEMWBS) showed a positive effect size, with mean WEMWBS score increasing in the intervention group compared with little change in the control group (between group effect size +0.28). Further analysis found a within group effect size of +0.3 for the intervention group, which in public health terms is considered significant.

The data also suggests a link between wellbeing and attendance. Pupils with low pre-test wellbeing scores (≤ 40 on the WEMWBS) showed a significant increase in attendance, with a 3% increase in average attendance for the intervention group compared to 0% change in the control group (between groups effect size +0.35). The within group effect size for the intervention group is +0.5, which, again in public health terms, can be interpreted as a medium effect size. This is an important finding and demonstrates that wellbeing interventions can have a significant impact on the attendance of pupils who have initial low wellbeing scores.

Based on analysis of the whole cohort we found some neutral and some positive effect sizes for behaviour, homework, attitude to learning and progress, although there were concerns about the validity of these measures.

Lead school

  • Sidmouth College

Schools involved

  • Honiton Community College
  • The Kings School, Ottery St Mary
  • Clyst Vale Community College
  • Axe Valley Community College
  • Holyrood Academy

Main findings

  • Effect size for pupils’ self-reported wellbeing = +0.28

Download the protocol document