What is ELSA?
The ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant) project was originally developed
within Hampshire by Sheila Burton, Educational Psychologist. It was designed to build the capacity of schools to support the emotional needs of their pupils from within their own resources. It recognises that children learn better and are happier in school if their emotional needs are also addressed. ELSA is an initiative developed and supported by educational psychologists who apply psychological knowledge of children’s social and emotional development to particular areas of need and to specific casework.
From academic attainment to all-round development
Over recent years there has been increased recognition of the impact of social and emotional aspects of learning on academic attainment in schools. The Children Act 2004 (Every Child Matters) recognised that schools need to be concerned with the all-round development of children.
All children should be nurtured in accordance with their individual needs. There will always be children and young people in schools facing life challenges that detract from their ability to engage with learning, and some will require greater support to increase their emotional literacy than others.
The ELSA model developed in Hampshire
Hampshire ELSAs are Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) who receive six days of additional training from educational psychologists on aspects of emotional literacy including emotional awareness, self-esteem, anger management, social and friendship skills, social communication difficulties, loss, bereavement and family break-up. ELSAs receive supervision from educational psychologists once every half term in a local group of either primary or secondary ELSAs. Supervision groups are normally a maximum size of 8 ELSAs. ELSAs may also receive some additional individual support from their supervisor if needed, usually via email or telephone contact. A school may also ask an educational psychologist working with their school to advise the ELSA on how to support a pupil for whom there is particular concern.
Tips for schools
All staff in school needs to understand the ELSA role, how it works and how to get the best from it.
ELSAs are trained to plan and deliver programmes of support to pupils in their school who are experiencing temporary or longer term additional emotional needs. The majority of ELSA work is expected to be delivered on an individual basis, but sometimes small group work will be appropriate, especially in the areas of social and friendship skills.
Supervision for ELSAs
ELSAs receive clinical supervision from educational psychologists but they are line managed from within their own schools. Part of the line manager’s role is to assist in the identification and prioritisation of pupils who would benefit from support. This tends to be achieved in consultation with class teachers, assistants, SENCos and the ELSAs themselves.
The priorities for an individual pupil will be identified in discussion with other staff in the school. These priorities will inform the setting of aims for the programme, which are akin to individual education plan targets. With the programme aims in mind the ELSA would plan support sessions to facilitate the pupil in developing new skills and coping strategies that allow them to manage social and emotional demands more effectively. Each session has its own objective (either something the ELSA wants to achieve or something for the pupil to achieve) that builds towards the longer term aims.
ELSA as a time limited intervention
Rather than using an ELSA as part of a pupil’s permanent support structure, it is better to see the intervention as time-limited to assist the development of specific skills, usually up to a term. Once new skills are acquired, time needs to be allowed for consolidation. Further intervention towards additional aims could be considered at a later date if desired. As an ELSA is part of the permanent staff within school, some informal contact may be maintained for a time to enable graduated withdrawal of support for those pupils who may need this.
Change as a result of ELSA
It needs to be appreciated that change cannot necessarily be achieved rapidly and is dependent upon the context and complexity of the presenting issues. For pupils with complex or long-term needs it is unrealistic to expect ELSA intervention to resolve all their difficulties. It needs to target specific aspects of a pupil's need. The training and development of ELSAs is an ongoing process and wisdom is required to recognise when issues are beyond the level of expertise that could reasonably be expected of an ELSA. The supervising psychologist or the educational psychologist that usually works with the school would be able to offer advice on suitability or nature of ELSA involvement in complex cases.
An ELSA needs to:
have a warm personality and be able to stay calm under pressure
be able to gain the confidence of children who are behaviourally challenging or socially withdrawn
be happy to work independently and show initiative
be creative in planning interventions and efficient in recording ELSA work
be eager to learn and develop new skills