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 children who would benefit from support. This tends to be achieved in consultation with class teachers, Year Leaders, Senior Leaders, SENCos and the ELSAs themselves.
The priorities for an individual child 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 child to achieve) that builds towards the longer term aims.
ELSA as a time limited intervention
Rather than using an ELSA as part of a child’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 children 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 children 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 child'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
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should an ELSA work with a child?
This will depend on the age of the child and the context of the work. Normally ELSAs plan to meet with a child weekly. Half an hour to an hour is often a good length of time for a session. It allows
It is helpful for sessions to be at a regular time because children like to know when they will be able to be with the ELSA again. For some younger children it may be better to meet more often for a shorter period of time. The child’s capacity to remain engaged will influence the length of the session and it is always better to leave a child wanting more rather than asking when the session will end.
How long should ELSA involvement last?
Most programmes would last for half a term to a term. If they go on longer than this it suggests that clear programme aims have not been set. It may also create over-dependency upon the ELSA. An ELSA programme is not expected to remediate every need a child has. It should have a specific focus. Once the programme aims have been met, it may be appropriate to move from a planned programme to some informal follow-up support while the youngster generalises new learning into the wider school context. This maintenance support would involve seeing the child less frequently or more briefly than during the programme itself.
Where should ELSA work be done?
Children need a quiet space that affords some degree of privacy. In some schools ELSAs may have a dedicated room, but this is not always possible. If there is not a room that can be timetabled for exclusive ELSA use at agreed times, a partially screened area would provide children with a sense of containment. They need to feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts and feelings, which might include some sensitive information about themselves and their personal circumstances. It’s good to have somewhere that is personalised for ELSA work with relevant pictures and posters to give it an attractive and nurturing feel. Meeting in the same place each time creates a sense of security. Wandering around school looking for a spare corner gives out a message that this work is not highly valued and, by implication, that childs’ needs are not paramount. It is important that ELSA sessions be free from interruption, so if the room is used for other purposes a ‘do not disturb’ notice will be important. If other staff disregard the notice and enter, the ELSA may need to halt the session until they leave to protect the child’s privacy.
What degree of confidentiality should an ELSA observe?
ELSAs are not counsellors and do not need to follow such strict confidentiality guidelines. The key point is respect for children. Liaison with selected other staff in school is usually beneficial. The question to ask is ‘how much do they need to know?’ A useful principle is to protect sensitive information that the child may have shared in confidence. It is respectful for an ELSA to ask a child if they may share information with others and then agree with them what will be said and to whom. Share generalities rather than sensitive personal details. The last thing an ELSA needs is to lose the child’s trust. The usual guidelines about safeguarding always apply of course.
Do ELSAs mainly work with individuals or groups?
The ELSA project was originally conceived as supporting individuals. Evaluation has shown that one of the key features of success is the quality of relationship that develops between ELSA and child. A one to one relationship will be qualitatively different from a group relationship as children are likely to be a little more guarded in front of peers. Also, ELSA programmes are intended to be bespoke for an individual’s specific needs. There is nevertheless a useful place for group work when the focus of the intervention is developing social or friendship skills. In some cases a child may need some individual support before being placed in a group context to generalise the new skills they have been developing. ELSAs sometimes come under pressure from line managers in schools to do more group work because this is perceived to be a more economic use of time. This may however be a false economy since the impact from individual support can be much greater. Particular caution should be exercised about ELSAs leading anger management groups as the group dynamic may be especially challenging. This support is probably better focussed on individual child needs as it affords the opportunity to help the child reflect on personal underlying factors contributing to their own stress.