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, form tutors, heads of year, SENCos and the ELSAs themselves.

Can outside agencies or parents require a school to provide ELSA to a pupil?

No. ELSAs are employed and line managed within school. It is the responsibility of school managers to determine how they deploy their staff, having regard to ELSA Network guidelines. It is their role to determine which pupils are a priority for ELSA support. This will depend on a number of considerations, including where ELSA support is likely to have greatest impact, whether the school ELSA is the most appropriate person to work with a particular child, what capacity the ELSA has for new cases, whether the reported needs of a pupil are apparent in school rather than a home management issue. Programmes of support should also be focussed on areas covered in ELSA training to ensure ELSAs work within their areas of competence. Supervising educational psychologists can  also advise on appropriateness of ELSA support in any particular case. School managers should not be pressurised by outside agencies, or by parents to prioritise a pupil for ELSA input. ELSA involvement should never be a pre-requirement for access to a specialist outside agency such as CAMHS.

Should ELSA support be named on an EHCP?

No. There are various reasons why this is inappropriate. Not every school has an ELSA. The ELSA may not be the best person to work with a particular child (e.g. if there is a personal connection). ELSA programmes are short-term interventions with small and specific targets, whereas support written into a statutory plan may be expected to be maintained long-term.

Pupil priorities

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. Where possible it is also helpful to have pupil input on target setting. Working on what is important to them is likely to increase the impact of the support. 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 intended for ELSA intervention to be time-limited to assist the development of specific skills, usually up to a term, but this can vary. While some group work may be delivered in 6 or 7 weeks, individual programmes will usually require longer (probably 8 to 12 weeks) in order to establish the trusting relationship necessary for pupils have confidence to share freely, and to allow the pupil and ELSA to agree some appropriate programme aims together. 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. We advise against schools setting standard permitted duration for ELSA intervention, since every pupil’s needs are different and bespoke to them. Allowing insufficient time will severely limit what the support may otherwise achieve.

Change as a result of ELSA intervention

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 needs. 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. All ELSA programmes should have clear programme aims that are realistic to achieve within the time frame envisaged, are specific and behaviourally observable. (See section on programme aims within the Code of Practice section for further information.)

ELSA skills

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

Click here for a sample person specification and job description.