The People

About the Founder

Sheila Burton, CPsychol, AFBPsS

Sheila Burton, who set up the original ELSA projects, graduated in Psychology in 1975, followed by completion of a PGCE. She worked in a special educational needs assessment nursery, before taking a break to have her three children. After this, she returned to a range of work, which included Portage home tutoring and special needs teaching, followed by SENCo posts in infant and junior schools. During this time, Sheila gained a Diploma in Advanced Educational Studies (SEN).

In 1998, she completed an MSc in Educational Psychology and worked as an educational psychologist in Southampton for four years. During that time, she was asked to recruit, induct and manage five ELSAs who worked peripatetically for the Southampton Psychology Service. This initiative, launched in 2001, proved so popular with schools that some began to designate learning support assistants within their own staff to provide similar emotional support to pupils.

In 2002, Sheila was appointed as a Senior Educational Psychologist with Hampshire County Council and the following year, began to train and supervise school-based ELSAs in Hampshire. With the support of the Hampshire Educational Psychology Service, this project was gradually extended across the whole county and throughout this time Sheila wrote various journal articles about the ELSA initiative and emotional literacy group work in schools.

She was appointed Area Principal Educational Psychologist for the western area of Hampshire in 2007 and went on to co-author ‘Emotional Wellbeing: an Introductory Handbook’ with Gillian Shotton. Published in 2008, it was written specifically as a handbook for ELSAs whilst also being relevant to a wider range of children’s workers. She has since helped other educational psychology services to implement ELSA in their local authority and continues to provide guidance and support to those interested in this work. Sheila published the ELSA Trainers’ Manual in 2009 to support the introduction of this approach more widely.

Sheila retired from Hampshire at the end of 2015 and then worked two days a week for Bournemouth Educational Psychology Service while continuing to provide consultancy more widely in relation to ELSAs. She retired from regular local authority work in 2017 but continues to run the ELSA Network and be actively involved in ELSA-related work. The ELSA Network website was created to provide information about this work, to promote good practice in its implementation, to support ELSAs and also to support those educational psychologists involved in ELSA training and supervision. Sheila published a best practice guide in 2018, entitled Excellent ELSAs (with contributions from Fiona Okai). This publication addresses issues raised frequently during training and supervision.

Sheila has also established an ELSA Trainers’ Network to facilitate contact between educational psychologists leading ELSA training and supervision in their local area. There are currently local groups meeting in the south, the north-east and north-west of England; it is hoped that more will follow in other regions. At network meetings, implementation and practice issues are discussed and development ideas shared.  Any educational psychologist heading up ELSA work in their local area is encouraged to contact Sheila to be listed on the Area Directory and also to register with the ELSA Network.

The ELSA Network

The ELSA Network is managed by a steering group of educational psychologists with experience of establishing and managing ELSA training and supervision in local areas. They do this voluntarily in their own time. The current composition of the steering group is:

Sheila Burton – Retired (Chair)

Anna Cox (Secretary) – Hampshire and Isle of Wight Educational Psychology Service

Fiona Okai (Treasurer) – Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Educational Psychology Service

Robert Kempson (Website manager) – Rhondda-Cynon-Taf Educational Psychology Service

Mary Leighton – Doncaster Educational Psychology Service

Felicity Record – Retired

Laura Grahamslaw – Psychology First (Surrey)

Dawn Bradley – Summit Psychology (Staffordshire, East Cheshire, Stoke-on-Trent)