Other Research

Other Research

At ELSA, we are contacted by an increasing number of educational psychologists conducting research, often at doctoral level, into the impact of ELSA training, supervision and intervention. Anyone who is conducting or has completed research into aspects of ELSA is invited to contact the website co-ordinator with information about the focus of their research. Contact details should also be included. In this way the ELSA Network can facilitate contact between researchers and help to stimulate further research ideas.

Some local evaluation reports are to be found in the ELSA Around the UK section of the website.

A scoping review of the literature exploring and evaluating the emotional literacy support assistant (ELSA) intervention

Researchers: Helena Rogers & Catherine Kelly

Contacts: helena.rogers@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk Catherine.Kelly@manchester.ac.uk

The ELSA intervention was designed to build schools’ capacity to support pupils’ emotional wellbeing needs from within their own resources. A wide-ranging research base spanning over 10 years has grown around the ELSA intervention. This scoping review was commissioned by the ELSA Network to systematically identify and map the current composition of the ELSA research body, including the purpose, methods and range of research available. Guided by Arksey and O’Malley’s five-stage framework, 53 studies met the inclusion criteria and were reviewed; including 9 published studies, 31 doctoral or student studies and 14 local authority evaluation reports. When used alongside practice-based evidence, findings provide a basis to inform practitioners’ selection and use of intervention. Mapping of ELSA research indicates a tendency towards qualitative approaches, perhaps reflective of challenges measuring an adaptive intervention. Through identifying gaps related to topics, designs and participant voices, recommendations for future research are suggested.

A scoping review of the literature exploring and evaluating the emotional literacy support assistant (ELSA) intervention

Exploring pupils’ views about outcomes and skills gained through the ‘Emotional Literacy Support Assistant’ (ELSA) intervention.

Researcher: Rebekah (Becky) Purcell


ELSA Steering Group’s first commissioned research project with Manchester


Background: The Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) intervention, developed to build capacity within schools to support emotional wellbeing needs, is a widely recognised programme implemented in Local Authorities (LAs) across the UK. Within the current evidence base, there appears to be an under-representation of student voice, particularly secondary school aged pupils.

Methods/participants: A systematic literature review (SLR) synthesised pupils’ views of the outcomes that they feel they gain from participating in ELSA, as well as how perspectives on key outcomes were gathered. 12 studies were critically appraised and synthesised. An empirical investigation, adopting an in-depth survey design using semi-structured interviews, explored secondary school pupils’ views of the outcomes that they felt they had gained from participating in ELSA.

Analysis/ findings: The SLR identified that pupil perspectives were predominately collected via semi-structured interviews, with a small number gathered through questionnaires. Four global themes: communication skills; emotional understanding, management, and outcomes; relational and social skills and positive school experiences were identified. These formed a framework for deductive analysis of the interview data. Inductive analysis identified an additional theme around the application of key skills gained through the ELSA intervention. Experience of ELSA support was also shared, acknowledging strengths and possible areas for development.

Conclusion/ implications: Paper One illuminates the constructs considered important to children and young people (CYP) in relation to their ELSA intervention. Further research could explore the characteristics of potential measures in comparison with the outcomes identified by CYP to inform assessment and evaluation of the ELSA programme. Paper Two highlights the importance of gaining pupils’ perspectives; as well as identifying possible areas of adaptation of the intervention for those delivering support in secondary schools. Paper Three discusses evidence-based practice in relation to the role of practitioner psychologists. Dissemination of findings and implications for professional practice are discussed. Please find attached her thesis findings.

Along with writing her thesis Becky published additional papers associated with the research over the preceding years:

Paper One: The systematic literature review (SLR) explores pupils’ perspectives of the outcomes gained from participating in the ELSA intervention and how those views were gathered.  The published paper can be found in the Educational Psychology in Practice Journal.

Paper Two: The empirical study aimed to explored secondary school pupils’ views of the outcomes that they felt they had gained from participating in the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) intervention. Experiences of ELSA support were also shared, acknowledging areas of strengths and possible areas for development within the intervention. The published paper can be found in the Pastoral Care in Education Journal

What helps and hinders the implementation of ELSA?

Researcher: Eloise Dalby

Contact: eloise.dalby@nottingham.ac.uk

Doctoral research is being undertaken to contribute to the growing body of research around ELSA, by exploring what helps and hinders the implementation of ELSA in schools from a range of different perspectives. Eligible participants include ELSAs working in primary schools, school staff who supervise or manage ELSAs, and Educational psychologists involved in training and supervising ELSAs.

The Implementation Components Framework (Fixsen et al, 2009) will be used as the basis for semi-structured interviews with participants, with a focus on the adults who are involved in implementing ELSA in schools; the training and understanding stakeholders have of ELSA; how key stakeholders are supported; and how the impact of ELSA is evaluated. The overall aim is to develop a framework which further supports schools and EP services in implementing ELSA.

A Content Analysis Evaluating the Emotional Literacy Support Assistants Program in Wales

Researcher: Alisha Thomas

Contact: thomasalisha268@gmail.com

The aim of this qualitative study was two-pronged: to evaluate the delivery of the ELSA program in Wales and determine whether it shows fidelity to the ELSA program and to identify the measures used to evaluate the program and determine their robustness. Data was collected from four (4) educational psychologists, two (2) ELSAs and three (3) service level reports from 5 different local authorities across Wales. Quantitative and qualitative content analysis was used to analyse the data and it was found that the ELSA program delivered in the participating local authorities showed fidelity to the ELSA model. Training, supervision, the case types encountered, the length and frequency of the programs were predominantly consistent with the ELSA model, with variations expected in case types and the length and frequency of the program. Support outside of supervision, and additional responsibilities were factors identified that affected the delivery of the program in the participating local authorities. In relation to the evaluation methods used, the specific measures employed were not specified but the use of pre and post measures from multiple sources were identified.  These evaluation methods are not without their limitations, but research suggests that they are advantageous in the assessment of social and emotional difficulties once their limitations are taken into consideration.

A Content Analysis Evaluating the Emotional Literacy Support Assistants Program in Wales

How can the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) programme be used to support children and young people post-lockdown?

Researcher: Imogen Russo

Contact: imogen.chandler.21@ucl.ac.uk

The ELSA programme is a tailored intervention designed to support the social emotional and mental health needs of children and young people. It is typically delivered by school support staff trained in relevant psychological theory. As yet, there is a lack of research on how the recent Coronavirus lockdowns have impacted on the way in which ELSA is delivered. This study aims to address this gap in the literature and also explores the support ELSAs themselves receive in their role.

How can the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) programme be used to support children and young people post-lockdown?

Final Report – How can the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) programme be used to support children and young people post-lockdown?

Can Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) interventions support positive change in the wider school?

Researcher: Helen Robertson

Contact: Helen_Robertson@Middlesbrough.gov.uk

ELSA (Burton, 1999) is an intervention delivered by EPs and is prominent across the UK. Gaining an understanding of how ELSA supports wider change is likely to support further steps to enhance training planning and delivery, supervision and when sharing ELSA information with schools.  Two focus groups of 11 ELSAs were conducted with thematic analysis completed. Findings suggest that ELSA interventions support the EL of schools. The ELSAs shared that school readiness, the community of ELSA and the development of relationships were key supportive factors to this change. It was discussed that ELSA training groups develop a community of practice, whereby they learn and develop together with the support of supervision and the wider ELSA community. The key changes and supportive factors shared by the ELSAs may demonstrate the development of a community of EL practice which facilitates learning, reflection and change within organisations. It is proposed that communities of EL practice could be harnessed further by EPs to support this change effectively using the models proposed by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002).

Can Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) interventions support positive change in the wider school?

A study exploring the barriers and facilitators to the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) role in secondary schools, and the barriers and facilitators to its implementation. 

Researcher: Caroline King

Contact: caroline.king.19@ucl.ac.uk

The ELSA programme is a targeted intervention aimed at developing the social and emotional skills of primary and secondary school aged children. However, previous research on the ELSA intervention has a dearth of representation from the secondary school population, and the implementation of the programme in this setting is not well understood. This study aims to address the gaps in understanding of ELSA in secondary schools and the barriers and facilitators to this support being implemented.

A study exploring the barriers and facilitators to the ELSA role in secondary schools, and the barriers and facilitators to its implementation.

Group supervision: understanding the experiences and views of Emotional Literacy Support Assistants in one county in England

Researcher: Emily France

Contact: emily.france@gloucestershire.gov.uk

This study was interested in the views of Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSAs) in one English county. Support staff from ten schools experienced 7 days of ELSA training over one academic year and attended four supervision sessions led by educational psychologists over the subsequent 12 months. Five ELSAs were interviewed about their views at the end of their first year of ELSA supervision; these interviews were carried out in respective ELSA’s school. The interviews were transcribed: six overarching themes were identified through thematic analysis, carried out by two researchers. The themes identified were: “session format”; “learning in the moment”; “applying learning from supervision sessions”; “communication, relationships and emotional support”; “schools’ approach to ELSA”; and “challenges”. Implications for practice are discussed.

Group supervision: understanding the experiences and views of Emotional Literacy Support Assistants in one county in England

A qualitative study of ELSAs’ and children’s experiences of the ELSA programme.
Sharon McEwen 
Contact: Sharon.McEwen@rctcbc.gov.uk

This study explored the experiences of Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSAs) (n=8) and the young people they worked with (n-7) using a semi structure interview.  A thematic analysis revealed that ‘relationships’ was an important aspect of both ELSAs and children’s experiences of the ELSA programme and pivotal to the change process.  The child-ELSA relationship was viewed by children as a coping mechanism in itself that children draw on to a varying degree after formal sessions have ended.  Factors influencing the formation of this relationship were also identified.  For ELSAs these included ELSA qualities, self-confidence and implementation factors (e.g. leadership, resources). For children these included the qualities of the ELSA, confidentiality and sessions being perceived as fun and enjoyable.  The results and implications of these findings are discussed with reference to relevant research.

An Evaluation of the Emotional Literacy Support Assitant (ELSA) Project: What is the impact of an ELSA Project on support assistants’ and children’s self-efficacy beliefs?
Researcher: Dr Laura Grahamslaw 

This doctoral research was completed in Northumberland. The ELSA project was found to have a positive impact on both support assistants’ and children’s self-efficacy beliefs.

An Evaluation of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant

Ascertaining the impact of training and supervision on ELSAs’ skills in supporting emotional literacy development in children.
Researcher: Mary Leighton
Contact: mary.leighton@doncaster.gov.uk

This research seeks to learn from Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSAs) how they perceived the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) training had affected their engagement with their school community and the pupils they were working with. The thesis places the role of ELSAs within the context of the rise in interest in emotionality in education and psychology over recent years. The research was conducted with trainee ELSAs who took part in a semi-structured interview whilst most also kept a reflective journal. The ELSAs reported they considered the training had provided them with a greater understanding of their pupils’ emotions and that they felt more competent in supporting their pupils with their emotionality. In addition, the ELSAs considered they were more confident discussing the pupil’s emotionality with colleagues and the pupil’s parents. However, many reported obstacles which prevented them in engaging in their role from their senior management team (SMT) and colleagues. The ELSAs perceived this was due to a lack of understanding emotional literacy (EL). In addition, ELSAs faced the challenge of working with parents who held a mismatch with the school’s expectations regarding pupil behaviour. Mary makes recommendations as to how ELSAs could be supported in their schools. In addition, she explores implications for Educational Psychologists (EPs), schools and local authorities (LAs) with regards to the position of emotionality set against the backdrop of the recent reforms in working with individuals with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Mary’s thesis is available at http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/12444/

How does the ELSA-Child relationship support children’s emotional wellbeing and academic progress?
Lucy Ball 

This is on going doctoral research. The ELSAs have been taking pre- and post-intervention measures of children’s emotional wellbeing and academic attainment. Their progress is being compared with that of children on a waiting list to receive ELSA intervention. ELSAs are also completing a measure to explore the relationship they were able to establish with the children they supported. Lucy is conducting interviews with the ELSAs to explore these relationships in greater depth. She is aiming to explore the impact of the ELSA-Child relationship on children’s progress.

An evaluation of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant Intervention from the Perspectives of Primary School Children
Becky Hills 
Contact: becky.hills@sutton.gov.uk

This is on going research which will be conducted in two stages. A questionnaire will be given to 100 primary school children who have received ELSA support in the previous 6 months to gain their perspectives on the programme. Becky will then carry out semi-structured interviews with 8 of these children to gather their views in more detail.

An Investigation of Factors that Influence Parental Engagement in the ELSA Programme

Researchers: Rachel Price and Rebecca Stewart

Contact: rachel.price@rctcbc.gov.uk; Rebecca.Stewart@bristol.gov.uk

Factors that influence parental engagement in the ELSA programme were explored. Sixteen parents of children, who were about to begin an ELSA intervention, were recruited from four local authorities in South Wales. Participants in the experimental condition were provided with information about ELSA prior to the intervention whereas participants in the control condition were not. Following the six week ELSA intervention, participants in both conditions met with the ELSA and were informed about the research and asked to participate in an interview. A structured interview was conducted with twelve consenting participants. Thematic analysis revealed that parents were more interested in feedback throughout the intervention as opposed to an information pack. Strengths and limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

Key findings:

  • Not only information about the programme but also feedback on progress is important to parents.
  • Parents found a conversation with the ELSA more useful than reading an information booklet.
  • With regards to useful information, it was most helpful for parents to know that their child was receiving individual support.
  • Parents felt involved in the intervention (regardless of condition) because many of the children talked with them about ELSA.
  • All but two parents reported a positive change in their child’s behaviour following the ELSA intervention (the exceptions reported that their child had not attended all ELSA sessions).

An exploration of the ELSA programme from the perspectives of pupils and parents
Researcher: Hannah Barker 
Contact: h.barker4@newcastle.ac.uk>

I am using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis as a methodology to explore pupils and parents’ thoughts, feelings and experiences of the ELSA programme. I am using semi-structured interviews with primary school pupils who have completed the ELSA intervention within the last 12 months. I am also holding interviews with their parents. The over-arching themes to be explored within the interviews are the pupils’ and parents’ personal experiences of the process and impact of the intervention and their ideas about the role of ELSAs.

An exploration of the impact of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) programme on wellbeing from the perspective of pupils 

Researchers: Natasha Krause, Laura Blackwell & Simon Claridge

Contact: natasha.s.krause@gmail.com  

The Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) programme is an evidence-informed intervention delivered by teaching assistants and supervised by educational psychologists. In this research, semi-structured interviews were conducted to investigate the impact of the ELSA programme on wellbeing from the perspective of pupils. A thematic analysis of the data set identified the following themes: “Feelings and Emotions”, “Engagement”, “Resilience”, “Hopes and Aspirations” and “Relationships”. The findings suggest the ELSA programme has a perceived positive impact on multiple components of pupil wellbeing. These components include positive emotions, negative feelings, engagement, resilience, optimism, accomplishment and relationships, as described by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and Seligman’s “PERMA model”. The positive wellbeing changes experienced by the pupils occurred through strategies, talking, and forming a close relationship with the teaching assistant. Overall, this research provides evidence to suggest a positive impact of the ELSA programme on pupil wellbeing.

Full article available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02667363.2019.1657801

An exploratory evaluation of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA)

Researcher: Holly Haigh

Contact: holly.haigh@nottscc.gov.uk

Doctoral research is being undertaken to explore the impact of the ELSA project within primary schools using a mixed-method approach. Single-case experimental designs will be used to establish the impact of ELSA on children’s individual targets. Pre- and post- measures will also be taken for each participant using child, teacher and parent versions of the Emotional Literacy checklist (Faupel 2003). This data will be considered alongside information gained from interviews with both the ELSA and child. The information gathered will be collated to create multiple case studies.


Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) programme: Child-centred approach, building trust, listening and valuing children’s voices: A grounded theory analysis

Researcher: Dr Kristina Balampanidou (Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust)

Contact: KBalampanidou@Tavi-Port.nhs.uk

The purpose of this study was to understand the children and young people’s (CYP) perspectives of the ELSA intervention following their participation in the programme. The aim of the research was to explore how and why the ELSA intervention may lead to change. In other words, the research attempted to explain what works for children, in what context, with what outcomes. 8 children (key stage two) from outer London Borough were interviewed using semi-structured interviews. Strauss and Corbin’s 1998 Critical Realist Grounded Theory (GT) was applied to analyse the data.  The emerging theory summarised 4 overarching themes including 1) the structure of the ELSA, 2) child-centred sessions 3) the impact of the ELSA on CYP’s learning, and social emotional mental health and 4) rationale why ELSA intervention helps. CYP identified activities that they found most helpful, gave views on how the ELSA could have been different and how and why the ELSA intervention led to positive changes for them. These findings informed the development of the suggested theory namely “The Uniqueness of the ELSA approach makes the difference in children’s lives”. Professional implications of these findings and future research, in light of methodological limitations, are discussed.

To access the full research please see:


Exploring the role of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA)and its effectiveness in developing emotional literacy and ensuring mental wellbeing in students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

Researcher: Megan Dunn

The purpose of this research project was to examine the effectiveness of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) in nurturing emotional literacy and supporting the mental wellbeing of students in primary school with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). This research project sought to specifically examine ELSAs in regard to supporting students with SEND, as despite the wide range of literature surrounding the ELSA role, there is limited research in evaluating ELSAs to specifically support students with SEND. The methodology of the research project consisted of semi–‐structured interviews with three qualified ELSAs. Questionnaires were also given to primary school students with SEND, four have regular sessions with an ELSA and four have never had sessions with an ELSA. The questionnaires and interview questions were written using the Edinburgh Warwick Mental Wellbeing Scale (EWMWS) and the Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) as frameworks. The results found the role of the ELSA to be effective in nurturing emotional literacy for students with SEND and the techniques used synthesise with findings from other pieces of literature. In addition, the results found a strong correlation between the students’ emotional literacy skills and their social success (and also academic success). Furthermore, the results found a strong positive correlation between the student’ emotional literacy skills and mental wellbeing. The project concludes by highlighting the importance of researching the effectiveness of the ELSA, specifically for students with SEND. Furthermore, it also suggests the value of more research surrounding ELSAs, where extraneous variables can be more controlled.

To read the full article please click here DISSERTATION PDF

Exploring the experience for young people of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) intervention: case studies in secondary schools
Researcher: Sue Peters
Contact: susan.peters@surreycc.gov.uk

This study aimed to gain an understanding of how YP experience the ELSA intervention; particularly the beginning and end of the intervention and the therapeutic relationship that develops between the YP and ELSA.

The research was conducted using a qualitative, in-depth multiple case study design and involved semi-structured interviews, drawing tasks, diaries and a focus group. Four YP in years seven and eight and three ELSAs were interviewed. Eight ELSAs also took part in a focus group. 


YP reported that the qualities of their ELSAs and the relationship they develop are important to their experience of the intervention and help them to meet their targets. They said that the relationship grew stronger over time and made them feel happier, more trusting and less alone. YP also appreciated their ELSA being available for them.

The YP who had not had ELSA support before described experiencing confusion which led to an initial reluctance to engage. YP who had had ELSA support in their primary school reported differences in the secondary school ELSA experience.

At the end of the intervention, YP expressed sadness that their sessions were ending but were reassured that they could seek out their ELSA or that they would check-in on them. ELSAs described difficulties ending the intervention.

Barriers to fidelity in the school systems, school environment and relating to the YP were also discussed.

Thesis available here: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10101254/