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 the ELSA Around the UK section of the website.

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/