By Priya Mitchell MA, School Counsellor and Designated Lead, The British School Al Khubairat
As the sole Counsellor within an International School with 1900+ students on roll, my diary is constantly full and it can be difficult to find appointments for the near daily referrals to the Counselling Service. Having completed the 1st Year of the MA in Leadership of School Mental Health & Wellbeing, my thoughts turned to my impending dissertation.
I wanted to investigate whether a proactive approach to resilience building would alleviate the demand on the service. I had undertaken the FRIENDS resilience training earlier in the year and wondered whether resilience training for upper primary would mitigate against the onset of anxiety during secondary school.
The FRIENDS programme purports to reduce anxiety as individuals are taught strategies to facilitate better emotional self-regulation. If the results showed a strong positive correlation, then it was hoped that the programme could be rolled out as a universal intervention.
Anxiety levels and the FRIENDS resilience programme as a universal intervention within the Primary School
My area of interest became particularly relevant with the emergence of Covid-19 and the introduction of Distance Learning; anxiety levels rose rapidly as lockdown was imposed for a couple of months, followed by a curfew and no face to face lessons. Distance Learning also impacted my research as I was unable to deliver the FRIENDS programme to the identified cohort; I, therefore, had to rely on collating data from a previous cohort.
The study was undertaken with a small sample of Year 6 students and the results showed a positive impact on only the Emotional Problems subdomain of the SDQ (Strength & Difficulties Questionnaire) which was used to measure the intervention’s impact. This sub domain has 5 questions and measures ‘internalising’ symptoms experienced by students, for example, feeling unhappy, being scared, experiencing headaches. The cohort were within the lowest 17% of the general British youth population for emotional problems; this rose to being in the lowest 45.8%, a marked improvement.
There were challenges in implementing the programme, for instance it is delivered online; Distance Learning has led to students spending too much time on screens but as the programme is electronic, the students don’t have easy visual reminders of discussions and strategies they have had.
There is also a challenge of when to deliver a resilience programme in addition to the demands of the curriculum. The intervention needs to have a regular and protected time slot rather than being a ‘bolt on’ to a students’ day to day classroom experience.
On reflection, due to the small scale of the study, it should be considered a pilot project and a larger scale project would be beneficial to ascertain whether the effects for a larger sample would outweigh the costs of programme delivery and should be used as a universal intervention within the Primary School.
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