Symposium | Childhood resilience and wellbeing: implications from the Headstart evaluation for schools and communities

University of Wolverhampton Symposium

The Office of National Statistics Survey of the Mental Health of Children and Young People indicated as long ago as 2004 that about 1 in 10 children in Great Britain experiences mental health problems (Children’s Commissioner, 2017). Although the Government has pledged to improve access to mental health provision in schools and colleges, recent research has shown that while school and college leaders were committed to improving mental health and resilience in children and young people, commissioning issues, lack of funding and limited expertise in schools and colleges remain significant barriers (NatCen, 2017).

Headstart is a long term programme funded by the Big Lottery trialling a broad range of initiatives for improving resilience and emotional wellbeing in 10-16 year olds in six locations in England.  In Wolverhampton, this includes implementing include the SUMO- based resilience programme in schools and a range of activities in the community. Headstart Wolverhampton commissioned the University of Wolverhampton to evaluate aspects of the programme not covered by the WMF in 2017.  The theoretical framework for the research reflects the programme’s emphasis on co-production, adopting a strengths-based approach (Boyle et al, 2010; O’Neill, 2003) to exploring issues relating to resilience and mental health and, as well as outlining the overall methodology, this symposium reports findings from three strands of the research.

Paper one: Professor Michael Jopling, University of Wolverhampton

This paper reports the outcomes of the local evaluation measure (LEM) strand, which brings together pupil-level surveys of resilience and wellbeing using validated rating scales (Ravens-Sieberer & Cieza, 2000; Ungar & Liebenberg, 2011; Theron et al, 2015) in all 30 primary, secondary and special schools involved in the programme.  This strand was designed primarily to contribute to addressing one of the study’s central research questions: What effect have interventions had on the mental health and wellbeing of individual children and young people? The paper outlines findings from the first two annual surveys and some of the challenges of maintaining schools’ engagement in such research.

Paper two: Dr Zeta Brown, University of Wolverhampton

In order to understand the perspectives of schools participating in the HeadStart programme better, the Education Observatory undertook qualitative research with the member of senior management with overall responsibility for PSHE, SUMO and/or the integration of HeadStart in a focused sample group of four primary schools. Using a common semi-structured interview schedule based on our created theoretical framework, four researchers each went in to one primary school to interview the lead teacher. Their responses were then analysed by the research team and collated to identify key themes. Schools stated programmes which were embedded in school practice had greater impact. In these cases HeadStart activities are seen as complementary rather than an add-on; that children were involved in learning essential skills for life, coupled with developing greater self-esteem and resilience; and that teachers have also become more conscious of their own mental health and wellbeing as a result of their engagement with HeadStart. The development of a shared language through SUMO was highlighted as positive, but schools were clear about the need for high quality training for all members of staff, which needs to be maintained as staff move key stages or new staff join the school.

Paper three: Dr Matt Smith, University of Wolverhampton

The education and community Q-sort research strand investigated children’s perspectives on their resilience and the relationships with friends, family and others that supported them.  We also investigated whether Headstart had supported their understanding of resilience.  Q-methodology was used as a means of gathering quantifiable data from highly subjective viewpoints (Brown, 1997).  In total, 55 children completed a Q-methodology card sort in education and community settings.  This paper will focus on the key findings from this evaluation project.  For instance, the factor analysis process generated three groups of children that held commonalities in their perspectives.  Some of these commonalities focused on their available support groups and whether they enjoyed life.  The findings indicated that the degree of family support consistently influenced the child’s perception of themselves and their resilience.


Boyle, D., Slay, J., and Stephens, L. (2010) Public services inside out: Putting co-production into practice. London:NESTA
Brown, S. (1997) The history and principles of Q methodology in psychology and the social sciences. Kent,OH:Kent State University.
Children’s Commissioner for England (2017) Report on measuring the number of vulnerable children. London: Children’s Commissioner for England.
NatCen Social Research & the National Children’s Bureau Research and Policy Team (2017) Supporting Mental Health in Schools and Colleges Summary report. London: Department for Education.
O’Neil, D. (2003) Clients as researchers: The benefits of strengths-based research, in Munford, R. and Sanders, J. (eds.) Making a Difference in Families: Research that Creates Change. Sydney, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 113-129.
Ravens-Sieberer, U., and Cieza, A. (eds.) (2000) Lebensqualität und Gesundheits-ökonomie in der Medizin – Konzepte, Methoden, Anwendung. München: Ecomed-Verlag.
Theron, L.C., Liebenberg, L. and Ungar, M. (eds.) (2015) Youth Resilience and Culture. Commonalities and Complexities. Heidelberg: Springer Dordrecht.
Ungar, M., and Liebenberg, L. (2011). Assessing resilience across cultures using mixed methods: Construction of the child and youth resilience measure, Journal of Multiple Methods in Research, 5,2 126-149.

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