The Academic Resilience Approach (ARA) is a whole-school-based community development model designed by Angie Hart and Lisa Williams with input from school practitioners and young people. It aims to equip schools with the tools to support students to overcome adversity and improve their mental health, and, in turn, educational outcomes. This intervention was devised based on complex systems theory and a social justice-oriented Resilience Framework. The community organisations YoungMinds and Boingboing have adopted the approach and are working in partnership with schools to apply it across the UK and to research its impact through evaluation.
A systems perspective acknowledges the complexity of both the school system (including school culture, values, communication and the flow of information) and its context dependency, meaning that the way the system operates can adapt or change over time and in response to the external environment (educational policy and practice priorities, Academies, Ofsted interventions). The structure and practices of the ARA are based on Resilient Therapy and the Resilience Framework developed by Hart and colleagues (2007). The Resilience Framework identifies multiple resilience-building mechanisms that are applicable in multiple contexts with children and young people. It incorporates Basics, Belonging, Learning, Coping and Core-Self as the key components of resilience. The ARA follows a structured pattern, although the detail of actual delivery in a participating school is bespoke to the needs of the school. The facilitated steps of the intervention are to:
- Conduct an initial senior leadership team meeting looking at school priorities.
- Introduce the Resilience Framework through whole staff workshops and staff training.
- Help the whole school community to audit the school against an evidence-based framework in relation to resources and needs of the school, and gain insight from parents, students and staff, who are all part of the change.
- Make a whole school focused action plan based on intelligence derived from above steps.
- Support implementation of action plans and review through further training and consultancy.
The whole process of the ARA is completed within one academic year. The ARA aims to improve the resilience knowledge of all school staff along with their confidence and competence in using this knowledge in practice which will then change the school climate. Overall, the school develops a new environment that will support the basic needs of the students (especially of those who need the most support), belonging to a school community, learning basic life skills, coping with daily stresses, and developing future possible selves as core aspects of resilience-building, which in turn will lead to better health and wellbeing outcomes.
This evaluation project explores ways to build the capacity of school staff and the commitment of school leaders and other key stakeholders to help them identify and implement specific resilience-based actions. We expect that this will help the whole school community to imagine and create a resilient school system which will support vulnerable students to do better than their circumstances might have predicted. Within this project we (academics, practitioners, local senior management team and members of the school community) will investigate the extent to which the implementation of the Academic Resilience Approach builds capacity and community understanding within schools, supports schools to imagine better futures for their vulnerable members, and initiate change in their perspective towards a resilience focus in a local area in the north of England.
This research project commenced in August 2013.
We have completed the first two aims of the project, namely to:
- Develop the ARA in partnership with schools, parents and other stakeholders.
- Make the approach available free online to anyone who wants to use it.
Our work continues as we develop an accredited facilitated version of the ARA and research the potential for the ARA as applied in UK local authorities to contribute to:
- The capacity building and sustainability of good practice across the multiple levels of the local system
- Building resilience of the whole school community, which in turn should influence the behavioural, academic and wellbeing outcomes of pupils in schools.
Our objectives are to:
- Explain how this implementation has been experienced from the point of view of the various stakeholders of the project (for example, by the project team, senior management, school senior management, and school staff) emphasising achievements and strengths, challenges and barriers, and lessons learned for future implementations.
- Investigate the extent to which this project built capacity within the core project team (for instance, how well the concept of resilience and key principles of the Academic Resilience Approach were understood; to what extent this project increased team members’ confidence and competence in working with each other and with schools; and to what extent this pilot enhanced good practice).
- Investigate the extent to which this implementation impacted on student and staff resilience, perception of the school system, as well as students’ behavioural, academic and wellbeing outcomes.
- Explore the potential for the sustainability of the project in the whole system (for instance, what elements of this project will be incorporated into the school agenda? What will be the learning for the wider system including senior management teams? To what extent will this phase improve information sharing and communication across the different sectors of the system?).
Project findings and impact
This research project has resulted in the development of an intervention to support school-based resilience, and the innovative Academic Resilience Approach has been designed and analysed through action research.
The ARA websites have generated considerable interest and received over 93,000 hits since inception.
The facilitated ARA intervention has been delivered in over 60 schools across the UK.
Evaluations from pilot projects show that schools find the ARA helpful and are embedding it in school practice.
Supporting schools and university colleagues are implementing the ARA in Malaysia, Greece and Spain.
The Academic Resilience Approach and associated Resources Directory are available to use for free on the Boingboing website. It includes numerous work sheets, films etc which are all freely accessible.
A film introducing systems thinking for child mental health contexts which was made by the project team is also available.
Centre of Resilience for Social Justice, University of Brighton, UK
Durham County Council, UK
Blackpool Council, UK
Surrey Council, UK
Shahabuddin Hashim, University of Science, Malaysia
Elias Kourkoutas, University of Crete, Greece
Maria Georgiardi, Child Development Centre, Rethymno, Greece
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