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Group supervision: Understanding the views of ELSAs in one county in England

Supervision is key aspect of the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant programme and in this blog we summarise our recent research which explored how newly trained ELSAs understood supervision experiences.

The Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) programme

The ELSA programme aims to support children and young people’s social, emotional and mental health. ELSAs attend training sessions run by Educational Psychologists and then apply skills, knowledge and strategies back in their schools. The ELSA Network states that ELSAs should receive regular professional group supervision from an Educational Psychologist (EP).

The current research project

EPs running ELSA training and supervision thought that it would be useful to hear from ELSAs who had been in the first cohort trained in the county. A research project looking at ELSAs’ views of the training programme had previously been carried out by trainee EPs from Bristol University.

We wanted to know more about how the newly trained ELSAs understood supervision and their experiences in a novice county. Teaching assistants and support staff from ten schools in the county experienced seven days of ELSA training between September 2017 and June 2018 and attended at least four supervision sessions led by EPs over the subsequent 12 months. These sessions took place once every short term and lasted for 1.5 hours; they ran in three host schools in the county. 

Five ELSAs agreed to be interviewed about their views of ELSA supervision and individual interviews were carried out in each respective ELSA’s school in June 2019. 

The research questions: 

The research questions below formed the basis of each individual interview. 

  1. What are ELSAs’ views about the mechanics of group supervision including group size, timings and locations?
  2. What are ELSAs’ views of the usefulness of group supervision?
  3. If at all, how do ELSAs feel that group supervision has supported their professional development?

Our findings and reflections

Six overarching themes were identified through thematic analysis. These were:

  • Session format
  • Learning in the moment
  • Applying learning from supervision sessions
  • Communication, relationships and emotional support
  • Schools’ approaches to ELSA
  • Challenges

We considered the findings of our research in terms of the development of ongoing supervision within the context of available EP time and resources. There were varied views on aspects of supervision, for example, the length of sessions and approaches to problem-solving and so we know it won’t be possible to accommodate all preferences in future group supervision sessions.

We tried to appreciate the ELSAs understanding of supervision and any preconceptions they brought to the sessions. Supervision does not appear to be commonplace in school settings and this reinforced the idea that supervising EPs need to fully explain the process, as well as ensuring that a collaborative understand of supervision is developed.

We considered that existing research has not really explored ELSAs’ perceptions of relationships with members of the group and their supervisors. Supervision is understood to be a reciprocal process whereby both the supervisor and the supervisee gain insight and development from supervision sessions. The ELSAs in this study noted that the EPs were “really open to any questioning” and “could be asked for advice without feeling that you are sounding a bit stupid”.  “[They]were able to offer advice or support, support or just affirmation”.   

ELSAs commented on the benefits of working as part of a group, sharing experiences and observations and creating a supportive environment. In some cases, group supervision was perceived negatively in that for some ELSAs, they felt less able to talk through sensitive or personal cases. EPs could make it clearer that this support could be provided one-to-one if needed. 

The ELSAs in this study enjoyed the “relaxed fashion” which created a “comfortable environment”. They liked being able to share resources with the group, despite some participants feeling like they needed to adapt these to suit the age group they worked with. ELSAs who worked in the same school benefited from their shared role and relationship. 

Future research exploring Senior Leaders’ perceptions of ELSAs in schools will be beneficial in developing understanding of the context that ELSAs work in. We think that this would support roles and practices becoming embedded within each school.

Read the full study

You can also contact the authors.

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