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Evaluating a universal cognitive behavioural intervention: What is the impact on pupils’ self-esteem?

Dr Sarah Patrick
Institute of Education

Further reading


This study evaluated a short-term Cognitive Behavioural Intervention (CBI) delivered by school staff to whole classes, designed to promote self-esteem. The research had a practical purpose, as the intervention had been implemented within multiple schools without being evaluated.

A mixed methods design was employed to assess the impact of the CBI and to explore why this impact was occurring, to inform future use. 171 pupils in years 5 and 6 from three mainstream schools were criterion-sampled, 108 in the intervention group (4 classes selected by school staff) and 63 in the wait-list control group (3 classes, matched by school and year). All pupils completed scales from the Self-Description Questionnaire (SDQ) and the Children’s Automatic Thoughts (CAT) scale at pre-intervention and post-intervention. One class also completed the scales for a third, follow-up occasion. Qualitative data were collected through semistructured interviews with 3 school staff and 6 pupils. In addition, school staff were observed delivering the intervention to ascertain implementation fidelity.

Results suggest that the CBI had no impact on pupils’ global self-esteem or peer related self-concept, but it had a negative impact on pupils’ school self-concept. There were no immediate impacts on Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs), except for pupils with below-average academic attainment who showed reductions in NATs at postintervention.

Follow-up data showed positive impacts on NATs, peer and school selfconcept two months after the intervention, although this lacked a control comparison. Thematic analyses of the qualitative data revealed factors influencing the impact of the intervention included its universal design, the involvement of school systems and individual pupil differences. The study concluded that the intervention has value as a psycho-educational learning tool, but does not directly improve global self-esteem.

There are implications for the role of educational psychologists in supporting schools to critically select and implement interventions.

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