Testing the impact of a teacher-led, story-based programme designed to improve primary school children’s coping skills
Zippy’s Friends is an intervention designed to improve children’s coping skills and give children skills which they will need to live flourishing lives. It is an internationally-used, well-developed programme aimed at class teachers of children in Years 1 and 2, run by the independent charity, Partnership for Children.
Teachers are trained and provided with the resources to deliver 24 weekly sessions. The sessions are built around stories about a stick insect (Zippy) and his friends, who are young children. The stories involve issues which children might encounter: such as friendship, conflict, change, and difficult feelings. The children then discuss the issues raised, and play games and role-play activities about emotions and coping. It is a very structured programme so when teachers are trained, they can begin delivering it straight away.
Why are we funding it?
Zippy’s Friends was first trialled in Denmark in 1999, and has been the subject of several research studies since. Some of these studies are high quality, but have almost all focused on subjective measures of social and emotional outcomes. For example, a recent school-level randomised controlled trial in Norway found an impact on coping strategies, as reported by the children. However, the findings are not universally positive, there is less evidence about the impact on some measures (e.g. behaviour outcomes didn’t change).
There have not yet been any rigorous studies using standardised attainment measures. Some studies also claimed an impact on classroom climate and attainment, but these were using teacher-reported measures, and the teachers were those who had delivered the programme. The hypothesis is that pupils with better coping strategies are better placed to cope with academic struggles, and less likely to be distracted by events in their life outside the classroom. Therefore this study will be the first to assess Zippy’s impact on attainment.
How are we evaluating it?
Queen’s University Belfast will evaluate the programme. This will be an efficacy randomised controlled trial. Efficacy trials aim to test whether an intervention can work under ideal conditions (e.g. when being delivered by the intervention’s original developer). In this case, Partnership for Children staff will directly train the teachers involved.
Partnership for Children will recruit 70 primary schools. Schools will be randomly allocated to have either their Year 2 teachers receive training and resources to deliver Zippy’s Friends, or be in the control group. Control schools will be given a financial compensation for participating in the research.
Pupils’ coping skills will be measured before randomisation and at the end of the intervention in Year 2, with attainment outcomes also collected at the end.
When will the evaluation report be due?
The evaluation report will be published in January 2018.