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How does SWERL support pupils’ wellbeing?

Teaching staff and governors from Saffron Walden County High School recently participated in a project that will enable schools to better support pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs. The UCL Institute of Education, Knowledge Exchange project - Supporting Wellbeing, Emotional Resilience & Learning (SWERL), brings researchers and schools together to use research evidence directly in practice, create case studies grounded in real life problems, and feed findings back into the research evidence cycle via co-created knowledge.

This report contains case studies from Saffron Walden County High School.


Jane Watts – Year Achievement and Intervention co-ordinator (YAC)

Hannah Copley – Sixth Form Psychology teacher

Amy Whitehouse – Key Stage 3 History co-ordinator

Leonie Gillman – School Governor (SEMH)


Saffron Walden County High School (SWCHS) is a larger than average secondary school, with a large sixth form. Total student numbers total over 2,000. The school became an academy in June 2011 and is governed by Saffron Academy Trust. The proportion of students known to be eligible for free school meals is below that found nationally, as is the proportion who speak English as an additional language and those from minority ethnic groups. The proportion of students who are disabled or identified as having special educational needs is below the national average. At the last Ofsted inspection (2012) the school was rated ‘Outstanding’.

The SWERL work that is described here took place in the spring and summer terms 2019.

An audit of our current provision using the audit tool provided by the IoE was completed with the Assistant Head. Two domains for development were identified as possible areas of research for our pilot SWERL project:

1. Graduated Response to Need: The role of the teacher

We were particularly interested in intervention options to support social/emotional aspects of learning within the classroom.

2. Robust Communication Systems

Focused on the up-to-date recording and sharing of information of students with diagnosed SEMH and linking this to our data management system for all staff to access.

Given the short timeframe available (spring to summer term 2019) we focused this pilot study on the first of these domains and focused on Interventions within the classroom.

Some examples from our Action Planning.



What did the school do?

We chose two Year 9 groups to participate on our pilot study of evidence-based interventions within the classroom, which students told us would help their wellbeing and SEMH.

a) Maths group - set 9 of 12 – target grades 4/5.

A small group of 16 students taught by the Year Achievement Coordinator. 8 students with identified SEMH needs (2 with EHCP plans), 1 hearing impaired, 1 part-time (chronic fatigue syndrome)

Given the dynamics of the class and the wider awareness of their needs, this group requires lot of support.

b) History group – mixed ability GCSE

2 pupil premium, 1 SEMH, 2 specific learning difficulties, 1 moderate learning difficulties

Overall though an exceptionally able group led by an experienced member of the History department (Head of Key Stage).

Students were asked to complete Myself As a Learner (MALs) questionnaire and, informed by this and our reading of some current research (The Emotional Learning by Marc Smith, The Perfect Teacher Coach (Beere), Focus on Thinking (Ritchart), we decided to focus on changing the focus of our teaching style. In particular:

  1. Give students rationalised choice in the seating plan

  2. Change the style of questioning to focus on the process rather than the answer. In maths this also slowed the pace of the lesson.

  3. Issue a homework extension card to each student – one per half term, 48 hour extension, no questions asked.

Outcomes for students

These changes were then put in place by two teachers with two Year 9 groups (as detailed above), running over the late spring and early summer term 2019.

Year 9 History group

  • The students were very positive about the changes.

  • Seating plan - They really like the new arrangement of being able to choose who they sit with.

  • it made students more confident

  • They felt they participated more in the class.

  • They were very comfortable discussing the learning and felt more comfortable in the classroom.

  • Teaching style - The students had noticed the change to more open-ended questions that could then be turned into a discussion. As a result they were learning more and were not ‘put on the spot’ as they felt previously.

  • Homework pass. Students said it helped relieve stress and made them feel that they could work in a slightly less manic way on their homework, in the knowledge that if they didn’t finish it they had an alternative.

  • Overall, students reported that the changes made over the last few weeks felt very positive.

Year 9 Maths group

  • Choice of seating plan – they liked being able to sit next to someone they felt comfortable with and it made it easier when they were asked to do paired work.

  • Data analysis showed that this was particularly true for the students that had rated themselves highly for in-class anxiety.

  • Questioning – The students questioned were very positive about the change in questioning focusing on process rather than correct answers.

  • They didn’t feel anxious through the lesson because they knew they weren’t going to be picked on to have the correct answer.

  • They liked that the questioning asked about the process and this made them listen more to what was going on.

  • Students reported that in lessons with the old style of questioning they felt anxious

  • The new style of questioning made them feel more relaxed and able to listen more.

  • Homework pass – this was a big hit.

  • One anxious student really liked it and had used it when he found the homework too difficult

  • Others who hadn’t actually used it liked it and said they’d probably use it.

All students interviewed said it made them feel like they had a safety net.

For the future

What we plan to do…

  • Based on interviews and pilot so far, both teachers will continue with the changes made to our own classroom practice, both with the classes in the pilot study and others.

  • All students to be re-surveyed using the Myself as A Learner questionnaire to make a comparison of anxiety scores and ratings.

  • Present pilot findings to our Senior Leadership Team​

Reflection on the SWERL process from facilitators viewpoint

Working with this school was a pleasure. The SWERL team were very active in taking up the role of teachers as Action Researchers. They were open minded, highly focused and clear in considering their priorities for the pilot SWERL process and hopefully scaling this up in the future for the benefit of all student and staff wellbeing. They were able to utilise resources very well, even co-opting a governor onto the pilot programme. They were pragmatic when ‘real world’ issues presented beyond their control and I felt SWERL has augmented their skills and thinking and will greatly aid them in the next phase of their work.

Dr Dennis Guiney – Sept 2019


UCL Centre for Inclusive Education

Dr Tim O' Brien, Dr Amelia Roberts and Dr Dennis Guiney authors of SWERL

UCL Higher Education Innovation Fund which provided the grant for the project

For more information please go to:

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