Blog Post

How to Thrive: Teaching Resilience in Schools

How to Thrive is a not-for-profit organisation that works with schools across the UK. In this guest blog post, which forms part of our wellbeing and education series, they share some recent highlights from their work.

Guest post by Lucy Bailey, Co-founder and Head of How to Thrive

How to Thrive are specialists in practical resilience for children and young people. We provide the tools and training teachers need to build student’s resilience for life. We deliver flexible, practical programmes that can transform behaviour and learning. All our work is based on research evidence and years of experience of working with schools and young people. 

Our flagship approach to building young people’s resilience is the Penn Resilience Programme (PRP), an evidence based, 18 lesson curriculum developed at the University of Pennslyvannia. Schools in the UK began teaching the PRP in 2007 as part of a UK research project, led by three local authorities (Hertfordshire, Manchester and South Tyneside), researched by the London School of Economics (LSE) and funded by the DCSF (then DfE). 

The LSE research involved 4,000 students from 21 schools in Hertfordshire, Manchester and South Tyneside. The students were taught the 18 PRP lessons then tracked for 3 years as part of a Randomised Controlled Trial.

The quantitative work found a significant improvement in:

  • pupils depression symptom scores
  • school attendance rates
  • academic attainment in English
  • anxiety scores
  • maths attainment concentrated in a few groups of pupils

The impact varied by pupil characteristics with a larger impact for:

  • pupils entitled to free school meals
  • who had not attained the national targets at Key Stage 2
  • who had worse initial symptoms of depression or anxiety

Other positive outcomes included the following:

  • Teachers were extremely positive about the ideas underlying the programme and about the training they had received. Most reported that they used the skills themselves.
  • Pupils were positive about the programme and were using the PRP skills in real life situations.

It is important to be clear that teaching one set of 18 lessons won’t see this impact last forever and this research illustrates this at the 3 year follow up. This is in-line with findings in similar programmes/interventions monitored beyond a 3 month follow up. The impact was still significant at a two year follow up and so we are realistic about the need for reinforcement because, like any good habits, you need reminding of them!

That said, we see real value in these significant, yet relatively short term outcomes - enabling young people to develop self-efficacy, manage early difficulties, build empathy and peer support and decreasing the risk of mental illness cannot start early enough. 

Since the research in 2007 How to Thrive has continued to work with schools across the UK to build teaching the PRP into their core curriculum. There are over 200 schools currently doing so. Some schools in Hertfordshire (our lead authority area) have been teaching resilience for so long that it is a core part of what they do. One head told us, “we want our students to leave us with the confidence to try anything in pursuit of successful careers and an enjoyable life as responsible citizens. Teaching resilience in the way suggested by How to Thrive has given us an excellent approach that enable our students to acquire the strategies to achieve these aims.” 

Recently our work was highlighted in a BBC Radio 4 programme called the Science of Resilience. Sian Williams visited a school, observed the teaching and spoke to staff and senior leader about the benefits of teaching resilience. You can listen here to the The Science of Resilience

A small scale research project led by the LSE in primary schools found similar outcomes to those seen in secondary schools and an Independent Secondary School Anti-bullying Review in Hertfordshire during 2010 reported the following; “The Resilience Programme has been delivered in 2 of the 8 schools visited.  The successful impact of the programme was evident in the different and more positive responses of pupils in those year groups that had been involved when compared with their older peers.” 

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Pictures in this post shared courtesy of  How to Thrive

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