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Emotional Literacy Support Assistant

Who are ELSA trained at Horizon?

  • Debbie Stoner
  • Helen Rawlinson-Rowbotham



The ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant) project was originally developed within Southampton then Hampshire by Sheila Burton, Educational Psychologist. It was designed to build the capacity of schools to support the emotional needs of their pupils from within their own resources. It recognises that children learn better and are happier in school if their emotional needs are also addressed.

ELSA is an initiative developed and supported by educational psychologists who apply psychological knowledge of children’s social and emotional development to particular areas of need and to specific casework.

From academic attainment to all-round development

Over recent years there has been increased recognition of the impact of social and emotional aspects of learning on academic attainment in schools.  The Children Act 2004 (Every Child Matters) recognised that schools need to be concerned with the all round development of children.

Individual needs

All children should be nurtured in accordance with their individual needs. There will always be children and young people in schools facing life challenges that detract  from their ability to engage with learning, and some will require greater support to increase their emotional literacy than others.

The ELSA model at Horizon Primary Academy


Horizon Primary academy's ELSA trained staff are Debbie Stoner and Helen Rawlinson-Rowbotham. Both members of staff have undertaken 6 full days of training delivered by educational psychologists on aspects  aspects of emotional literacy including emotional awareness, self-esteem, anger management, social and friendship skills, social communication difficulties, loss, bereavement and family break-up. ELSAs receive supervision from educational psychologists once every half term in a local group of either primary or secondary ELSAs. ELSAs may also receive some additional individual support from their supervisor if needed, usually via email or telephone contact. A school may also ask an educational psychologist working with their school to advise the ELSA on how to support a pupil for whom there is particular concern.



Supervision for ELSAs

ELSAs receive clinical supervision from educational psychologists but they are line managed from within their own schools. Part of the line manager’s role is to assist in the identification and prioritisation of pupils who would benefit from support. This tends to be achieved in consultation with class teachers, form tutors, heads of year, SENCos and the ELSAs themselves.

Pupil priorities

The priorities for an individual pupil will be identified in discussion with other staff in the school. These priorities will inform the setting of aims for the programme, which are akin to individual education plan targets. Where possible it is also helpful to have pupil input on target setting. Working on what is important to them is likely to increase the impact of the support. With the programme aims in mind the ELSA would plan support sessions to facilitate the pupil in developing new skills and coping strategies that allow them to manage social and emotional demands more effectively. Each session has its own objective (either something the ELSA wants to achieve or something for the pupil to achieve) that builds towards the longer term aims.

ELSA as a time limited intervention

Rather than using an ELSA as part of a pupil’s permanent support structure, it is better to see the intervention as time-limited to assist the development of specific skills, usually up to a term. Once new skills are acquired, time needs to be allowed for consolidation. Further intervention towards additional aims could be considered at a later date if desired. As an ELSA is part of the permanent staff within school, some informal contact may be maintained for a time to enable graduated withdrawal of support for those pupils who may need this.

Change as a result of ELSA intervention

It needs to be appreciated that change cannot necessarily be achieved rapidly and is dependent upon the context and complexity of the presenting issues. For pupils with complex or long-term needs it is unrealistic to expect ELSA intervention to resolve all their difficulties. It needs to target specific aspects of a pupil's need. The training and development of ELSAs is an ongoing process and wisdom is required to recognise when issues are beyond the level of expertise that could reasonably be expected of an ELSA. The supervising psychologist or the educational psychologist that usually works with the school would be able to offer advice on suitability or nature of ELSA involvement in complex cases.

ELSA skills

An ELSA needs to:

  • have a warm personality and be able to stay calm under pressure 
  • be able to gain the confidence of children who are behaviourally challenging or socially withdrawn
  • be happy to work independently and show initiative
  • be creative in planning interventions and efficient in recording ELSA work
  • be eager to learn and develop new skills


Does ELSA intervention make a difference?




There has been consistent feedback from schools across the UK that the introduction of ELSAs has made a significant positive impact on the emotional wellbeing of children and young people. It has supported staff development, with ELSAs frequently commenting on the impact training has had on them, personally as well as professionally.

The following comment was made by Victoria Syed, an ELSA in Wandsworth, "I feel the ELSA training reinforced my belief in acknowledging children's feelings. It inspired me to offer the children opportunities to express their feelings and describe their emotions. It has been a positive learning experience in both my professional and personal life and has reminded me of what the essence of our daily life is."


Evaluation has been carried out in a variety of ways yielding both qualitative and quantitative evidence of its effectiveness. The findings from evaluation studies in various local authorities may be found on the local pages within the 'ELSA Around the UK' section of this website. Local newsletters include accounts of positive pupil outcomes arising from ELSA support. There is now an increasing amount of doctoral level research being undertaken to investigate outcomes of ELSA practice.