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The PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version) at Holy Spirit Catholic Primary - Case Study June 2020


The PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version) is a whole-school social and emotional learning (SEL) programme which aims to develop pupils’ social and emotional competence, empowering them to make positive choices throughout life, and work preventatively to support mental health and wellbeing.

In January 2019, 4 schools in St Helen’s began implementing The PATHS® Programme (UK Version), co-funded through Barnardo’s Core Priority Programme and St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and a further 4 schools joined the programme in September 2019 and January 2020.

There are 54 primary schools and 10 secondary schools in St Helens. St Helens ranks as the 26th most deprived local authority of 317 and certain area catchments rank within the top 1% of deprivation in the UK as measured by the Indices of Deprivation Report 2019. The catchment faces many challenges around mental health including higher than average rates of self-harm admissions to hospital, one of the highest suicide rates in the UK and issues surrounding substance misuse.  Addressing these issues is a key focus for the St Helens CCG who are working closely with Barnardo’s to deliver this support to schools.

In St Helens second year of the programme, 2149 children accessed the programme through taught lessons delivered by class teachers, who adhere to a lesson pacing guide. In the academic year of 2019/20 154 members of staff, a further 73 teachers and 81 additional staff were trained in delivery of the programme.

Coaching Support in Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School

The following case study aims to showcase the impact of The PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version) at Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School in Parr, St Helens (one of eight schools currently implementing the programme in the region).

This case study will focus on successes of implementing the programme on a whole-school basis since January 2019 and the impact specifically in a nurture group setting within the school named Rainforest Camp established in September 2019. Socio-economically, the Parr region was noted as being in the top 5% of deprivation nationally on the Indices of Deprivation scale and as a result, many of the school’s families face a range of difficulties linked to mental health. Despite these socio-economic challenges, the school continually strives to provide a range of academic and nurture-based experiences to support each child’s social and emotional development in school and at home.

Barnardo’s Coaching & Implementation Support

Barnardo’s have also supported the school with regular coaching support visits to develop programme delivery and maintain fidelity to the programme on a classroom and whole-school level.

With Barnardo’s support, teachers have had access to modelled, team-teach and peer support lesson coaching as well as 1:1 curriculum planning sessions. The Barnardo’s coach has also
worked with the In School Coordinators and Senior Leadership Team to plan and  develop  the  integration  of  Social  and Emotional Learning (SEL) practice on a whole-school level.

Additional whole-school integration involves supporting staff to make links to SEL other areas of school life such as newsletters, assemblies, displays and playground practice.

Staff across school have continued to embrace the coaching support, welcomed feedback and sought opportunities to develop their practice.

Developing SEL Skills

Pupil of the Day and Complimenting

Pupil of the Day is a daily process implemented in every class across the school. Pupils are selected at random to have a special privilege, wear the school’s special badge and to receive compliments from peers and teachers. This process focusses on building self-esteem and a positive classroom environment  in which  peers recognise each-other’s  strengths  and  positive  qualities. The school celebrates and recognises the importance of this practice.

Staff have taken ownership of the process by creating whole school identifiers for Pupil of the Day and using a governors’ meeting as an opportunity  to  give  a  compliment  sheet  to  pupils  in  Rainforest provision.   Practice   in   reception   has   included   championing   a compliment bucket system in which staff place compliments for all children to be shared at the end of each day, along with their weekly SEL quote.

Developing Emotional Literacy

Developing emotional literacy through explicit teaching of feelings is a core element of the PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version). Children are taught all feelings are OK, that feelings are comfortable or uncomfortable and how to recognise emotional cues and label feelings accurately. This work has been a key focus for Holy Spirit. Initial staff feedback meetings reported  even  after  the  initial  few  months  of implementation, the children were more articulate and open to communicate their feelings rather than expressing this through behaviours. In a visit from the Local Authority in 2019, inspectors observed a feelings-based lesson in Year 5 and echoed this sentiment in how impressed they were at the children’s ability to articulate different feelings.

Self-Regulation & Problem Solving

As part of the taught programme, children learn how to manage their uncomfortable feelings and problem solve around difficult situations. Children learn how to ‘Do Turtle’ and the 3 Steps for Calming Down as well as a sequence of steps to follow when problem solving. The children have responded well to these strategies and have begun to use them independently when in difficult situations. Some classes have utilised class problem solving boxes to apply SEL skills in real-life teachable scenarios.

Teachers and Teaching Assistants in early years have also adapted and created working resources such as lanyard cue cards for Reception  children and children with SEND to support them in ‘Doing Turtle’ in real life, teachable experiences.

Developing a Whole School Approach to SEL

As   part   of   the   development   of   the   PATHS® programme into its second year of implementation, Holy Spirit have shifted their focus to generalisation of SEL concepts and strategies into other areas of the school day. They have reinforced SEL in the whole-school environment through a range of displays and quotes. Each month, they display their SEL quote of the month and the assembly hall features displays on SEL skills such as spreading kindness.

Throughout the period of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school continued to promote these monthly quotes alongside Barnardo’s SEL activities in their weekly newsletters to ensure SEL was still a top priority for pupils.

Supporting the Programme Development

As   advocates   of   the   programme,   the   senior leadership team Michelle Ravey and Sinead Walsh also  spoke  with  Barnardo’s  at  the  St  Helens Children   and   Young   People’s   Mental   Health Conference on the successes of implementation and creating a whole school ethos routed in SEL. Further to this, the school also hosted a forum for In School Coordinators across St Helen’s to share best practice later in 2020.

B’s Buddies

In 2019/20 Holy Spirit also introduced B’s Buddies into their playground. The B’s Buddies training aims to support older children to work as ambassadors in the playground, helping others to resolve conflict and engage in SEL based games. 17 children from Year 5 and 6 were trained up in this role with further plans to extend and develop this in the next academic year.

Parent Information Session

In Autumn term 2019, Holy Spirit also hosted a Parent Information session led by their Barnardo’s coach to support links of SEL into the home environment. Holy Spirit has built regular contact with parents into their day to day practice and so extended this to support home-school links in SEL practice. The session was well received by parents who noted the following feedback:

Use of Social Media

Holy Spirit also uses Twitter regularly to communicate with parents.  This  is  used  as  a  key tool  to  celebrate  children’s achievements  and  develop  pride  in  their  learning.  Senior leaders regularly model the complimenting process to parents in their engagements online and promote SEL work distributed by Barnardo’s to encourage SEL learning at home.

OFSTED “Outstanding” Success

In April 2019, the school had an OFSTED inspection that recognised the impact of the SEL work the school were doing and as a result of their work, awarded them with a judgement of ‘Outstanding’ for their personal  development,  behaviour  and  welfare and  ‘Good’  overall. Executive Headteacher Michelle Ravey noted she felt implementing The PATHS® Programme for School (UK Version) was a key factor in the school achieving this ‘Outstanding’ rating.

Embedding SEL through Nurture Provision

The Rainforest Camp Nurture Provision was set up in September 2019 with the aim to improve self-confidence and self-esteem for two small groups of children identified across school. The afternoon group consists of 7 children from Y2 to Y6 who need additional social and emotional support in order to more confidently tackle the daily demands of school life. Holy Spirit approached their Barnardo’s coach in Summer 2019 to consult over how to integrate teaching of The PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version) most effectively within this setting.

The initial coaching support within the setting was focussed on meeting the children, establishing a rapport, and assessing their levels of social and emotional understanding. Significant gaps were identified at this stage in many SEL areas and specifically around the children’s ability to articulate feelings. Following this initial assessment, it was decided that the Y2 manual would be the appropriate pitch and pace for the group, despite some children being in older year groups academically. Initially, even sitting the children down in a circle to engage with the coach was a challenge and some were actively defiant in their behaviours during sessions. Through 1:1 planning and problem-solving meetings with the Rainforest teachers, ongoing adaptions were made to develop how sessions were still delivered with fidelity to the programme but in a way that the children could access this comfortably.

Teachers discovered that timing of their session had an impact on engagement, so their twice weekly half hour sessions were scheduled for the end of the day on consistent days of the week. This encouraged children to feel safe to open up more and made them less prone to displaying ‘Not OK’ behaviours after the sessions. They also identified that having set seated patterns around a table worked better than sitting in a circle and that some lessons e.g. those that covered more than one feeling at a time, worked best when chunked into a series of smaller sessions and provided more freedom for talk and sharing time. Work was also reinforced in a learning journal after sessions to consolidate understanding.

The Barnardo’s coach continued working with teachers in the Rainforest Camp through additional staff training sessions, lesson modelling, team teaching and peer support as well as 1:1 practitioner meetings to discuss successes and problem solve challenges with great success and notable outcomes for individual pupils.


After establishing a varied and secure emotional vocabulary for the children, the Rainforest Camp focussed heavily on the use of the 3 steps for Calming Down and the Control Signals to support those children who particularly struggle with their self-regulation to make appropriate behaviour choices. Given the small group nature of the work, they were able to do lots of role play in using positive communication skills and managing uncomfortable feelings. Alongside this, there was continued reinforcement of strategies from teachers who dialogued around their own and other’s emotions and modelled the use of calming strategies during ‘teachable moments’ to create a safe, nurturing environment in which pupils could feel comfortable to follow their example.

Self Esteem

There is also a huge focus on developing self-esteem within the Rainforest Camp with a daily complimenting session. The provision has adapted ‘Pupil of the Day’ to ‘Compliments of the Day’ but follow the same randomised format. Compliment sheets are then sent home as well as collated in the camp’s compliment book to allow children to read over and reflect on their compliments at challenging times when they may need a self-esteem boost.

SEL Generalisation

Rainforest Camp teachers have found a number of creative ways to integrate SEL into their daily practice and involve other areas of the curriculum and school life to provide the SEL ethos beyond the lesson content. Activities such as feelings Jenga, co-operative group work, role play and arts and craft activities help to develop and reinforce social and emotional skills and expression without explicit teaching.

Social Media

Rainforest teachers regularly tweet out examples of their SEL work including: what they are learning, celebrating coach visits, activities such as role plays, guess the feeling games and ideas to engage parents at home. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when schools were closed, they continued to tweet out a daily SEL challenge for pupils to engage with at home.

Case Study of Child A, a pupil in Rainforest

Rainforest teachers noted a specific improvement in Child A’s behaviour who at the beginning of the year was on a Pastoral Support plan and at risk of exclusion. In the initial stages of delivery of the programme, his teacher noted he was reluctant to engage with the lessons and just the mention of the session would provoke ‘Not OK’ behaviours. Gradually, as his confidence and sense of security built, he began to engage and open up and his behaviour began to show marked improvement. His teacher outlined he is now displaying more positive behaviours in many areas including work ethic, positivity, grit, kindness and gratitude for others and himself. She noted he is also more mindful and building better relationships with adults and children as he can communicate more effectively. Child A continued to engage with SEL work at home during the COVID-19 lockdown period and was sharing and celebrating this work on Twitter.

Child A’s parent also shared with his teacher that she was proud of his behaviour progress. She shared that she believes engagement with The PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version) has aided his progress and gave the following example from home: Child A had become upset at home over an Xbox game and he took himself off to a safe place (bedroom), before coming back calmer and discussing it.


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