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What worked for the Olympic cycling team may work in our school

Andrew Hare, Teacher of discovery, High Tunstall College of Science, explains the rationale, actions and early outcomes of their Chimp Paradox Project with students displaying challenging behaviour…

The core values of High Tunstall College of Science are supporting and inspiring students, to allow them to achieve their potential. The Chimp Paradox model (used to such success with the British Olympic cycling team by psychiatrist and author Steve Peters) was piloted with a view to giving extra support to a small cohort of students who display challenging behaviours at school.

The project had two main aims. The first was to challenge students’ emotional and unhelpful thinking processes. Then, to teach students about the order in which information is processed within the brain, so they could avoid reacting emotionally and disproportionally to events in their daily lives.

Pilot, 2015-2016

The house learning coaches completed a six-hour training course developed within the college so that they were comfortable using the principles. Five students were then chosen from KS3, based on the high number of behaviour points that they accumulated within the first term. This test group then had two 30-minute meetings each week with learning coaches trained in the chimp principles, in which their behaviours and suitable methods for tackling similar incidents in the future were discussed, and goals set.

Five ‘control’ students with similar behaviour points were also chosen, to provide a comparison. These students had four mentoring sessions annually with no chimp principles, instead discussing their academic performance. A third group had a learning coach meeting once a fortnight, which was not based on chimp principles. This group was included to look at how regularity of intervention affected challenging students’ behaviour.

Baseline data collected before the sessions included attendance, behaviour points, happiness, anxiety, depression and self-confidence questionnaires along with teacher ratings of behaviours and progress against targets.

Context of the analysis

The conclusions relate to year 8 and 9 students with poor behaviour. Despite the best attempts to control every variable, the chimp group had a higher number of behaviour points before intervention (Chimp: 93.3, Fortnightly : 78.3, Control: 76.50). The findings are also based on a small sample (N=16) with the outliers having a significant impact on data. Finally, the delivery of chimp principles by the learning coaches is still at a novice level.

Pilot study conclusions

The chimp group had a 1.32% increase in attendance with the fortnightly group having a decrease of 2.77% and the control group had a decrease of 1.41%. This indicates that the chimp intervention has a positive impact on attendance with challenging KS3 pupils.

In terms of behaviour the chimp group had a 17.6% decrease in the number of (challenging) behaviour points with the fortnightly group having a 23.35% reduction and the control group having a 37.5% increase. This indicates that an increased frequency of mentoring leads to a reduction in behaviour points. The chimp group also had areduced number of behaviour points despite an increase in attendance and being a group with a higher starting number of behaviour points.

The teacher judgements indicated that the chimp group’s behaviour in lessons decreased by 2.6%, the fortnightly group rating increased by 0.75% and the control group increased by 2.05 %. However, the ac- curacy of these figures is open to debate as they have no correlation with behaviour points, as the control group’s behaviour points had the most dramatic in- creases, this could be potentially due to teacher bias.

On the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire the chimp group’s score decreased by 5.16%, the fortnightly group had an increase of 2.74% and the control group had an increase of 2.6%. This may indicate that the constant challenge of the chimp sessions has a negative impact on students’ happiness in the short term, and that, leaving aside the content, a fortnightly intervention period may be more effective.

Scores on the Thorndike self-confidence scales for the chimp group increased by 7.08%, the fortnightly group increased by 0.84% and the control group increased by 3.54%. This reasonably large increase in self confidence indicates a positive impact of the chimp sessions in comparison to the fortnightly and control groups.

In terms of depression and anxiety, the WEBWMS showed no reduction in scores for the chimp group. The fortnightly group had a 5 points reduction (positive) in depression score and no change in anxiety ratings. The control group had an increase in depression score of 2.14 points(negative) and a 1 point increase in anxiety ratings. In conclusion there was no reduction in depression or anxiety score on average for the chimp group.

The final parameter is the attainment of end-of-year targets. The chimp group on average hit their targets in three additional subjects, the fortnightly and control groups achieved their targets in four additional subjects. This indicates no significant difference in target attainment and that the frequency of chimp intervention may be causing a decrease in target attainment as two lessons per week are disrupted.

Based on the findings of the pilot study High Tun- stall’s senior leadership team agreed that the Chimp project showed several potentially positive benefits, but needed to be investigated further with a larger sample size.

Main project, 2016-2017

Several of the issues raised from the analysis of the pilot study results have been integrated into the main Chimp project. The first was that the frequencies of chimp sessions have been reduced to once a week to increase the number that can access the programme and limit impact on lessons. The sample size has increased to 48 students from years 7 and 8; these 48 students have been split into a control group and chimp test group. The control group will continue to have four academic mentoring sessions per year, with a focus on academic attainment.

As with the pilot study, students have been selected based on the number of behaviour points they have accrued over the first term. The selection also took into account the severity of the behaviour; the likelihood of the students being able to access the provision for the remainder of the academic year; and their ability to attend sessions (eg, reduced due to poor attendance).

Each student in the chimp test group has been matched with a student from the control group on a range of parameters, including average attendance, gender, age, PP status, FSM status and SEN status. The only variable that significantly differs is the number of behaviour points each student had prior to the start of the main project; these pairings will be used as part of a comparative analysis. As with the pilot, students’ baseline data were collated, including attend- ance, number of behaviour points, happiness, anxiety, depression and confidence questionnaires, teacher ratings of behaviours and progress against targets.

The interim review of the project’s outcomes will be the end of the Easter term to assess any short-term impacts. The final analysis of the project will be at the end of the academic year.

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