Whole school approach to social skills

Year: 2018

Author: Formby, Claire, Houlcroft, Karen, Short, Kate

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Our submission intends to provoke discussion around two key topics. The first is the importance and efficacy of whole-school social skills (SS) programs for students with disabilities. The second is to provide an example of speech pathologists in schools and how they can contribute to student engagement. We describe the implementation of a whole school SS intervention by a school-based speech pathologist in collaboration with special educators. SS influence wellbeing and academic performance. Literature has shown SS groups are moderately effective for young people with autism. However it is unclear if this is the case in schools for adolescents with a range of disabilities, and the optimum dose and intensity required.
To evaluate the impact of varied intensity on students’ SS outcomes following a five-year whole school intervention for adolescents with disabilities
This action research study was conducted at St Edmund’s College, a high school for students with mild-moderate intellectual disabilities and concomitant disabilities. Prior to intervention, SS were measured in 2013 for all students from Year 7-11 (baseline). Intervention included a blend of evidence-based SS, social-emotional learning and social safety programs. All students (191) enrolled in the school participated. Adjustments to the intervention were made following assessment, observation and reflection by the College. Thus, three different intensities of the program were trialled over 4 years: 2014-2015, 20 minutes weekly (mid intensity) ; 2016, 20 minutes inconsistently (low intensity), and 2017 45 minutes weekly (high intensity). Each student was assessed annually using the Talk About SS observational checklist. ANOVA was utilised to determine the impact of intensity and grade on SS.
Retrospective quantitative analysis showed that compared to no intervention, there was a significant improvement in Year 7-10 students’ SS as measured by the observational checklist. However, there were few significant differences between the various intensities when analysed by grade (e.g. high intensity better than mid intensity in Year 8 and 9).  The results also showed a developmental trajectory for SS amongst this population, which is currently not well documented.
The whole-school SS intervention was effective for our students. Limitations of our outcome measurement tool may explain why there was no significant difference between the intensities of the intervention. The data collected informed and changed practice within St Edmund’s College, and prompted adjustments to the program and for the program to be included in the timetable. This service delivery may be applicable to other school settings.