On average, every classroom has at least one child who struggles to sit still, pay attention and resist impulses to do things like jump out of their seat. These types of behaviour are normal for most children and can be thought of like personality traits- we are all a bit hyperactive, a bit impulsive and sometimes have problems with attention. Some of us are a bit unlucky when we have high levels of all of these things, it can make it hard to focus and interact well with others at school and at home.
Children who have these traits or characteristics may need extra help to address struggles at school. Strategies are needed to help teachers support them. Existing advice for teachers is in the form of complicated programmes that try lots of different things at the same time. As a result, teachers struggle to learn and use the programmes, meaning children do not benefit from them. As every child and school are different, teachers tell us that they need a range of simple options that they can choose from to suit each child who struggles with being impulsive, over-active, or paying attention. If these problems are really severe it can be due to ADHD, or “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”.
How do we aim to help?
We plan to design a “toolkit” with a collection of strategies teachers can use to help children cope better in primary school. We have worked with teachers and parents to develop this project.
There are two main parts:
We will use a method called ‘Intervention Mapping’. This sets out a clear framework to design treatments that are acceptable to people who use them and are based on the best available evidence. This will be informed by theories about how children learn new skills and how the symptoms and traits of poor attention, hyperactivity or impulsivity come about. We will work closely with school staff, people with ADHD, children, parents and professionals to design the toolkit.
To test whether the toolkit is acceptable and practical for teachers to use, we will conduct an experimental study. Eight primary schools and a total of 16-32 children will take part, each using the toolkit for one school term. We will collect feedback about what went well and what did not, and whether we should make any changes before the next school tries the toolkit. The children trying the toolkit will be those who struggle to pay attention, or are hyperactive or impulsive. They don't have to have a diagnosis.
We plan to use several different ways to explore whether the toolkit is acceptable and potentially helpful for children. Teachers and parents will complete questionnaires, and we will run focus groups with school staff and interview parents and children about their experiences. This will inform whether the toolkit is ready to be tested further in future research.
What are the future benefits of this?
If the testing of the toolkit shows that it may be helpful, we will go on to do a larger scale study to investigate how much children benefit and if it is value for money. If the toolkit does help children who struggle with attention, hyperactivity or impulsive behaviour cope in school, these children will learn better and find school less stressful. This might prevent them from developing other mental health problems and help them avoid getting into accidents, trouble with teachers, and fights. They could go on to have a better chance of getting good qualifications, better jobs and have positive relationships with other people. In other words, it might lead to improved health and better life chances. Teachers might also find it easier to teach the whole classroom and be less stressed.