From Strategy to Practice: Making the Connection in North Lanarkshire: A summary of a Keynote at the Association of Video Interaction Guidance UK (AVIGUK) International Conference in Glasgow ‘Video Interaction Guidance – Closing the Gap’ May 2017 by Alison MacDonald (Principal Educational Psychologist) and Dr Nancy Ferguson (Primary Attainment Challenge Lead), North Lanarkshire Psychological Service
Report by Linzi McCorkell.
The recent AVIGuk International Conference was held in Glasgow in May 2017 and welcomed new and intellectually stimulating ideas which focused on ‘Video Interaction Guidance – Closing the Gap’. There were a number of excellent keynote speakers who presented on their use of VIG, VERP and other related strengths-based video feedback approaches. Alison MacDonald (Principal Educational Psychologist) and Nancy Ferguson (Depute Principal Educational Psychologist) from North Lanarkshire Council’s (NLC) Psychological Service presented on their work for the Scottish Attainment Challenge which focused on improving outcomes for all children and young people in NLC to support them to realise their full potential. The Scottish Attainment Challenge is about achieving equity in educational outcomes and ensuring all children have opportunities to succeed, with particular concern for closing the poverty related attainment gap. The approach highlighted how VIG and VERP can contribute to improving these outcomes.
During their keynote, Alison MacDonald introduced the demographics of North Lanarkshire, emphasising the high levels of deprivation in the local authority. The gap between affluence and deprivation has only become more evident since 2012 as the data now suggests there has been an increase in the percentage of the population who live within the 5% most deprived data zones. This increase in severe deprivation is likely to further impact on the poverty related attainment gap.
The presentation then referred to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study which was carried out in the 1990s and found that a wide range of positive and negative childhood experiences have a significant impact on future life outcomes. The study is now having renewed attention, particularly as a result of the work in Scotland regarding the Attainment Challenge and the focus on children and young people’s wellbeing in ‘closing the poverty related attainment gap’. It has also been of importance in North Lanarkshire as there is a high prevalence of both domestic violence and substance misuse, which are two of the reported ACEs and are of particular concern in the authority. In combination with additional ACEs around family breakdown, trauma, and parental ill-health, there is a significant impact on the child and adult population.
In regard of the poverty related attainment gap and the challenges associated with adverse childhood experiences, the authority considered what can VIG and VERP bring to the strategy and reflected on their learning from the use of VIG with individual families. To highlight this, the speakers displayed a video of a foster parent who had been involved in VIG with their foster child and were guided by their educational psychologist. The parent reported that they had had concerns regarding the child’s behaviour and anger, and was feeling unable to cope. Yet, they felt that VIG was able to bring them closer together as a family and created a bond between the foster children. In addition, the head teacher of the child’s school reported that the impact of change was incredibly quick and noticed an obvious change in the family’s interactions with each other and that there were more attuned responses from the foster parents. There were notable improvements in the way the children played together, and that they were more settled, had better social skills and were able to work in groups in school. Overall, the foster parent stated that VIG was “the best thing I have ever done”.
North Lanarkshire’s strategy for the Scottish Attainment Challenge considered this impact of VIG on families, and therefore felt it was important to think about how this was implemented in practice in the classroom. Reference was made to quotes by New York Yankee baseball player Yogi Berra which highlighted the importance of having a sense of direction that helps to provide coherent actions to focus efforts that allow you to get you where you want to go. It was suggested by the speakers that a good strategy allows you to embrace opportunities as they arise, to be flexible, but to continue to ensure that you fit with evidence base and the available resources and have appropriate evaluation procedures in place to assess progress. It was noted that strategic thinking ensures that you do not lose focus regarding what you are trying to achieve for the children and families you want to reach and issues you want to help them address.
Further to this, it was highlighted that another important element is implementation, as you can have a good strategy but it is essential to consider what is need to implement the strategy to ensure they make a real difference to children and families. Reference was made to the golden thread, which, in NLC, is about attuned interactions and relationships, and it was reported that VIG and VERP are vital to this. It was suggested that by having a clear purpose based on a shared concept and evidence, it would help to ensure more consistent implementation across wider partnerships for a shared effort and focused set of actions. In turn this would help in thinking about how to delivery supports to families, and in using VERP to support the workforce in developing their relationship and interaction skills.
The psychological service built on the learning they gained from earlier strategic work in VIG and VERP. It had been evident that the use of VERP played a key role in learning and teaching, and in teaching behaviour. It was suggested that there can be a focus on what is being taught, classroom management and the environment, however, there is less support available in regard to classroom engagement and interaction and the social context, therefore the authority was keen to embed a relational approach as they sought to improve workforce capacity, improve literacy outcomes for children and improve family relationships. It seemed that VIG/VERP was the most powerful approach to be implemented, and that it would be the ‘golden thread’ within every level the psychological service work in regard to learning and teaching.
To identify and inform their focus, the psychological service looked at their available data and it highlighted that there were discrepancies regarding higher order skills in children in the older stages of primary school. Initially children were doing well, but as they reached the upper end of the school there were gaps in their higher order skills. To implement support, they investigated the evidence base and the research highlighted that strong higher order skills were dependent on good teacher dialogue, teacher feedback, and effective use of questioning. It was reported that these are teaching skills which should be experienced to improve and that the use of video is a good way to teach those skills. Therefore, the speakers completed VERP training in combination with reading comprehension and strategy sessions to build capacity. The data was promising and found that children, particularly those within SIMD 1 and 2, displayed improvement in their reading comprehension and strategy use. Additionally, it was noted that teachers were more attuned to their children and that there were improvements in the quality of questions used, that there was more deepening of discussion, more pupil participation and children were taking more of an initiative. These were important findings as when you link that to attainment in reading and writing, then if you are supporting children to write well then they need to be involved in high quality discussions and not just teacher led lessons all the time. Overall, the speakers found the approach to be flexible and reported that it has worked well within their authority in workforce development.
A final video was presented to summarise some of the qualitative findings from teachers who have been involved. The teachers reported that VERP has become fundamental to teaching and learning. It has helped them to think about their practice, through highlighted strengths of practice and identifying development areas which have contributed to better teaching and helped to ensure they are responsible for their own learning. The approach has helped create opportunities for teachers to think about how to increase pupil engagement and shift from teacher led lessons.
The presentation concluded with Dr Nancy Ferguson highlighting that they have gathered interesting and positive data regarding the use of VIG and VERP to close the gap in attainment in literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing in North Lanarkshire, and they would be happy to share their research with interested practitioners.
Linzi McCorkell (Trainee Educational Psychologist, Glasgow Psychological Service)