Supporting Teachers and Children in Schools (STARS)

South West PeninsulaMental Health
Start Date: 1 Jan 2011 End Date: 28 Feb 2018


The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) released guidelines into Promoting Children's Social and Emotional Well-being in Primary Education, in 2008. NICE recommended that schools implement programmes to promote emotional and social well-being, working closely with parents and, where necessary, local authority children's services.

Figures from 1999 and 2004 indicate that 10% of children and young people aged between 5 and 16 years had a clinically diagnosed mental disorder, including emotional, conduct and hyperkinetic disorders.  Devon Primary Care Trust estimate that approximately 9,000 children between ages 5 and 15 are likely to have one or more diagnosable mental health problems in Devon.

Poor socio-emotional adjustment in childhood may compromise mental health and academic attainment and can adversely impact on life chances of all the children in a classroom, particularly children living in deprived circumstances. Disruptive behaviour is a common source of stress among teachers, and a common reason for many leaving the profession.

Despite the research and guidelines available, there is no specific guidance on how social and emotional well-being should be promoted in primary schools.  The Supporting Teachers And childRen in Schools (STARS) study will examine whether the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management course may enhance teachers’ skills in promoting socio-emotional well-being among their pupils.

If effective, TCM could transform the classroom from an environment where many children currently struggle to cope, particularly boys from low socio-economic backgrounds, into one where many more children can thrive. Enhancing teachers’ skills potentially benefits all children that come into contact with that teacher over subsequent years, so TCM may be a particularly cost-effective way to assist the most vulnerable children in our society.

What is Teacher Classroom Management?

The Teacher Classroom Management (TCM) programme comprises a one day session per month over a six month period, delivered to groups of 10 teachers.  The focus is on collaborative learning, discussions of teachers’ own experiences and group work to find solutions to problems encountered in the classroom. The following principles underpin the TCM approach:

• the importance of teacher attention, encouragement and praise
• motivating children through incentives
• preventing behaviour problems – promoting the proactive teacher
• decreasing children’s inappropriate behaviours
• building positive relationships with children and encouraging them to problem solve

The TCM course will be delivered by Behaviour Support Professionals from Devon and Plymouth.

Supporting Teachers And childRen in Schools (STARS)

STARS is a programme of work focused on the development of a cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) of the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management (TCM) course.

The project is funded by a grant from the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme (project number 10/3006/07).

Preparatory work for STARS trial

The First Feasibility Study has been completed in which 20 teachers from six schools in Devon completed the TCM course, held between January-June 2011. The teachers completed a series of questionnaire measures and attended a focus group to gain their views on the course in terms of its relevance and applicability to their practice. Overall the feedback was extremely positive and teachers stated that they were already using many of the strategies in their classrooms. Headteachers were also interviewed to give advice about research processes to help plan the RCT.

A Second Feasibility Study was carried out between January – June 2012 with 20 teachers from a further 10 schools in Devon and Plymouth, which extended the work of the First Feasibility Study. Similarly, the feedback from the participating teachers and headteachers was extremely positive, with teachers stating that their attendance at the course had a positive impact on their classrooms. All the information obtained from the two Feasibility Studies has been used to develop a cluster randomised controlled trial (detailed below).

Our Group has also developed and tested a measure to record how young children feel about school, which will be used in the STARS trial.

STARS – A cluster randomised controlled trial with parallel economic and process evaluations

This trial will take place in 80 primary schools in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay over five years. Schools will be recruited over a three year period with 15 schools starting the study in September 2012, 30 schools in September 2013 and 35 schools in September 2013.  Each school will participate for three academic years to allow two years of follow up. One teacher from each school will be randomly allocated to attend the TCM course or to be a control. Control teachers will wait until the following academic year before attending the TCM course.

Specifically, STARS will evaluate whether increasing teachers’ skills in dealing with children who are difficult to manage in a classroom environment leads to improvement in:

• the child’s emotional wellbeing
• the child’s behaviour in the classroom
• the child’s academic attainment
• the teacher’s view of their own effectiveness as a teacher
• the teacher’s levels of stress and wellbeing
• the child’s view of school

We will use focus groups and interviews to find out from teachers, head teachers and special educational needs coordinators (SENCos) how useful they think TCM is, whether they use it in their practice and schools, and how it fits with other sources of support for emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Using questionnaires completed by parents and SENCos, backed up by detailed interviews with some parents, we will find out about additional help accessed by families in relation to their child’s socio-emotional adjustment to look for cost-savings that TCM might generate by reducing demands on educational support and mental health services.

Advisory Group

Our Advisory Group, comprising teachers, behavioural support network professionals and parents, monitor the study and ensure that it is designed and carried out in a way acceptable to schools and parents.


The first cohort of 15 schools started the study in September 2012. Schools have also been recruited to start the study in September 2013 and September 2014. 

In October 2014 the STARS project received an additional £60,000 funding from the NIHR Public Health Research programme to expand their analysis of data collected during the trial through linking to the National Pupil Database.  This link will greatly broaden the range of educational outcomes that the project will be able to explore, with the additional option to track the study participants forwards in time in relation to key educational outcomes.

Next steps

In September 2015 the team received funding from the University of Exeter ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to conduct a feasibility study called  ‘Supporting Teaching staff to Enable children to build Emotional Resilience’ (STEER).

This study will explore whether or not the TCM course is also helpful for Teaching Assistants/Learning Support Assistants and children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) which include some emotional or behavioural difficulties.

We are working with a total of nine schools on the STEER project, three of which are specialist schools. The study will run from September 2015 until March 2016.


Read a recent feature on the STARS project on our Exposure page.

Prof Tamsin Ford