Catalyst Courier March 2023

Welcome to our latest edition of the Catalyst Courier. If you have information to share or topics you’d like us to cover please get in touch ([email protected]) 

With the Easter holiday starting next week, you might like to take time out to visit the Primary Schools Spring Art Exhibition at The Old Parsonage, set in the beautiful grounds of the Parsonage Gardens. Local schools represented include: Beaver Road, The Birches, Cavendish, Lancasterian, St Catherine's, St Wilfrid's, Broad Oak, Didsbury CE and West Didsbury CE.

Download the poster and further information here.


Our March SENDCO Network was held in person, at the Old Parsonage, with information from Dr Emma Forshaw, educational psychologist on practical strategies for dealing with exam stress and an introduction to VIG: Video interactive guidance led by Senior Educational Psychologist Hannah McHugh.

Strategies to support students with exam stress by Dr Emma Forshaw

Dr Emma Forshaw led a session on exam stress, based on her research completed on the Child and Educational Psychology doctorate at the University of Manchester.

Slides available here

What is exam stress and how does it differ from anxiety?

We discussed that exam stress is a normal level of pressure and worry that pupils feel in response to taking an exam, and does not impact results. Exam anxiety can impact performance.

Is exam stress necessarily a bad thing?

Some stress can be positive depending on whether it is viewed as an opportunity or a threat. Each individual will have a different response to stress.

What does the research tell us
  • Fear appeals do not have a large impact on motivation.
  • Efficacy appeals have been shown to sometimes be effective but these have mixed results can be helpful for some but not all.


Factors that can help

  • Talking to children about their feelings.
  • Reframing some feelings in a positive way, e.g anticipation or excitement rather than worry.
  • Specific positive feedback on work.
  • Emphasis on mastery of skills.
  • Perceived good quality teaching.


Themes that emerged from Emma’s research

  • Practical based strategies were perceived to be beneficial: ‘give me the information I need’
  • Help with organisation.
  • Individual personalised motivational messages rather than general motivational strategies such as assemblies.
  • Planning a celebration or reward for after exams.
  • Communicating with parents about the nature of tests/exams and how they can support their child.
  • Provide guidance on self-care strategies.


How to identify pupils who need a more targeted/individual approach

  • CYP who express lots of worries.
  • CYP who need a lot of reassurance.
  • Finding excuses to leave the classroom.
  • Complaints of physical symptoms.


How can we help pupils with exam stress

  • Empathise and validate their feelings.
  • Support and encourage children to find their own coping strategies.
  • Remind them that balance is healthy, and support them to plan breaks.
  • Look for small achievements as well as the end result.
  • Time spent in a calming space with a key adult before the exam.


Specific interventions

  • STEPS (Secondary program).
  • Bespoke interventions (CBT or EFT based).
  • Supporting underlying SEN (e.g. ASC, ADHD).
  • Plan reasonable adjustments and give the child or young person time to practice with the adjustments.


Online resources


Video Interaction Guidance

Hannah McHugh, one of the Senior Educational Psychologists has trained in Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) and came to the SENDCo network to introduce the approach and answer questions.

VIG has a strong evidence base and is recommended by NICE guidelines. It aims to help enhance your communication and interaction

Who can benefit

  • Parents
  • School staff
  • Professionals
  • Early career teachers


VIG process

The VIG practitioner will meet with you to identify priorities. They will then arrange a time and place to video an interaction. The practitioner then clips the video, and watches the video clips with the client. The clips are examples of a positive within an interaction. This process then repeats 3-4 times with an aim to build on the positive interactions and skills.

Core beliefs that underpin VIG

  • Everyone is doing the best they can at the time
  • All people have the capacity to change
  • People have an innate desire to make connections with other people
  • People must be actively involved in their own change process
  • Affirmation and appreciation of strengths is the key to supporting change

If you are interested in VIG for your school, please contact Hannah at [email protected]


SENDCO Resource Update: file link

These resources have been 'curated' by Grace Stevens, assistant psychologist, within the headings on the Resilience Framework. The attached document provides links to recent information and resources in each of the 5 aspects of  Resilience. All links are to our Catalyst website, with information and downloadable resources.