The FRIENDS programme aimed to improve English and Maths attainment by increasing resilience and reducing anxiety in primary school pupils. The programme consisted of 10 weekly sessions covering topics including emotional self-management and recognising anxiety. Sessions were 60-90 minutes long, and were delivered during the school day by external project officers. Students were also given homework activities.
A 10-week programme based on cognitive behavioural principles that aims to reduce anxiety.
University of Manchester
Character & essential skills
The FRIENDS programme is a cognitive-behavioural approach that is widely used in schools and has been trialled in Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands and the US.This study follows a previous, smaller evaluation which explored the impact of FRIENDS on academic attainment in the UK. The EEF co-funded this evaluation with the Department for Education to assess whether the FRIENDS approach could improve attainment by reducing anxiety.
The study provides no evidence that FRIENDS improved Maths and English outcomes or reduced anxiety. Pupils eligible for free school meals experienced a small increase in self-rated anxiety and depression, although these results may have lower security than the overall findings because of the smaller number of pupils.
The EEF has no plans for a further trial of FRIENDS, but will continue to support projects which aim to raise attainment by improving skills such as emotional self-management.
The project found no evidence that FRIENDS had a positive impact on children’s academic attainment, overall. This result has a high security rating.
Among pupils eligible for Free School Meals, those in the FRIENDS classes made 1 additional months’ progress on a combined maths and reading measure compared to children in other classes. These results may have lower security than the overall findings because of the smaller number of pupils.
The project found no evidence that FRIENDS has a positive impact on children’s health outcomes, overall. This result has a very high security rating. Pupils eligible for Free School Meals experienced a small increase in self-rated anxiety and depression, although these results may have lower security than the overall findings because of the smaller number of pupils.
Overall, time was found to be the biggest pressure in ensuring consistency and quality of delivery. Schools often struggled to fit the FRIENDS sessions, which varied in length, within the school timetable. This lead to a variability in the amount of time dedicated to FRIENDS.
Full project description
FRIENDS for life is a school-based, cognitive-behavioural therapy programme, designed to promote emotional resilience in order to prevent (or stabilise) the development of negative feelings of anxiety and depression. The programme consists of a series of 10 weekly sessions covering topics such as recognising symptoms of anxiety, emotional self-management and supporting peer relationships. Each session is enhanced by a series of additional activities that can be used to practice the newly learned skills as well as homework activities. The Salus Group (Salus), a training provider offering a range of programmes in schools, within the community and at home, delivered the intervention. Salus delivers FRIENDS in the UK and is not affiliated with the original FRIENDS developers.
The project was a cluster-randomised control trial. 122 Year 5 classes in 79 participating primary schools were randomised to either receive FRIENDS or to act as a business as usual control group. The evaluation tested the impact of FRIENDS on the attainment of pupils, measured by combined Key Stage 2 English and Maths scores, and also on health measures of self-rated worry, anxiety and depression, and teacher-rated difficulties. The process evaluation involved interviews with various stakeholders, class observations and focus groups with pupils. The trial took place in schools between March 2016 and July 2017. The programme was co-funded by the Department for Education as part of an EEF funding round on Character Education.