Education Observatory

Research in Education at the University of Wolverhampton

HeadStart Wolverhampton

An Evaluation of HeadStart Wolverhampton

Between 2017 and 2020 we evaluated Headstart in Wolverhampton, part of a ground-breaking £8.8m project funded nationally by Big Lottery, which focused on improving young people’s resilience, mental health and wellbeing.

Research Leads: Karl Royle (Project Lead), Professor Michael Jopling (Research Director)

Children, Young People & Families
Completed Projects
Mental health and vulnerability
Overcoming disadvantage


HeadStart aims to improve the ability of children/young people aged 10 -14 years old to cope with the challenges they face in order to prevent them developing common mental health problems. Our role on the project was to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of school and community-based programmes using a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods.

“We want to equip young people to cope better with difficult circumstances, preventing them from experiencing common mental health problems before they become serious issues.”


Headstart Film: Young People‘s Voices

As part of the evaluation, a number of young people involved in Headstart worked with us and the film company Rural Media to create a film about their experiences of growing up in Wolverhampton. This was very much a film made with, rather than about them. They conceived the film and developed film-making skills working on it.  This animated version was produced by Rural Media to ensure the anonymity of everyone involved.

So What?

After completing the first year of the Headstart evaluation, we created So What? a short document which summarises the evaluation activities, who were involved in them and our initial findings.  The summary of the second year’s activities will also be available here shortly.

Key Activities

  • Local evaluation survey (LEM) of children and young people in 31 Headstart schools using validated measures to determine self-reported changes in key areas such as resilience, quality of life, self-efficacy in 2018-2020.
  • Q-sort qualitative evaluation with children in schools and families in Headstart communities.
  • Interviews with staff in schools.
  • “What’s good, what’s Bad?” projects, co-produced with young people exploring their experiences of their communities
  • Animated film co-created with young people focusing on their experiences of growing up in Wolverhampton.

Our Approach

Resilience is often viewed as being generated within systems, which may include the family, classroom, school and wider community (Resnick, 2011) while the multiple, interacting levels at which resilience operates include the individual, group, community, and institutional, or social structural (Mguni and Bacon, 2010). Some authors refer to an ‘ecological’ resilience theoretical framework.

Our evaluation approach will locate individuals within the emerging ecosystem which is the aim of the Wolverhampton HeadStart programme. For children and young people, family and social support, including sense of worth from the family environment and sense of connection with peers and school, are often identified as important factors for promoting resilience (e.g. Resnick, 2011; Howard and Johnson, 2001; Nobel and McGrath, 2012). However, there is a need for understanding of the “inter-relationships between risk and protective factors” to inform policy (Walker, 2008: 17). In addition, developing understanding of the processes, or mechanisms through which resilience is developed has been identified as a priority for resilience research (e.g. Foot, 2012, p. 6).

Our focus on at risk individuals and specific groups should give rich insights into their navigation towards resources that enable protective factors to overcome or mitigate risk.


  • Self-reported resilience appears to be higher than the norm in the Headstart Schools although some perform better than others.
  • Girls are more resilient than boys overall.
  • Schools with higher populations of EAL students have lower reported resilience scores.
  • Children with SEN statements have lower reported resilience. • Currently no link between deprivation and resilience is evident.

View the Qualitative Evaluation of SUMO and Penn Programmes

Research Team

The evaluation was led by Karl Royle, Michael Jopling was the research director and Amy Welham was project administrator. The research team was made up of Ada Adeghe, Andy Aston, Lisa Bramwell, Neil Duncan, Deborah Littley Carl Longmore, Alan Nevill, Sally Riordan, David Scott, Matt Smith, Sean Starr and David Thompson. The Headstart film was co-created with young people by David Jones and Dan Haworth-Salter (Rural Media) and Dr Louise Fenton.

Evaluation Report

Qualitative Evaluation of SUMO and PENN Interventions

Research Paper

Resilience Programmes and their Place in Education, a Critical Review with Reference to Interventions in Wolverhampton

Resilience research paper

View this paper on Research Gate.