An ELSA's role and characteristics

Your ELSA role is about developing a respectful relationship in which the young person is enabled to think about their own situation without feeling judged or criticised. Your emotional literacy support is intended to be a short-term purposeful support. Your pupil support is to enable the pupil to develop new skills or coping strategies for them to experience greater success and well being.

Your ELSA work aims to deliver realistic and specific intervention programmes. Aims are clear and generally planned, implemented  and reviewed within a school term. 

ELSA Personal Characteristics

We recommend an ELSA demonstrate the following personal characteristics:

  • Have a warm personality and be able to stay calm under pressure
  • Be able to gain the confidence of children who are behaviourally challenging or socially withdrawn
  • Be happy to work independently and show initiative
  • Be creative in planning interventions and efficient in recording ELSA work
  • Be eager to learn and develop new skills

ELSA Role Specification

Emotional Literacy Support Assistants are special people.To help in making the decision to become ELSA trained please review the personal and job specifications.

To help you make an informed decision for the ELSA role please discuss the personal and job specification with your school or settings headteacher/principal/line manager.

Click here for the ELSA person spec.on the elsanetwork.

How often should an ELSA work with a pupil?

This will depend on the age of the child and the context of the work. Normally ELSAs plan to meet with a pupil weekly. Half an hour to an hour is often a good length of time for a session. It allows time to

  • check how the child is
  • review what was done last time to find out what the child has remembered or what may need to be revisited
  • to focus on the new session objective using interesting games or activities
  • to have a rounded ending that prepares the pupil for their return to class

It is helpful for sessions to be at a regular time because children like to know when they will be able to be with the ELSA again. For some younger children it may be better to meet more often for a shorter period of time. The child’s capacity to remain engaged will influence the length of the session and it is always better to leave a child wanting more rather than have them desperate to get back to class.

How long should ELSA involvement last?

Most programmes would last for half a term to a term. If they go on longer than this it suggests that clear programme aims have not been set. It may also create over-dependency upon the ELSA. An ELSA programme is not expected to remediate every need a pupil has. It should have a specific focus. Once the programme aims have been met, it may be appropriate to move from a planned programme to some informal follow-up support while the youngster generalises new learning into the wider school context. This maintenance support would involve seeing the pupil less frequently or more briefly than during the programme itself. Some pupils may at a later date receive a further period of intervention with different programme aims and outcomes.

Top Tips: Supporting – not fixing

ELSAs are not there to fix children’s problems and in most cases they can’t. What ELSAs are able to do is provide emotional support. As they establish a warm, respectful relationship with a pupil they provide a reflective space where the pupil is able to share honestly their thoughts and feelings. The ELSA uses good basic counseling skills to guide helping conversations. Avoid rushing in with suggested solutions. Instead, you assist your pupil to reflect on their concerns and lead them explore possible strategies and solutions for themselves. Sometimes it is appropriate to suggest some possible coping strategies but the key is to do this tentatively and to leave the pupil with choices.