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                                                Research of the AERO by Professor Mark Doel

                                                       SHEFFIELD HALLAM UNIVERSITY UK


A high school in the English West Midlands reduces annual school exclusions from 251 to 6 in three years. A social worker is employed by the school to join the student support services.  A new method of brief intervention is introduced by the social worker based on 'aspirations, encouragement, realism and openness' (AERO).  All of this is put into place with no special pilot project status or additional resources.  This research was designed to consider the relationship between these factors and, in particular, to evaluate the workings and impact of the AERO method of social work at Wolgarston School, South Staffordshire.  Research interviews were held with key stakeholders: 12 (randomly selected) students currently in Wolgarston school who had experienced the AERO method; six professionals; and a parent.  

Overview of findings

The AERO model (detailed in Bramble, 2008) is successful in engaging a broad range of young people experiencing a wide variety of problems, whether these are focused at school, at home or a mix of both.  Specifically, the method was found to help in these ways:

 - increased young people's self-knowledge developed greater awareness of others' perspectives
 - encouraged a release of feelings that had been pent up
 - made problems manageable by breaking them down into smaller parts
 - gave students a choice in an informal setting
 - helped young people to make plans and to carry them through successfully
    had a lasting effect that went beyond a 'feel-good' at the time. 

Typical comments from students at the school about the impact of the AERO method of working:


     You find out things about yourself that you didn't know before ... you're learning about yourself.
      It [AERO] works because it puts other people's views across to you so you can understand what you're doing and why it's affecting  others.     

      It makes you sort out your feelings, makes you recognise your feelings. It broke things down and made them manageable.
       [What I liked best was]  that it was me making choices. I made sense of it straight way. It was really easy to refer to.

The AERO model helped students to build their self-confidence, to make and keep friendships, to grow up, to behave better, to control anger, to change thinking, feeling and doing, and many other personal and social improvements. All of the students were able to understand the method, especially after they had actually tried it. Only one of the twelve was critical, but she had been 'volunteered' to demonstrate it, so she did have an actual problem to work on. 

The professionals and the parent interviewed for the research were positive about the impact of AERO.  A student social worker learned how to use the model very quickly and with success, and there was general agreement that it could be used with adults as well as young people, and possible with younger children, too.  

Suggested changes to the model were minor and aimed at improving some of the language.  It is highly adaptable, so these changes can be made on the spot by practitioners who use it.  The research revealed that the core elements of the model (The Words and The Scale) were adapted according to the individual situation and that this flexibility was part of its success.

Though a relatively small sample, it is a representative one.  It is evident that those who experience this method of working like it and find it effective over time.  Coupled with a supportive school environment, it has helped sustain the policies that have been put in place by the head teacher and the staff at the school.

In conclusion, this research has found that the philosophy of social inclusion introduced by a new head teacher can be sustained by a systematic approach to providing social and personal support to students, and by the use of an effective and efficient social work practice method - with dramatic results.

Mark Doel
Research Professor of Social Work
Centre for Health and Social Care Research
Sheffield Hallam University


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