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Zippy’s Friends

Zippy’s Friends (ZF) is a programme that is already used widely (and is shown to be effective) in mainstream schools.


Children with intellectual disability (ID) have difficulties with learning and coping on their own. They need help with everyday tasks and, because of their disability, they can become easily stressed and upset and develop long-term mental health problems.

Guidelines that have been published recently for people with ID and mental health needs stress the importance of emotional literacy (the ability to understand, express and manage your own feelings) for mental health. But as yet there are no suitable evidence-based programmes to teach emotional literacy to children with ID attending schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The intervention

Our team has adapted ZF so that it can be taught to 9-11 year-old children in SEND schools. ZF is designed to help the children deal with social and emotional problems and teach skills to help them cope better with and prevent mental health problems. Parents are sent materials that can be used to prompt the children to use the skills they have learned at school in their own home.

The research plan

We plan to include 12 SEND schools/units in our study. Six schools will be asked to use ZF in at least one of their classes over a school year and at least two classroom teachers per school will be trained and supported to run the ZF programme. Six schools will provide their standard teaching programmes only - they are called the control group.

To allow for a fair test of whether the ZF programme works, chance (rather than researchers or school staff) will decide which schools are put into ZF or the control group. Teachers, parents and children of all the schools will be asked to fill in questionnaires to measure any resulting changes.

The most important of these focus on the mental health and behaviour of the children. Other questionnaires are designed to pick up changes in the children’s social skills, emotional literacy, quality of life and how they use health, social and education services.

This will be a feasibility study to determine the willingness of schools to take part in ZF or to be in the control group, if ZF is delivered as planned, and if the questionnaires are suitable for measuring the effectiveness of ZF. We will also interview some of the teachers, parents and children and ask them about what encouraged them to take part in the research, and what got in the way of this as well as positive and difficult experiences of ZF.

Our advisors

We have worked closely with a charitable organisation called Partnership for Children which created ZF for special schools and has experience of training teachers in delivering ZF in their classrooms. They have worked with many schools to make ZF part of the school culture. They will deliver the ZF programme to the schools and train the teachers.

NASEN, a charity that promotes the advancement and development of individuals with SEND, will work closely with parent organisations and, as one of the lead organisations of Whole School SEND, will chair our PPI Advisory group to make sure that the research stays relevant and that the results reach the relevant people - policy makers and managers, teachers and families.

The British Institute for Learning Disabilities (BILD) has agreed to be on the PPI Advisory Group and the Study Steering Committee.


Results due to be published in January 2024.


Key facts

Start date 1 Feb 2020
End date 31 Jan 2023
Grant value £553,071
  • Ongoing

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