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girl with teacher looking at pictures

The ability to communicate is an essential life skill for all children and young people and it underpins a child's social, emotional and educational development.

DCSF, 2008

Intervention paradigms

There have been marked eras where psychological theory and research have impacted on practice.
Click on each row to find out more:


helping and healing
1980s SOCIAL
'precision teaching'
'active learning in social contexts'
'eclectic', 'holistic', 'the child's voice'




Principles for intervention approaches
a blue box with images
  • Behaviouristic – directive, SMART targets, systematic, base-lining, precision teaching.
  • Interactionistic – empowerment, autonomy, communication, active learning, social context – relationships.
  • Therapeutic – flexible, respecting unconscious processes, working through conflict, order out of chaos.
  • Humanistic – regard for the whole child, unmet basic needs will undermine academic and creative fulfilment.
Understand the paradigms
a laughing boy

Intervention paradigms stem from differing philosophies about the child. Essentially, the debate polarises between imposing a way forward on the child, or aiming for the child to come to appreciate why another way may be preferable. They may have different applications (for example, using behavioural strategies to teach mechanical skills such as fastening a button), compared with a deeper understanding of the possible pleasure to be gained from joining in with a group of people. Understanding the fundamental ideas behind the approaches can empower you to engage in debate with other professionals regarding a way forward – no one intervention can claim to be the only possible approach for a child.

Interventions in action

Watch three contrasting inventions on the next slide. Look out for their characteristic principles in action:


To what extent does your school favour a particular paradigm? Or do children experience all of these at different times? Do you consider an eclectic approach more valuable or a purist approach? Why?


Use the clips to provoke discussion about assumptions we make about the child as a communicator in the learning process.

Interventions in action

  • Interactionist
Find out more
opened book

Collis, M and Lacey, P (1996) Interactive Approaches to Teaching. London: David Fulton.


DCSF (2008) The Bercow Report: a review of services for children and young people (0-19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs. Nottingham: DCSF Publications.


DfES (2005) Speaking, Listening, Learning: working with children who have special educational needs. Primary National Strategy. Norwich: HMSO.


DES 1981 Education Act.


Farrell, P (1997) Teaching pupils with learning difficulties: strategies and solutions. London: Cassell.