The Incredible Years Ireland Study

Resource type: Evaluation

National University of Ireland Maynooth |

Early childhood behavioural difficulties are increasingly prevalent and raise the risk of poorer outcomes later in life. Teachers and parents are ideally suited to address these issues but they often feel ill-equipped to do so without some guidance. Participants in the Incredible Years programme reported improved children’s behaviour and more positive classrooms and home life, according to the results of randomised controlled trials by the National University of Ireland Maynooth. Incredible Years is a programme designed to decrease conduct issues and promote positive behaviour among children.

The Incredible Years programme was carried out by Atlantic grantee Archways, a non-profit organisation that promotes research-based programmes for children and young people. Archways commissioned the evaluation.


The Situation

Children with emotional and behavioural problems face an increased risk of difficulties later in life such as dropping out of school, struggling with alcohol and drug abuse and committing crime. Teachers and parents are well positioned to help children develop positive behaviour and readiness to learn. However, some teachers and parents feel they lack the skills to help children who struggle with behaviour issues.

The impact of the Incredible Years programme on students, parents and teachers at a school in Drogheda, Ireland is highlighted in this 2 September 2009 report by RTE reporter Joan O’Sullivan.

The Work

With support from Atlantic, some 11,000 children in Ireland—most from disadvantaged areas–benefitted from the Incredible Years programme from 2007-2011. Based on a successful U.S. model, the programme has three separate training programmes for teachers, parents and children. It uses videos, role play, modelling and group discussions to help participants rehearse and practice positive approaches to address behavioural issues. The parent programme consists of 12-14 weekly sessions. The teacher programme takes place over a period of five monthly sessions.

The Findings

“Prior to the training, teachers felt generally ill-prepared to address, and were sometimes overwhelmed by the disruptive classroom behaviours. However, after taking part in the programme teachers reported feeling less stressed and having more confidence to deal effectively with these kinds of behaviours.”
October 2010 evaluation

Atlantic supported a randomised controlled evaluation of both the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management programme and the BASIC Parent Training programme. The evaluations involved 11 schools, 22 teachers and 217 children in the teacher study and 149 families in the parent study.

An October 2010 evaluation noted that Teacher Classroom Management programme:

  • Significantly improves teachers’ competencies and their management of disruptive behaviours in the classroom.
  • Benefits pupil behaviour and socio-emotional adjustment, particularly for those children considered to be most “at risk” for behavioural issues.
  • Provides a cost-effective means of improving the learning environment and young children’s experiences of early education.

A December 2012 follow-up evaluation of participants in the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management programme found:

  • Teacher classroom management skills were significantly improved at the 12-month follow-up, with teachers using more positive classroom management strategies and fewer negative classroom management strategies. Teachers were more confident in their ability to manage their classrooms effectively and to deal with disruptive behaviour.

A January 2010 evaluation of the BASIC Parenting Training programme found that:

  • Parents described significantly improved child behaviour, as well as closer parent-child relationships, enhanced sibling behaviour and family dynamics.
  • Parents said they learned more positive and fewer negative strategies, which led to a substantial reduction in behavioural problems in their children.
  • Parents reported reduced distress and improved well-being.
  • There was a substantial decline at six-month follow-up in the use of primary care and social work services in the intervention group. For example, only 1 per cent of the intervention group had contact with a social worker during the previous six months.

A December 2012 follow-up evaluation of participants in the Incredible Years BASIC Parent Training Programme found:

  • Significant reductions in child conduct disorder and hyperactive-type behaviour as well as significant improvements in pro-social behaviour. In total, 71 per cent of children showed improvements in behaviour.
  • Significant beneficial effect on parental well-being and psychosocial well-being. Parents reported lower levels of stress and distress at the 12-month follow-up.
  • Declines in service use (health, special educational and social care services) over time amongst those families who took part in the programme. These findings support the overall cost-effectiveness of the Incredible Years BASIC Parent Training Programme when compared to primary care services.

Next Steps

Atlantic is continuing to fund Archways to carry out Incredible Years and other programmes, including creating new initiatives to meet the needs of children, parents, and teachers. For example, In 2013 Archways plans to deliver Incredible Years programmes to 150 parents; 70 of those parents and their babies will be taking part in the Up to 2 programme, a new initiative that Archways developed that provides support to parents from late pregnancy until the child is two years old. The effort involves the Incredible Years infant and toddler programme as well as other topics such as preparing for parenthood and paediatric first aid. Archways also plans to train 100 teachers across Ireland in the Teacher Classroom Management Programme. In addition, 100 staff from a wide range of organisatons in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be trained as trainers in a range of the Incredible Years programmes.

Given the success of the Incredible Years programme in Ireland, Archways is actively seeking funding to continue the programme after Atlantic, which is a limited life foundation, concludes its grantmaking in 2016.

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