Should we measure social and emotional skills?

30 October 2015

Should we measure social and emotional skills?

Jean Gross CBE, EIF Trustee

There’s a great quote about measurement. It comes from a 1992 piece by Osborne and Gaebler, and goes like this:

What gets measured gets done

If you don’t measure results, you can’t tell success from failure

If you can’t see success, you can’t reward it

If you can’t recognise failure, you can’t correct it

If you can demonstrate results, you can win support.

To me that’s why any attempt to build children and young people’s social and emotional skills/character capabilities (or whatever else we call them), needs measurement attached. I’d welcome some kind of regular use of a standardised assessment for a national sample of children, and in local impact evaluations, so that we can find out if our efforts are making a difference. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about another kind of measurement – what schools call formative assessment.

Formative assessment is the antithesis of scientific enquiry, because it influences the very outcomes you are trying to measure. It helps children learn better – whether that learning is academic or social and emotional. Let me give you an example.

At a Welsh provision that supports young people excluded from mainstream schools or at risk of exclusion, the curriculum includes explicit sessions using the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) programme – On entry, pupils rate their own social and emotional skill levels, using a booklet which offers six pupil friendly illustrated ‘quizzes’ focusing on the five aspects of learning in the SEAL programme. The quiz titles are:

  • ‘My feel-good factor’ (focus on self-awareness)
  • ‘In control?’ (focus on managing feelings)
  • ‘Making it happen!’ (focus on motivation)
  • ‘Mind-reading’ (focus on empathy)
  • ‘My friendliness factor’ (focus on social skills)

From their ratings and adults’ ratings using a separate scale, targets for individual students are negotiated, support put in place, and progress tracked. This form of assessment is truly formative, as it promotes a deeper understanding of the skills themselves – what they mean, what they look like for that student, how they can be developed (as well as providing evidence of progress over time for parents, the local authority, and external inspection).

So whatever we do about the measurement and assessment of social and emotional skills, let us never forget the vital role of assessment that tells young people what they need to learn, adults what to teach, and both adults and young people whether progress is being made as a result of their effort.