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Introducing our new primary schools guide on social and emotional learning


20 Sep 2019

Today sees the publication of a new guidance report, 'Improving social and emotional learning in primary schools', co-authored with the Education Endowment Fund (EEF). EEF chief executive, Sir Kevan Collins, highlights how schools can integrate the guide's evidence-based recommendations into everyday class teaching.

Ask any primary school teacher, and they will tell you that alongside the ‘core business’ of teaching literacy and numeracy, a large and often unrecognised part of their job involves addressing children’s emotional, social and behavioural needs. With the right support, children learn to articulate and manage their emotions, deal with conflict, solve problems, understand things from another person’s perspective, and communicate in appropriate ways. These ‘social and emotional skills’ are essential for children’s development, support effective learning, and are linked to positive outcomes in later life.

However, many schools feel that there’s little time for developing such skills, given the pressure to improve attainment. Although all schools are expected to deliver Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE), it has not been a statutory requirement in the primary phase and in practice is often squeezed out. Few teachers receive support on how they can develop social and emotional skills in their mainstream teaching. This is a missed opportunity because, when carefully implemented, social and emotional learning can increase positive pupil behaviour, mental health and well-being, and academic performance. It is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and other vulnerable groups, who on average have weaker social and emotional skills than their peers.

That is why we have developed this guidance report. At a time when schools are reviewing their core vision and curriculum offer, and planning to implement statutory Relationships and Health education, this guidance offers six practical and evidence-based recommendations to support children’s social and emotional development. It provides a starting point for schools to review their current approaches, and suggests practical ideas they can implement.

Importantly, it argues that such approaches can be woven into everyday class teaching without creating burdensome new programmes of work.

To arrive at the recommendations, we reviewed the best available international research and consulted with teachers and other experts. We identified a group of core skills and strategies that occur frequently in social and emotional learning programmes that have good evidence of impact, and suggest ways of embedding these in the classroom and beyond.

The international evidence in this area is extensive but knowledge of how best to implement it in English schools is not yet as strong as we would like, so an over-arching recommendation focuses on the importance of implementing and monitoring progress carefully, and the requirement for school leaders to prioritise this work if it is to have an impact. Although some schools may feel social and emotional learning is ‘what we do already’, the evidence suggests that how SEL is adopted and embedded really matters for children’s outcomes.

As with all our guidance reports, this publication is just the start. We will now be working with the sector, including through our colleagues in the Research Schools Network, to build on the recommendations with further training, resources, and guidance. And, as ever, we will be looking to support and test the most promising programmes that put the lessons from the research into practice.