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EIF report

Social and emotional learning: Skills for life and work


11 Mar 2015

This overview report provides a summary of the findings from a three-part review undertaken by independent researchers. These three reports together make clear what social and emotional skills are, how very important they are, and what can be done to improve these skills in children and young people in the UK.

Overview report



This review bolsters the evidence on the strong links between social and emotional skills in children and how they fare as adults. Evidence indicates that children with well-developed social and emotional skills have a better chance of being happy and healthy adults than those who are just academically able.

EIF's overview report is based on three reports commissioned as part of this review.

Strand 1: Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life

The first report provides analysis of data from the 1970 Cohort Study, which finds that social and emotional and cognitive skills are each very important for future life. Their development is related. Children with strong cognitive skills typically show stronger social and emotional development, and vice-versa. However, social and emotional measures provide important signals about likely outcomes above and beyond what is picked up by measures of literacy and numeracy. 

Compared with cognitive ability assessed at the same age (10 years), social and emotional skills:

  • matter more for general mental wellbeing (such as greater life satisfaction, mental health and wellbeing)
  • matter similarly for health and health-related outcomes (such as lower likelihood of obesity, smoking and drinking, and better self-rated health)
  • matter similarly for some socioeconomic and labour market outcomes (such as higher income and wealth, being employed, and not being in social housing)
  • matter less for other socioeconomic and labour market outcomes, such as obtaining a degree, having higher wages and being employed in a top job (although there is nonetheless a relationship to these outcomes).

Strand 2: What works in enhancing social and emotional skills development during childhood and adolescence?

The second report sets out the current evidence on the effectiveness of programmes available in the UK that aim to enhance the social and emotional skills development of children and young people aged 4–20 years, in both school and out-of-school settings.

  • The report found strong and consistent support for the impact of social and emotional skills programmes implemented in the school setting.
  • The evidence for programmes delivered in out-of-school youth settings is less definitive.
  • The evidence currently available on the programmes in the UK is on the whole not yet of sufficient quality to demonstrate impact.

Strand 3: A deep dive into social and emotional learning: What do the views of those involved tell us about the challenges for policy-makers?

The third report is a qualitative review looking at social and emotional skills provision for children and young people in the education and youth sectors. The report describes the views of participants from interviews conducted at three levels: the national strategic level, the local strategic level, and in settings where provision takes place. This report tells us something of what practitioners, policy-makers and participants in social and emotional learning think about how the learning is delivered, monitored and evaluated, and what still needs to be done. Overall, there is a lot of good work being done but provision is patchy at best.