Social and Emotional Learning

Social and Emotional Learning

This report is the first publication from the Early Intervention Foundation on the importance of social and emotional skills. The EIF partnered with theCabinet Office and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission to commission this work, comprising three separate reports.


This review bolsters the evidence on the strong links between social and emotional skills in children and how they fare as adults. For example, evidence from Report 1 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.

New analysis in the report of data from the 1970 Cohort Study 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 well-being (such as greater life satisfaction, mental health and well-being);
  • 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 socio-economic and labour market outcomes (such as higher income and wealth, being employed, and not being in social housing);
  • matter less for other socio-economic 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).

In the second strand of work an international team of experts undertook a review to determine 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. Programmes in school andout-of-school settings were included. 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. This is a sector that has been hard hit by austerity. But there are also some very promising signs of a sector in transition and utterly different to that of the 1970s. There are a number of evaluations underway which will begin to address the gap in evidence in the coming years, and that have been published since this review was completed

This third report was a qualitative review into social and emotional skills provision for children and young people in the education and youth sectors, carried out by the independent research consultancy ResearchAbility. 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. Interviews in settings were with both staff as well as children and young people.

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. There is a lot of good work being done but provision is patchy at best.

The EIF is today setting out key recommendations to ensure social and emotional skills are given the priority they need. They include:

  • The establishment of an expert taskforce with government, schools, teachers, other key professional groups, the VCS, business and children and young people involved to set out urgently whichsocial and emotional skills should be prioritised and how to measure them within and outside schools.
  • The development of social and emotional learning should be built into teachers’ initial training and continuing professional development.
  • Character and social and emotional learning should have cross-government leadership and responsibility, including not only the Department for Education, but also Health, Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, which leads on youth policy.

Carey Oppenheim, EIF Chief Executive, said:

“This study shows that social and emotional skills developed in childhood help shape our chances of getting a good job, having a family and being healthy, rather than simply being bright or clever.

“They are also vital in improving social mobility and breaking down barriers that hold people back from breaking free from inter-generational cycles of disadvantage.

“Every child deserves the best opportunity to realise their full potential and develop the range of skills we all need to thrive. We want all those working with children – head teachers, teachers, youth workers and volunteers – to look beyond just nurturing academic achievement and be given the training and skills to support the development of well-rounded children.

“As a society we neglect social and emotional learning at our peril. It is vital to support parents and all those working with children to foster these skills and to make this a priority across the whole of government.”


Read an overview of the key findings of the three reports and key policy recommendations.

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