Date Published: 30 May 2013
Important social and emotional learning in primary schools threatened by government policy
Recent studies at conducted at Manchester University (England), indicate cause for concern about government putting pressure on some schools to discontinue activites that support pupil wellbeing over the long term.
Prof. Neil Humphrey, a professor of the psychology of education at Manchester University stated that evidence shows social and emotional learning (SEL) in primary schools can have powerful effects on attainment, discipline and mental health. Social and emotional learning is taught in various ways. For example, it can be taught in formal lessons using scenarios and role plays. Extra curricular initiatives such as school councils, mentoring and anti bullying campaigns also contribute to SEL, which is especially valuable to children from challenging backgrounds, who Prof. Humphrey explained are more likely to be under stress and need help.
Data from educational systems around the world, recently assessed by Prof. Humphrey, indicate that social & emotional learning can lead to dramatic improvements on attainment, discipline and mental health. One recent review of research on the impact of social and emotional learning in the United States showed that it can improve children's academic scores by up to 11%.
However, many schools in the UK are currently under pressure to discontinue SEL in order to devote more time to the government's testing agenda.
Prof Humphrey commented:
" School is a place that should provide a secure and safe environment for all children, especially those with mental health issues or difficult social backgrounds.
_ If social and emotional learning is properly implemented, especially at primary school level, then the effects can be profound because children are in a better position to learn.
_ Most evidence suggests that teaching social and emotional skills in childhood can prevent problems further down the line, particularly for pupils whose family and community backgrounds may place them at-risk."
He added that
" Up to 2010, there had been steady progress on SEL in terms Government policy.
_ But because of the Coalition's obsession with academic scores and testing, we've now gone backwards. It's a disaster for those vulnerable pupils politicians claim they aim to support.
_ Many school still continue with SEL - but because there's apparently no appetite for this at Government level, many will see it as a risk and are likely to abandon or ignore it."
Nevertleless, Prof. Humphrey does not consider not all SEL programmes to be effective. An initiative called Social and emotional aspects of learning programme, or SEAL, was introduced by the previous Government for secondary school pupils across England. Prof. Humphrey evaluated SEAL and found it to have no impact on pupils' social and emotional skills, mental health or behaviour.
A primary school scheme developed in the United States called Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) is currently being evaluated by Professor Humphrey, in a major study involving more than 5,000 children across Manchester.
Professor Humphrey said:
" Not all children may need it, but a universal model is the most cost effective way to implement SEL. It's a bit like immunisation - not everyone has the same degree of risk- but it makes sense to cover all bases just in case.
_ But the failure of SEAL does not mean that the promotion of social and emotional skills is valueless.
_ Education is not just about testing: it's about producing people who are not only well qualified, but are able to meet the many challenges life will present to them. I urge the Government to think again."
Professor Humphrey's comprehensive assessment of research on SEL, is published by Sage this month in a book called "Social and Emotional Learning: A Critical Appraisal".
University, England (UK)