Catalysing Social Emotional Learning in Schools in England

In partnership with Impetus


7th December 2022

Today CfEY has launched a new report with Impetus, where we examine the current state of social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools in England.

In “Catalysing Social Emotional Learning in Schools in England, we set out to understand how policy can create enabling environments to ensure that SEL thrives across our school system, especially benefiting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We focussed on the 5-16 age range and in upstream approaches that promote social and emotional skills, rather than clinical interventions that supported pupils with an identified mental health need. We complemented our literature review with interviews with experts and leading practitioners in the field of SEL.

You can read the full report here.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

We used the CASEL definition, where SEL is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

We propose a modified model, supported by two recent contributions, offering a more rounded definition and incorporating the neurological and cognitive processes underlying social emotional skills (SES) at the centre of the CASEL wheel, based on the ‘neuroperson’ framework. In turn, SES are embedded in a socially meaningful environment, which operates according to specific values, contexts and capitals.

We also explored the influence of SEL on attainment and other outcomes, the role of schools, lessons from policies and practices, the influence of the Covid-19 crisis, and what previous research says on the effective ways of embedding SEL in the school curriculum and culture.

Examples of good practice

Impetus has invested in five charities for their excellent work promoting social and emotional learning. The report includes case studies on these charities: Jon Egging Trust, Khulisa, Kids Inspire, Football Beyond Borders and West London Zone.

We hope this report will provide a foundation to build consensus on what good practice looks like, so that we can embed social and emotional learning in a way that works in our education system and make sure that all young people, regardless of their background, can have the same life chances.

What action does the research recommend?

For community and coalition building

  1. Funders with an interest in SEL, as well as supporting the growth of individual programmes, should create a national SEL network to share best practice and foster a consensus around SEL amongst schools, external providers, policymakers and academics.
  2. This SEL network should be charged with creating a new definition of SEL and its components, that builds consensus around a measurable framework, recognises the crucial nature of SEL in our education system, and positions SEL as complementary to, not a replacement of academic support.
  3. Government, in partnership with local and national funders should invest in local or regional SEL partnerships that, working with schools, local services and external providers, take a long-term, whole-locality approach to the development of SEL.

For school and teacher development

  1. Schools should use CASEL’s ten features of the systemic approach to SEL to inform equity-centred changes to their SEL strategies.
  2. Government, the new Institute of Teaching, and the accredited providers of the early career framework and the NPQs should explore how improved understanding and teaching of SEL can be woven into the ‘golden thread’ of teacher and school leader development.
  3. Ofsted should carry out a full analysis of its ‘personal development’ inspection to understand how it influences schools’ approaches to SEL and narrow outcomes.

For data, evidence and further research

  1. All SEL programmes should take more rigorous, formative long-term approaches to understanding their impact, where possible and conduct a relevant evaluation of the impact on specific groups of children.
  2. England should create data that is more comprehensive and comparative by nationally rolling out the ‘#BeeWell’ survey currently being trialled in Greater Manchester and participating in the next OECD survey of social and emotional skills.
  3. Researchers and research funders should investigate pandemic ‘bright spots’ to examine why and how some children thrived, socially and emotionally, during the pandemic or bounced back more rapidly since the return to school, and how schools might learn from changes in school practices during and since the pandemic.

If you’re reading this report, we’d love for you to be part of the conversation. Get in touch with report author Anamaría Granada at [email protected].

In partnership with: