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Flagship Labour Government schools programme ‘ineffective’

16 Nov 2010

A flagship programme introduced by the previous Government across the UK to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of secondary school pupils is ineffective, a study has suggested.

The evaluation of the dedicated lessons and staff training, carried out by academics at The University of Manchester, found the scheme is having no impact on pupils’ social and emotional skills, mental health and behaviour to other children.

The failures, according to Professor Neil Humphrey, Ann Lendrum and Michael Wigelsworth – all from the University’s School of Education - are caused  - among other factors  - by a poor allocation of resources and time to staff and a failure to act on the findings of pilot studies.

There was also no clear framework to work from in implementing the programme, they added.

The Manchester team were commissioned by the Labour Government to evaluate the effectiveness if its ‘Social and emotional aspects of learning programme’ or SEAL.

SEAL is a national voluntary programme designed to help pupils make friendships, work in teams, deal with conflict and respect others. It has been implemented in around 70% of secondary schools.

Besides lessons and training, the scheme also offers advice on how to induce a positive school climate and improve teaching and learning practices.

The team compared year seven pupils in 22 SEAL schools with 19 schools who have not adopted the programme over two years using survey data.

They also conducted case studies in nine SEAL schools, observing lessons, interviewing pupils, teachers, classroom assistants, head teachers, and local authority staff.

Professor Humphrey said: “Our analysis indicates that SEAL, as implemented by the schools in our sample, fails to impact significantly upon pupils’ social and emotional skills, general mental health problems and behaviour towards other pupils.

“This is down to the schools’ variable and fragmented approach to implementing  the project, which itself was caused by the lack of a clear framework for them to work from and inadequate resourcing.

“There was a perception that SEAL did not offer schools something new and sustaining the effort and energy required to drive SEAL forward was also a problem for some, especially in the face of competing pressures.”

He added: “But this evaluation should not be taken as an indication that the promotion of social and emotional skills is not an important or worthwhile endeavour for schools.

“This is an opportunity for review and reflection, and a timely reminder of the need to develop more rigorous systems for piloting and trialling innovations in the English education system before they are launched across the country.

“There is clear evidence that these sorts programmes can impact upon a variety of key outcomes for children and young people but, the SEAL programme did not follow this trend.”

Key recommendations:

  • Future initiative to promote social and emotional learning would benefit from a clear, structured framework for implementation.
  • Resources and time should be made available to staff to allow them to fully engage in the implementation of such programmes
  • Greater engagement with parents and carers is needed.
  • Proper trialling of initiatives like SEAL before they are rolled out on a national level.
  • Guidance should be produced to enable schools to make informed choices about the adoption of social and emotional learning programmes with a clear focus on the evidence base to support particular programmes and the contexts in which they are effective.

Notes for editors

The  report is available at on request.

Professor Humphrey is available for interview

The report was commissioned before the new UK Government took office on 11 May 2010. As a result the content may not reflect current Government policy and may make reference to the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) which has now been replaced by the Department for Education (DFE).  The views expressed in this report are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department for Education.

For media enquires contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567
michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk