Pupil well-being falls foul of testing 'obsession'

May 29, 2013, University of Manchester

Government pressure on schools to abandon programmes which promote wellbeing will have 'disastrous' effects on vulnerable pupils, according to University of Manchester research.

Neil Humphrey, a professor of psychology of education, says the evidence shows social and (SEL) in primary schools can have powerful effects on attainment, discipline and mental health.

SEL is implemented in schools in a variety of ways: it can be taught in formal lessons using scenarios and role plays, though extra curricular work such as school councils, mentoring and anti-bullying campaigns are all in the mix.

SEL is especially useful for children from challenging backgrounds, he says, as they are more likely to be under stress and need help.

Data from educational systems around the world, assessed by Professor Humphrey, reveal dramatic improvements on attainment, discipline and mental health.

A recent review of research on the impact of social and emotional learning from the United States demonstrated that it can improve children's academic scores by up to 11%.

However, many schools are now under pressure to abandon SEL because they are forced to devote more time to delivering the government's testing agenda.

Professor Humphrey's research, which is the most comprehensive assessment of research on SEL yet, is published by Sage this month in a book called Social and Emotional Learning: A Critical Appraisal.

He said: "School is a place that should provide a secure and safe environment for all children, especially those with 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: "Up to 2010, there had been steady progress on SEL in terms of 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 schools 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."

However, not all SEL programmes are effective says Professor Humphrey. A flagship initiative, called Social and emotional aspects of learning programme, or SEAL, was introduced by the previous Government for secondary school pupils across England.

His 2010 evaluation of SEAL found the scheme to have no impact on ' 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."

Explore further: Meditation technique enhances children's mental health

Related Stories

Teachers' assessments not always conducive to fair education

April 16, 2013

Teachers' assessments of pupils' literacy can vary significantly, even for pupils with similar test scores. This may interfere with children's right to fair and gender-equal education, according to a new doctoral thesis from ...

Enhancing preschool and elementary student success

September 21, 2012

(Phys.org)—A new report from a University of Illinois at Chicago scholar identifies educational programs that are effective at building interpersonal skills for success in school, work and life.

Recommended for you

Study sheds new light on ancient human-turkey relationship

January 17, 2018

For the first time, research has uncovered the origins of the earliest domestic turkeys in ancient Mexico. The study also suggests turkeys weren't only prized for their meat—with demand for the birds soaring with the Mayans ...

Lifting barriers to citizenship for low-income immigrants

January 15, 2018

Taking the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony is an emotional moment for many immigrants, and for good reason: it is the culmination of an often arduous process and many years of striving. Citizenship also opens ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 31, 2013
It all sounds so good until you get to that last line. Education is not about producing individuals who know how to think for themselves and know something of History and Philosophy, Science and Math, but it is about producing people who are "qualified" to be the workers that the elitists need for their benefit.
And Oh God yes we don't want them mentally or socially unstable do we?
Dumbing down of the population suits one agenda and that belongs to elitists who want to eliminate all but 500 million of the rest of us so they can have the earth to themselves. Read up on the Georgia Guidestones. This all goes along and this psychologist is helping them work toward their goal knowingly or not.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.