Research School Network: Blog: Improving Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Primary Schools – A Summary SEL refers to the process where children learn to regulate their emotions, and make informed decisions


Blog: Improving Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Primary Schools – A Summary

SEL refers to the process where children learn to regulate their emotions, and make informed decisions

Marketing & Communications Coordinator of Billesley Research School, Matthew Bruce, summarises the EEF guidance on SEL, as well as sharing some proven strategies.

The guidance report by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) on social and emotional development draws on recent evidence obtained at the University of Manchester. It is important to note that, to date, the majority of the evidence relating to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is geared towards intervention programmes’, with little guidance given on the types of strategies or practices’ which educational practitioners can integrate into their everyday teaching. In addition to the aforementioned evidence review, the EEF and EIF (Early Intervention Foundation) commissioned a survey of what English primary schools are doing currently to support the social and emotional development of children. It is this information which is used to provide context for the recommendations and to identify any gaps which exist between current practice and the evidence.

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

SEL refers to the process through which children learn to regulate their emotions and, in so doing: set and achieve positive aims; feel and show empathy for others; establish and maintain positive relationships; and make informed decisions. Below, summarised, are the EEF recommendations.


  • SEL practice has, at its heart, five core skills, which practitioners must teach explicitly: self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; relationship skills; and responsible decision making.
  • SEL skills should be modelled and integrated through everyday teaching. Specific and focused praise should be given when children display such skills. Also, SEL teaching should be embedded across a range of areas: literacy; history; drama; and P.E., for instance. In all contexts, simple ground rules in group work and classroom discussion should be put forward to reinforce SEL skills.
  • Always plan carefully for adopting a SEL programme. Use a planned series of lessons to teach skills in dedicated time; adopt an evidence-based programme, using the EEF guidance, rather than starting your own from scratch; and regularly review the progress made with the programme, and adapt with care.
  • Implement a SAFE curriculum: Sequential, Active, Focused and Explicit. Ensure your curriculum builds skills in sequence, across lessons and year groups; balance teacher-led activities with active forms of learning (such as role-play and group work), to practise skills; focus your time, with that old adage in mind of quality over quantity – brief and regular instruction has proven most effective; and, finally, be explicit – clearly identify the skills being taught and their importance.
  • Use the whole-school method and activities to reinforce SEL skills. Children’s social and emotional development should be supported by school-wide norms, expectations, and routines. Your school’s anti-bullying and behaviour policies should be in line with SEL. Moreover, always keep an open mind – gather ideas and support from staff and pupils on how the school environment can be improved, and convey to parents the importance of reinforcing skills in the home environment.
  • Plan, support and monitor SEL implementation. Create a shared vision for SEL, one which is in conjunction rather than in competition with other school priorities. Involve teachers and school staff in the planning; ensure implementation quality is guaranteed through teacher preparedness and enthusiasm for SEL; and monitor implementation and evaluate the impact of your approaches.

Teacher Insight

At Billesley Primary School, one of our EYFS teachers, Hannah Lippett, shares below some of the strategies she uses when considering SEL implementation:

  • Feeling stones
  • Stories such as The Colour Monster’
  • SULP interventions (Social Use of Language) where we do sharing games and talking games, encouraging communication between peers
  • Widgit cards with emotion faces
  • Now and Next Board – a board with the words Now’ on the left-hand side, and Next’ on the right-hand side, with a space above to add a symbol or photo. It is a visual strategy to help children understand and complete desired tasks
  • Zone of Regulation Board – using different coloured phrases to express different emotions

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