Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Social and emotional learning for life and work

The Early Intervention Foundation partnered with the Cabinet Office and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission to produce Social and Emotional learning: skills for life and work.

The skills considered to be important for life and work are: (1) motivation (2) self-control/self-regulation (3) social skills (4) resilience and coping (5) self-awareness

It is no surprise that the report finds that there are inequalities in these skills between different groups with children from poorer households displaying less social and emotional learning, on average. According to the report the average differences are evident by the age of three and highlight a potential role for targeted early intervention to improve skills. There is no thought that children are reacting normally to the situations in which they find themselves

In this report, there is no discussion about brain development or attachment issues, but whatever the deficit is considered to be - in this case a skills deficit -  the conclusion reached by commissioned reports is always the same: early intervention will improve long-term outcomes and break intergenerational disadvantage. It matters little that this is not supported by evidence.
"However the evidence currently available on the programmes in the UK is, on the whole, not yet of sufficient quality to demonstrate impact. The effectiveness of newly developed programmes needs to be evaluated rigorously before they are rolled out more widely. "
The writer recognises that measurement is a challenge that needs to be addressed in order to improve the evidence base. "Policy leadership is necessary if social and emotional learning is to be a priority."
"More specific policy and practice recommendations will follow. This review makes the case for the importance of this work and calls for more urgency. "
It is another example of policy leading research.

The Early Intervention Foundation sets out key recommendations to ensure social and emotional skills are given the priority the EIF thinks they need. They include:
The establishment of an expert taskforce with government, schools, teachers, other key professional groups, the VCS, business and children and young people involved to set out urgently which social and emotional skills should be prioritised and how to measure them within and outside schools.
The development of social and emotional learning should be built into teachers’ initial training and continuing professional development.
Character and social and emotional learning should have cross-government leadership and responsibility, including not only the Department for Education, but also Health, Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, which leads on youth policy.

So this is an integrative approach if every there was one.

Carol Craig from the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing has written about the potential dangers of a "systematic, explicit approach to teaching social and emotional skills."  Writing about an earlier initiative (2007) she said: "SEAL is encouraging a large-scale psychological experiment on young people, which will not just waste time and resources but could actually back-fire and unwittingly undermine people`s wellbeing in the longer-term."  

If this initiative succeeds as planned, and schools fully implement the recommendations, all young people’s emotional lives (not just the few who have obvious difficulties) will become the focus of checklists of learning outcomes, assessments and evaluations.  The next step in this approach may well be targets.
The Centre believes that any initiative which suggests that government departments, schools and teachers should micromanage young people’s feelings is Orwellian and a good enough reason on its own to say we have to drop this idea altogether.

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, from York University, writing in a UNICEF report, put the UK’s poor ratings down to long term under-investment and a ‘dog-eat-dog’ society. ‘In a society which is very unequal, with high levels of poverty, it leads on to what children think about themselves and their lives. That’s really what’s at the heart of this,’ Bradshaw argues. So the SEAL approach could easily be a time-consuming, and costly, distraction from the real issues."

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