Education Endowment Foundation:Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools

Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools

Six recommendations for improving social and emotional learning in primary schools

Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools reviews the best available research to offer school leaders six practical recommendations to support good SEL for all children. It stresses this is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and other vulnerable groups, who, on average, have weaker SEL skills at all ages than their better-off classmates.

Evidence from the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests that effective SEL can lead to learning gains of +4 months over the course of a year. Yet – even though SEL is already a large (and often unrecognised) part of their current job – few teachers receive support on how they can develop these skills in their everyday teaching practice. This is particularly important at a time when schools are reviewing their core vision and curriculum offer, and planning to implement statutory Relationships and Health education.

Guidance Report

First Edition


Evidence Review

Social and emotional learning


School Phase


Teach SEL skills explicitly

Use a range of strategies to teach key skills, both in dedicated time, and in everyday teaching.

Self-awareness: expand children’s emotional vocabulary and support them to express emotions.

Self-regulation: teach children to use self-calming strategies and positive self-talk to help deal with intense emotions.

Social awareness: use stories to discuss others’ emotions and perspectives.

Relationship skills: role play good communication and listening skills.

Responsible decision-making: teach and practise problem solving strategies.


Integrate and model SEL skills through everyday teaching

Model the social and emotional behaviours you want children to adopt.

Give specific and focused praise when children display SEL skills.

Do not rely on crisis moments’ for teaching skills.

Embed SEL teaching across a range of subject areas: literacy, history, drama and PE all provide good opportunities to link to SEL.

Use simple ground-rules in groupwork and classroom discussion to reinforce SEL skills.


Plan carefully for adopting a SEL programme

Use a planned series of lessons to teach skills in dedicated time.

Adopting an evidence-based programme is likely to be a better bet than developing your own from scratch.

Explore and prepare carefully before adopting a programme – review what is required to deliver it, and whether it is suitable for your needs and context.

Use evidence summaries (such as those from EIF and EEF) as a quick way of assessing the evidence for programmes.

Once underway, regularly review progress, and adapt with care.


Use a SAFE curriculum: Sequential, Active, Focused and Explicit

Ensure your curriculum builds skills sequentially across lessons and year groups. Start early and think long term.

Balance teacher-led activities with active forms of learning, such as: role-play, discussion and small group work, to practise skills.

Focus your time: quality matters more than quantity. Brief regular instruction appears more effective than infrequent long sessions.

Be explicit: clearly identify the skills that are being taught and why they are important.


Reinforce SEL skills through whole-school ethos and activities

Establish school-wide norms, expectations and routines that support children’s social and emotional development.

Align your school’s behaviour and anti-bullying policies with SEL.

Seek ideas and support from staff and pupils in how the school environment can be improved.

Actively engage with parents to reinforce skills in the home environment.


Plan, support, and monitor SEL implementation

Establish a shared vision for SEL: ensure it is connected to rather than competing with other school priorities.

Involve teachers and school staff in planning for SEL.

Provide training and support to all school staff, covering: readiness for change; development of skills and knowledge; and support for embedding change.

Prioritise implementation quality: teacher preparedness and enthusiasm for SEL are associated with better outcomes.

Monitor implementation and evaluate the impact of your approaches.

Social and emotional learning

Review of the evidence used to inform the Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools guidance report