Social and emotional education in schools

Overall quality of education can be bolstered through a focus on character building, new research has suggested. Investigators at Oregon State University (OSU) discovered that a concise programme aimed at boosting social and emotional skills might lead to improved performance in the classroom, as judged by teachers, parents and the students themselves.

Carrying out the initiative would take up around one hour of a pupil's traditional education a week and feature topics such as those relating to managing oneself in a responsible manner, honesty, working with others, self-concept, self-improvement and physical and intellectual actions.

Published in the Journal of School Health, the study found teachers believed the approach improves overall school quality by 21 per cent.

Brian Flay, a Professor in the School of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences at OSU - which was founded in 1868 - said: "Improved social and character skills leave more time for teachers to teach and students to learn and be more motivated."

Michael Hughesman, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "The UK government introduced a similar initiative on a much larger large scale in 2005 with the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) as part of the then Primary National Strategy.

"The five touchstones of SEAL are self-awareness, empathy, managing feelings, motivation and social skills. All UK schools were provided with a comprehensive set of resources that offer a year round programme of themes that are incorporated into the curriculum.

"Sensibly, the authors of SEAL were careful to avoid terms such as "character" and terms with judgemental connotations. There are already a number of published evaluation studies and substantial numbers of schools that are continuing to use SEAL successfully to promote pro-social behaviour and enhance learning.

"Unfortunately this initiative lost some of its original impetus with the last change of government and the Primary National Strategy was discontinued. Copies of the original materials are still in wide circulation within UK local authority services. It may only be a matter of time before the work is re-branded and placed back on the political agenda."