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About SEAL

What is SEAL?

The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) initiative was introduced by the English government in 2005 and widely used in schools.  The Welsh government later adopted the initiative, having the resources adapted to the Welsh context and translated into Welsh.  

The SEAL initiative aims to support children aged from 3-16 years to develop the social and emotional capabilities of:

  • self-awareness
  • managing their feelings
  • motivation
  • empathy
  • social skills

These interpersonal and intrapersonal skills have been shown to improve learning and promote emotional health and wellbeing, alongside a range of other benefits to pupils, families and schools.

SEAL aims to provide an entitlement curriculum to develop social and emotional skills within a structured and progressive framework, offering class-based teaching to all children from 3-16yrs.

The approach does, however, recognise that schools will need to provide a continuum of provision to meet the needs of all learners in this area. In addition to providing curriculum resources for class-based work, schools have access to sets of materials designed to be used within a small group context, for children who may have additional needs in one or more area of the social and emotional aspects of learning.

Is SEAL just an explicit, taught curriculum?

While the explicit curriculum in SEAL is a necessary aspect of effective provision for developing children’s personal and social skills, research shows that by itself it is not sufficient. There exists a robust body of evidence demonstrating the need for frequent reinforcement to embed new social and emotional learning and to ensure that children regularly apply the skills in real life situations.

In addition to providing materials for an explicit spiral curriculum for all children (in which the Learning Outcomes of SEAL form the focus of the taught session), the SEAL initiative includes materials to train all staff in the school community to model and ‘scaffold’ these skills, so that they permeate the environment and the school day, as well as ideas for fostering and reinforcing SEAL skills across the curriculum.

It also includes a set of resources for children to work with their parents or carers at home, and a more intensive ‘Family SEAL’ primary programme to support parents in developing and promoting the skills of SEAL in the home context.

Of course, the vast majority of schools have for many years been involved with projects, initiatives and approaches which aim to create an ethos and environment in which children’s emotional health and wellbeing is promoted, and through which the development of their social and emotional skills is facilitated. These include:

  • School councils
  • Buddying and peer mediation schemes
  • Playground initiatives such as ‘buddy stops’ and social games promotion
  • Restorative justice approaches
  • ‘Quiet spaces’ in schools
  • Worry boxes
  • Anti-bullying initiatives
  • Rights respecting schools
  • Values Education
  • Character education
  • Philosophy for Children (P4C)

Schools report that SEAL builds on these initiatives, and provides a framework within which to organise them into a cohesive whole. In addition SEAL supports schools’ work in the area of Healthy Schools and contributes to their overall curriculum.

How does SEAL work in primary schools?

What materials are there and how are they organised? In Primary schools the suggested model of using SEAL in school (outlined in the Guidance Booklet ) is to foster the primary SEAL learning outcomes through an explicit curriculum, reinforcing them through throughout all curricular areas and across the school day.

Curriculum materials for each Year Group are provided (from Nursery – Y6) to support the explicit curriculum, divided into 6 whole school themes (+ additional material for anti-bullying work).

An overview is provided for each theme, which includes a whole school assembly, a staff training booklet (the ‘Purple’ set), family activities to send home (the ‘Gold’ set) and ideas for small group work (the ‘Silver set’). In addition to these curriculum based resources, there are a number of ‘whole-school’ materials such as posters, photographs and protocols (e.g. for conflict management and problem-solving) which are designed to offer a set of shared concepts and vocabulary to be used by the whole school community.

Each half-term the following process is followed:

  • The theme and curriculum materials are introduced in a staff meeting
  • A whole school assembly takes place to launch the theme
  • Curriculum work takes place in every classroom, using the curriculum booklets to achieve the learning outcomes for the theme. Family activities may be sent home, and some small group work might take place from the resources provided.
  • At the end of the half-term a follow-up assembly+ celebration of the application of the focus SEAL skills takes place
  • A staff meeting review takes place.

While the theme is ongoing, the focus skills (the learning outcomes for the theme) will be reinforced, modelled, noticed and celebrated by all staff (including lunch-time assistants etc.) both across the curriculum and during unstructured times.

How does SEAL work in secondary schools?

In secondary schools a similar process to that outlined for primary schools is suggested, with the following differences:

There are curriculum materials to support three themes for the year (plus additional materials to support anti-bullying work), rather than six (except in Y7 for which an additional ‘introductory’ theme is provided to support children in settling in).

The themes are

  • Introductory Theme (Theme 1): A place to learn (Y7 only)
  • Theme 2: Learning to be together (Y7,8,9)
  • Theme 3: Keep on learning (Y7,8,9)
  • Theme 4: Learning about me (Y7,8,9)

Note that the curriculum materials for Secondary SEAL are in two parts for each theme – the learning activities and the theme resources. You will need to download both to implement each theme.

No assembly is provided (although commercial assembly packs for SEAL are available). As secondary schools tend to be larger, more complex organisations, it is not usually feasible to introduce SEAL to all staff at the same time, and many schools choose to introduce the explicit curriculum in Y7 to begin with, rolling it out to other year groups and into subject areas over time.

What benefits does SEAL offer?

Research over the past three decades on developing the social and emotional aspects of learning, including systematic reviews of programmes, using the most rigorous and exacting criteria, are repeatedly demonstrating that the best social and emotional learning programmes are effective and impact positively on the following:

  • Academic learning (achievement and attainment)
  • Behaviour and attendance
  • Reductions in bullying, violence and juvenile crime, in schools and the community
  • Improved mental health, such as reduced stress, anxiety and depression in pupils and staff
  • Health outcomes – reductions in teenage pregnancies and drug abuse
  • Improved staff retention and morale.

What national evaluations of SEAL have taken place? Is SEAL evidence-based?

Aspects of the SEAL programme have been evaluated by the Institute for Education (Primary), Manchester University, Robin Banerjee at Sussex University, and the DCSF (2008). You can find these evaluations by searching for ‘National evaluations of SEAL’ on this website.

Targeted SEAL (the primary Wave 2 groupwork) has been subject to evaluation by randomised controlled trial and found to be effective.

Universal 'Wave 1' SEAL does not qualify as an 'evidence-based programme' using the rigorous standards of evidence of the Education Endowment Foundation and the Early Intervention Foundation. Primary SEAL has had no randomised controlled trials. Secondary SEAL had one quasi-experimental study which did not show impact, after a relatively short period of implementation which varied in quality from school to school. 

Nevertheless SEAL is certainly 'evidence-informed'. It was designed throughout on the basis of the principles for successful SEL teaching and learning (the SAFE framework from the US organisation CASEL) , drawing on the best ideas from evidence based US programmes such as PATHS, Second Step and Incredible Years,  but translated into what is likely to work in a UK context.

It would be good to see further, rigorous evaluation of SEAL - though this will always be problematic because SEAL is not a fixed, manualised programme  but rather a collection of  teaching resources and guidance on which schools draw according to their needs and context. 

What are the success factors for implementing SEAL?

Need for ‘informed support’ + ongoing involvement from senior management (in particular from the Head Teacher)

SEAL features in school improvement or development plan

A whole school approach is taken

A SEAL co-ordinator is appointed who holds an appropriate position within the organisation (including regular access to SLT) and has the necessary skills. It is helpful if the coordinator also has an overview (or regular links with) the coordinators for other, linked, areas, e.g. Healthy Schools, wellbeing, personal, social and health education. In larger primary, and secondary schools, it is often helpful to have a strategic lead within the SLT, and one or more operational leads, forming a SEAL team or working party

The coordinator or SEAL team are given the necessary non-contact time, and a budget for ensuring that resources are available to all staff

All staff share an understanding of why the school is ‘doing SEAL’, what it is, how it works and potential benefits

There is an ongoing programme of whole staff skill development and PD in this area

Parents and families are aware of SEAL, and have opportunities to become involved at different levels

SEAL is built into planning and reporting arrangements, job descriptions etc.  The aim is that if the SEAL coordinator were to leave tomorrow, SEAL would carry on, just as would happen with literacy!