Coalition Government overhauls its educational strategy

Research into the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme has shown that it is largely ineffective. Meanwhile, a study of the Achievement for All (AfA) pilot demonstrated that it was successful in improving a range of outcomes for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The Coalition Government cancels the national SEAL strategy and scales up the AfA initiative.

An apple sat on a stack of books. 20% is written in white chalk on  a chalkboard in the background
20% of school-aged children have special educational needs and disabilities.

Until recently, the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) strategy was viewed as a panacea of school improvement. This school-wide social and emotional learning programme was adopted by the majority of primary and secondary schools in England. However, our research revealed that SEAL is based on flawed theory and does not have the impact on pupils that its proponents claim.

Meanwhile, a pilot intervention for pupils with SEND designed to improve academic attainment, parental engagement and confidence and wider outcomes (such as positive relationships), was shown to be extremely effective. Our study demonstrated that AfA successfully narrows the attainment gap between pupils with SEND and their peers.

Key actions based on the research:

  • SEAL was discontinued by the Coalition Government in March 2011
  • AfA survived the Coalition Government’s spending review, which saw £670 million in cuts
  • £14 million was allocated to bring AfA to scale nationally, affecting all pupils with special educations needs and disabilities in England (around 20% of the school-aged population). A national new charity was set up to lead this process
  • Adoption of AfA in other countries based on the research and results from school pilots

Our research

The backs of schoolchildren with their hands up. At the front of the class the number £14 million is written on the chalkboard.
The Coalition Government invested £14 million for a national roll-out of the AfA programme.

The research used quasi-experimental designs alongside case studies of implementation to examine both SEAL and AfA. We looked at two components of SEAL - small group work in primary schools and the whole-school programme in secondary schools. For the former, we sampled over 600 pupils from 37 primary schools, combined with detailed case study work in six schools. For the latter, we collected data on nearly 9,000 pupils from 41 schools and conducted detailed case studies of nine schools. The impact of the AfA pilot was assessed using a sample of about 16,000 pupils with SEND. Additionally, we conducted case studies of 20 schools.

The results of the SEAL evaluations ranged from mixed (primary SEAL) to null (secondary SEAL). Our data indicated that the programme was ineffective and revealed that the preferred ‘bottom-up’ approach to school-level implementation was impractical.

Our AfA evaluation demonstrated that it successfully narrowed the attainment gap, promoted positive relationships between schools and parents and improved wider outcomes for vulnerable pupils. The study also highlighted the key factors (in terms of school processes and practices) that helped or hindered pupil progress.

Key people

Further information