A new report written by researchers from University of Bath, commissioned by Nesta, the innovation foundation, examines education policy and provision for social and emotional skills (SES) across the UK home nations.

‘Developing Social and Emotional Skills: Education Policy and Practice in the UK home nations’ draws on new research which included a nationally representative survey and interviews with teachers and head teachers across the UK, as well as detailed analysis of policy documents about how SES curriculum is conceived and is being applied and enacted differently.

The team from the University of Bath’s Department of Education finds that Scotland and Wales have developed innovative curricula that take an integrative approach to embedding social and emotional skills in their statutory curricula, whereas England and Northern Ireland rely on a more disparate set of ‘stand-alone’ policies. They say their conclusions apply across all parts of the UK where schools need to be given greater time, space and resources to develop their toolkit for SES.

Lead researcher, Dr Michael Donnelly from the Department of Education at Bath, explained: “The changing nature of work and workplaces increasingly place an emphasis on ‘soft skills’ alongside academic qualifications. The development of social and emotional skills in school is important to address young peoples’ unequal starting points in life, the different levels of social, cultural and economic capital which lead to unequal educational and labour market outcomes. Schools can work to build social and emotional skills as a way to actively address these social injustices.”

Co-author, Dr Ceri Brown also from Bath’s Department of Education, added: "As we enter the new normal following lockdown and address the educational impacts of covid-19, policymakers need to shift their understanding of social and emotional skills, beyond individual competencies, towards thinking about children’s connectedness to others, belonging within the immediate and wider society and the kinds of social and ethical values they hold. These gains are important both for young people’s future (i.e. as key skills needed for success in the labour market) as well as for right now (children’s social, emotional wellbeing and mental health).

"However, they are also important for society at large as values such as tolerance, respect of difference and a greater understanding of rights and responsibilities are the foundations for a fair minded and cohesive society. Covid provides an opportunity and catalyst to re-evaluate how we provide the opportunities to foster these skills and, of course, this has immediate relevance as lockdowns are creating even more isolation and disconnectedness.”

A representative from Nesta commented: “Nesta commissioned this research to help programme providers, funders and policymakers gain a clearer sense of how education policies relating to social and emotional skills differ across the UK’s four nations, and how schools enact and respond to these policies in their local contexts. This report broadens our understanding of how and when schools deliver such work, and how the sector can better support them to meet the needs of their students.”

The research team also involved Bath colleagues Dr Andres Sandoval Hernandez and Dr Ioannis Costas Batlle.