Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Behaviour classes 'lack impact'

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Seal classes are run in 80% of England's primary schools

England's flagship primary school social and emotional learning programme has had little impact on pupil behaviour, a study has suggested.

Neither the parents nor the teachers questioned by researchers reported any effect on the key social skills targeted by the "Seal" programmes.

But many of the 600 pupils in the study reported improvements in their own behaviour at school.

The government insisted Seal was doing much to tackle behaviour and bullying.

All children are meant to have lessons in social and emotional skills by 2011.

And schools are soon to be rated by Ofsted on pupil well-being.

The national Seal (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) programme was introduced to improve children's behaviour and attendance, and now runs in 80% of primary schools.

It is also gradually being introduced to secondary schools.

'No impact'

Seal uses small group work to boost pupils' personal development, social skills and develop their relationships with others by improving their self-awareness and motivation.

The Manchester University researchers, commissioned by the government, assessed more than 600 pupils in 30 schools aged six to 11, their teachers and parents.

Although there was a general view that the programme had a positive impact, the researchers found little evidence of this when schemes were formally evaluated, particularly with parents and teachers.

Treating children as children and not as miniature adults would go a long way to help
Jeremy Slawson, Plymouth

Parents reported no improvement in any of the core skills being targeted by the schemes.

And teachers in only one of the four schemes evaluated recorded any positive impact at all on pupils' behaviour and social skills.

The report said: "Furthermore, there was no evidence of impact for any of the core skills being targeted for each theme in any of the staff, pupil or parents ratings."

It also noted that the pupil-rated increases in social skills were in line with what had been predicted in just one of the four schemes.

There was a general feeling, from research focusing on six school case studies, that small group work did have a positive impact on pupils' social emotional skills.

'Barrier to improvements'

Schools also provided data suggesting it had a positive impact on learning, but evidence relating to parents and attendance was much more sparse.

"There was no evidence to suggested that small group work had any substantive impact at the school level," it added.

The researchers said it appeared that what small improvements in behaviour the programme had notched up, were not transferred to the home setting.

The report highlighted how one boy who had been asked how the group sessions had helped him outside school said: "No, I smash windows at home."

The researchers suggested this failure to transfer may be down to a lack of parental involvement or the "light touch" nature of the interventions.

The researchers also suggested there was only so much that school-based programmes could do on their own, and that a child's home circumstances could be a "barrier" to improvements.

The basic model for group interventions is one weekly 40-minute session over six to eight weeks.

A more lengthy intervention was necessary for children with emotional difficulties, the report said.

It suggested that projects should last a whole term and that more resources should be made available.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said the research provided an insight into one strand of the Seal programme.

"Seal is working well in many schools across the country, helping to tackle the causes of bad behaviour and bullying by helping all children to develop self-control and good relationships.

"Many schools that have implemented Seal have seen a marked improvement in the way their pupils interact with each other both inside and outside the classroom. "

He added that there had been positive feedback from teachers, psychologists, Ofsted and independent researchers.

Your comments

Children should learn behaviour and social skills by a mix of good parenting and good old fashioned trial and error. My parents and friends would reward me when I did right, and when I didn't I got a clip round the ear for my troubles (sometimes proverbial, sometimes literal). It's called carrot and stick, it's how the army bends trouble makers into shape.
Andy, Tunbridge Wells

Too much emphasis has been placed on the role of the teacher and schools when the behaviour of a child is in question. This is totally unfair and unjust. The responsibility needs to be shifted to those who have the primary responsibilty for the child, and they are the parents and family members. Too many parents are not bothered what their child is doing, providing that the child is not in the house upsetting them. Teachers try to provide a positive atmosphere in the classroom, and achieve it on many occasions, but this is all for nothing if the child is allowed to run amok and shown no discipline at home. Respect for others seem to be an ideal of the past as some of todays generation want it all their way and they know that they are covered by many measures to protect them when they do get into trouble.
Graham, Rhyl

The problem with all programmes like Seal is that they have to compete for the child's attention with other influences, like parents and peer pressure. The researchers have hit the nail very nicely on the head with their talk of 'lack of parental involvement or the "light touch" nature of the interventions'. This sort of programme will only work if you make the message stick. And doing what's needed for that will soon get you trouble with the law and the do-gooders. Sorry but I think it's pretty much doomed.
Norman Clubb, Thannhausen, Germany

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