Developing effective school-based prevention of mental health difficulties: lessons from the SEAL initiative

Year: 2013

Author: Humphrey, Neil

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Research suggests that a significant proportion of children experience mental health difficulties that remain undiagnosed and untreated.  Recent years have seen increasing recognition of the role that schools can play in addressing these difficulties.  In particular, universal, school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programmes show great promise as an effective preventive tool.  Theory and research in the field of SEL will be discussed in this paper.  Particular attention will be paid to the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) programme in England, a flagship National Strategy under the New Labour government whose outcomes were mixed.  I will examine the findings of the various evaluations of SEAL and consider what learning can be taken forward to inform future attempts to prevent emotional and behavioural problems in school settings.  Issues to be discussed include lack of methodological rigour in evaluations, null results in key studies, variability in implementation, and failure to use research findings to inform roll-out.  Recommendations will include proper trialing of SEL initiatives before they are brought to scale, the use of research to inform and improve programme design, the need to temper expectations, and the importance of educating implementers about the importance of implementation quality. I will conclude with a look forward to the future of universal SEL provision in England and internationally