Today, the PATHS® Team attended a conference in Queens University where the importance of SEL progarmmes in schools were on the agenda. While the main focus of the conference was on the outcomes of the Roots of Empathy and Nurture Groups studies; there were also some key messages on the international research on the effectiveness of school based SEL programmes.
As we know, the mental health statistics in NI are worryingly high. One in ten children under the age of 15 has a diagnosed mental health disorder; More than 20% of young people are suffering ‘significant mental health problems’ by age 18; NI has higher levels of mental ill health than any other region in the UK, with 1 in 5 adults and around 45,000 children having a mental health problem at any one time; Half of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14; and The average age of onset of anxiety disorders and impulse control disorders is 11. Therefore, if we continue as we are, we will face a Mental health epidemic.
However, there is good news. SEL programmes can have immediate impact for children and young people - outcomes such as improved social and emotional competence, more prosocial behavior, less anti-social behavior, better attitudes to school and higher academic performance. In addition, where schools develop a whole-school approach to SEL programmes they can also see an improvement in the school environment, better relationships between staff, reduced disruption in class, and improved planning and problem solving. Long term outcomes for young people include fewer drop outs, better academic outcomes (up to ten years later), more likely to complete university, fewer diagnosed with mental health disorders, decreased conduct problems, less drug use, improved sexual health and less likely to have been arrested. Whole-school outcomes also show a reduction in staff turnover in the long-term.
The research presented today highlighted the correct ingredients for effective programmes:
- positive youth development (competence enhancement and empowering approaches)
- focus on teaching skills (especially the 5 core components of SEL as identified by CASEL
- use of interactive teaching strategies (role-play, games and group work)
- well-defined goals
- a coordinated set of activities linked to objectives
- provision of explicit teacher guidelines (e.g. teacher training and a teacher manual)
Having the right ingredients is certainly the first step, but it’s important that the recipe is followed carefully to ensure maximum outcomes. A fantastic analogy was shared today through the words of Bananarama - ‘It ain’t what you do but the way that you do it!” High quality implementation is just as important as the programme manual, and it’s essential that schools are well supported to deliver programmes. This mix of SEL readiness, teacher training, quality control and feedback and consistent staffing can ensure that the implementation of SEL remains just as important as the programme you are implementing. Here at the PATHS® Team at Barnardo’s, we understand the importance of having both a very well evidenced programme (The PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version)) and an equally well evidenced implementation and coaching plan. The coaching and support we provide for schools ensures that they are well supported to deliver the programme effectively, and we will support schools with developing a whole-school approach to implementation. To find out more about our coaching support, please have a read here. and feel free to get in contact with us if you would like any more information about the programme.
Finally, it was very encouraging to hear today that the Department of Education are currently looking at their provision for supporting emotional health and well-being in schools, and can see the value of SEL programmes in supporting this development. If children’s emotional needs are being met in schools, their academic needs will follow. Having been implementing The PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version) for almost ten years in NI now, it’s extremely positive to hear that SEL is gaining traction, and we hope to build on this momentum and grow our support to schools!