Social and Emotional Learning

Review of evidence and current practice on social and emotional learning in primary school. Deadline 8 May 2018. (Nb. deadline with previously 7th May)

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) are commissioning a review of evidence-based practices to support social and emotional learning (SEL) in primary schools, and research to understand schools’ current practices in SEL. We are seeking proposals from research teams able to complete this work by the end of November 2018. This work will be used to inform a guidance report for schools on SEL and supporting resources. Teams are welcome to bid for either the evidence review, and/or the research on current practice.


EEF guidance reports summarise the best available research evidence on an aspect of teaching and learning, and present actionable recommendations for practice. Guidance reports are based on rigorous reviews of research evidence and are produced in collaboration with practitioners. The EEF has published five guidance reports so far:

Guidance reports on early literacy, metacognition, science, and parental engagement are forthcoming. A future guidance report, led jointly be EEF and EIF, will focus on what schools can do to support children’s social and emotional learning.

The outline of the process for producing the guidance reports is as follows.

  1. EEF & EIF appoint a panel of practitioners, academics, and other stakeholders to support the creation of the guidance report.
  2. EEF & EIF commission a review of the research evidence related to the focus of the guidance report.
  3. The completed review is then presented to the panel. Together, the panel and EEF/EIF will use the evidence review to draft a series of evidence-based recommendations for practice, with ongoing support from the evidence reviewer.

The reviewer will focus on questions agreed with the panel, but will also look for important evidence not covered by the questions. The scope of the evidence review will include social and emotional learning (SEL) in primary schools. In addition, we would like the review team or a separate research team to conduct primary research to understand current practices on SEL in schools in England, in order to understand where the gaps are between the evidence and current practice.

For the purpose of this research, social and emotional learning (SEL) is defined as the process of acquiring and effectively applying the skills, attitudes and behaviours to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspective of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions and handle interpersonal situations constructively (Elias et al., 1997). SEL interventions includes (i) those with a competence enhancement focus on social and emotional skill development and (ii) interventions aimed at reducing problem behaviours (e.g. bullying, antisocial behaviour) through social and emotional skill development.

Review focus and methods

1. Review the evidence on effective practice

Reviewers of the evidence to date recommend the need to adopt a whole school approach to social and emotional learning. This includes a coordinated approach to bring about change at the level of the individual, the classroom and the school, in the context of the wider community. As part of this there is a call for the development of a continuum of approaches ranging from comprehensive evidence-based interventions to specific evidence-informed practices that provide the foundation for SEL development within the context of everyday school practices (Jones & Bouffard, 2012; Barry et al., 2017).

Previous reviews have focused on synthesising the evidence on interventions to support children and young people’s social and emotional development (e.g. EIF, 2015; Durlak et al., 2012; Taylor et al., 2017). There is now a pressing need to identify less intensive evidence-based practices at the classroom and whole-school level that support improvement in children’s social and emotional development and academic achievement. These practices are likely to represent the ‘active ingredients’ across a range of evidence-based SEL interventions. The aim of this review is to identify effective practices delivered (a) through classroom activities and programmes (b) at the school level aimed at developing a positive school environment and (c) through targeted interventions aimed at addressing the needs of children with more challenging behaviour or at risk of developing mental health problems. We would expect the review team to spend more time on class and school level practices (a & b), but are also interested in evidence on (c). We are particularly interested in approaches that are likely to be beneficial for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The review should look across the existing literature to address a focused set of questions that will help to inform recommendations for practice, and areas of promise. The review should assess the strength of existing studies. We are most interested in the identification of practices from evidence-based interventions that have been evaluated through experimental design. This should include studies carried out both within the UK and internationally. The review should highlight any evidence that suggests certain practices are ineffective, and gaps in the evidence base where more research is needed. We would like the review to be completed using an approach that allows it to be easily updated in the future. Guidance reports are “live” documents that will be updated as the evidence base evolves. 

2. Research the evidence on current practice

We are also interested in what schools in England are currently doing in relation to social and emotional learning. This will be used to understand how far schools are currently prioritising SEL, what types of approaches they adopt and why, what their current needs are, what barriers they face, and how far practice matches the current evidence. It will be used to identify areas where there is potential for shifting practice towards more evidence-based approaches, and to inform possible resources that could be developed to support schools. We would expect teams to assess if there is existing evidence available to answer these question, and if necessary, propose primary research (e.g., a focused survey and interviews) to answer key questions.


The deadline for proposals is Tuesday 8th May. We are looking to appoint a team to begin working as soon as possible. We would like teams that are bidding to hold 13th & 14th June for the first meeting (half day) with the Panel in the event that they are successful, or to let us know if these dates are not possible. We would expect drafts and frameworks to be shared throughout the review, and that the work would be delivered by the end of November 2018 ahead of a presentation to EEF & EIF and the Panel in December. We would then expect the authors to remain involved in lighter-touch way while the EEF & EIF lead on producing a teacher-facing guidance report.

Appointment process

If you would like to be considered to undertake the review, please send a brief outline describing your proposed approach. Please include an overview of your relevant skills and experience, and an estimated budget. Within the broad areas we set out above, we encourage teams to suggest detailed questions that would help to focus the review / research, addressing the issues most salient to schools. Proposals should be no more than 1,500 words, excluding references. We recognise that the two parts of this work may require different expertise, so are open to joint applications from teams, or from teams bidding only for one elements of the work. We will finalise the specification with the successful team(s). The final report will be peer reviewed. Report length and budget are open for discussion at this stage. Similar reviews funded by the EEF can be found on the literature reviews section of the EEF website, though please note that not all of these reviews were conducted with the primary aim of producing guidance.

If you have any questions, please contact Matt van Poortvliet (email below), and please send your proposal to: by 5pm on Tuesday 8th May.

Project leads:

Matthew van Poortvliet

Senior Programme Manager, Education Endowment Foundation

Matt leads EEF’s work on early years, character and parental engagement. Within these areas, he is responsible for identifying promising interventions, managing trials and developing EEF’s guidance for schools

Aleisha Clarke

Head of What Works Programme Assessment, Early Intervention Foundation

Aleisha leads EIF’s work on The Guidebook and supporting the implementation, evaluation and dissemination of evidence-based interventions and tools to enhance children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.