Social and emotional learning in primary schools: A review of the current state of evidence

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Background: There is a plethora of reviews that summarize much of the evidence base in Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). However, there are criticisms around variability of quality and focus of those reviews, meaning there is little strategic overview of the current state of the field. Further, there are rising concerns as to systemic gaps in the evidence base itself. An overview of reviews provides an opportunity for a comprehensive classification and corresponding critique of evidence. Aims: The study sought to examine a-priori concerns regarding (1) variation in the rigour and quality of the meta-analytic and systematic evidence base, (2) comparatively less conclusive evidence for whole school approaches when compared to class-based curricula, and (3) an assumed universality of effect (i.e., lack of examination of any differential gains for sub-groups). Method and results: A systematic search of the systematic and meta-analytic literature identified a total of 33 reviews examining SEL interventions. Papers were subject to a quality assessment in order to examine methodological rigour and were collated in line with the study’s objectives. Conclusions: We maintain the prevailing consensus that SEL programmes have an important role in education. However, variation in evidence quality remains high and there appear ambiguities regarding what constitutes whole school approaches. The review also highlights a novel and concerning lack of data for differentiating any subgroup effects. The review concludes with recommended novel directions for future research, including adoption of more complex trial architecture in evaluation alongside a move towards a wider plurality in methodological approach.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12480
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
Early online date18 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2021


  • prevention
  • schools
  • social and emotional learning
  • systematic review


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