Seal may be down but it's not dead yet

The social and emotional aspects of learning may have fallen out of fashion. But Steve Baker believes they still have a place - and not just in primary

Steve Baker

Only a few years ago, an army of consultants and advisers was pressing schools to take an interest in social and emotional aspects of learning (Seal). Today, some teachers may be wondering whether Seal has since become another of education's obsolete acronyms.

After all, a great deal of support for it came from the government-funded National Strategies - and that whole programme shut last year. Education secretary Michael Gove has not banned Seal, but without all those advisers and consultants pushing it, has it disappeared?

Well, no. Seal is very much alive in primary schools. It can also be found in secondary, although many more pitfalls exist for its implementation there.

Secondary Seal is often entrusted to a middle manager, who is given no incentive and less time to do it. After an exciting training day with no follow-up, it becomes just another fad that came and went. Or it is introduced only for the "vulnerable", so languishes in a windowless room at the end of a corridor. There, a higher-level teaching assistant may do heroic work with a small group of pupils, but their improved social and emotional skills may not be properly recognised elsewhere in the school.

At the same time, teachers nationally face the dilemma that they must facilitate lessons where pupils learn independently if they wish to be graded "good" and "outstanding", yet many fear attempting group work because of the risk it presents to behaviour. From that perspective, the proper implementation of Seal has never been more necessary.

With that in mind, here are my top nine tips for secondary school leaders implementing Seal:

1. Lead it strategically

The head has to believe that Seal will make the difference. Senior leaders need to know how developing the skills of staff and pupils will contribute to anti-bullying, better behaviour on the school bus, increased attainment, meaningful performance management and so on. They should try to imagine what their school will look like when Seal is fully embedded.

2. Place it within learning and teaching

What behaviours do pupils need to demonstrate in order to achieve their potential? Seal is an opportunity for departments to think this through and teach the types of behaviour they want to see. Look at the features of an outstanding lesson. Get colleagues to map them against the five domains of Seal. How will "self awareness" support assessment for learning? How will "motivation" support increased attainment?

3. Make group work a focus in lessons

This will be easier if you teach the relevant Seal skills from Year 7. Unpick those skills, overtly, in each lesson - for example, by saying: "Today, our Seal objective is to work well in groups. How will I know you are doing that?" Ensure that all teaching staff use a signal to gain pupils' attention and that there is a clear routine for pupils to gain teachers' attention. This is basic but frequently missing. What could be more supportive of the development of good social skills and emotional self-control than set routines for managing talk?

4. Get a department to lead on it

Go through their scheme of work, identifying the opportunities for paired and group work. Choose Seal learning outcomes appropriate to each lesson. Plan collaboratively to teach the Seal element. With the department sharing its success, that Seal continuing professional development (CPD) day you have planned will be much more effective. Teachers love hearing from colleagues that it works in their school. Get an external speaker in to rattle people's thinking by all means (incidentally, my email is at the foot of this article), but home-grown expertise is important.

5. Involve pupils

I once had the privilege of listening to primary pupils talking about observations of peer behaviour they had conducted and how they had given each other feedback. They even told us how they had used their Seal skills to do it. There is almost no limit to what secondary pupils are capable of if they are trusted and supported to see the impact of their work.

6. Look at performance management

If you are serious about Seal, measure it. Establish baseline data and capture the impact Seal has on attendance, behaviour and attainment. Require every member of staff to have a Seal performance management objective.

7. Learn from primary schools

You may find that your intake comes equipped with all manner of routines and responsibilities that, until now, have been discarded on entry. Build on prior learning.

8. Drip-feed Seal into everything

Ensure that it features in every policy, meeting, scheme of work and lesson. Your "learning walks" around the school must look for it and your CPD must give staff time to plan for it.

9. Talk the talk and walk the walk

The manner in which the senior leaders model the five domains of Seal will be absolutely key. Honest conversations between leaders that go beyond the jovial "That wasn't very Seal" are a prerequisite to success. Seal must be for staff as much as it is for pupils. Staff must know it but they must also feel it, and that will come from the senior leadership team.

Steve Baker is a behaviour trainer and consultant and founder of BA Education Limited. You can contact him at


Seal is, officially, "a comprehensive, whole-school approach to promoting the social and emotional skills that underpin effective learning, positive behaviour, regular attendance, staff effectiveness and the emotional health and well-being of all who learn and work in schools".

Schools use different approaches to do this, including providing training for staff and pupils and incorporating Seal skills into subjects such as PSHE.

A critical national evaluation of the project can be found here: http:bit.lywwrJpq.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Steve Baker

Latest stories