Well-rounded children set for happiest futures

11 March 2015

Children with well-developed social and emotional skills have a better chance of being happy and healthy adults than those who are just bright, a new study reveals today.

The research found that of social and emotional skills, self-control and self-regulation in childhood matter most consistently for how they fare when they become adults. For example, better self-control is strongly associated with mental well-being; good physical health and in getting a job and increasing income.

The UCL Institute of Education analysed the most recent data from the 1970 British Cohort Study, which has now tracked several thousand people from birth to the age of 42.

It examined the long-term importance of a number of social and economic skills on 20 adult outcomes ranging from mental health, job status, obesity and marital status.

It found that social and emotional and cognitive skills are each very important for future life. Compared with cognitive ability when a child is aged 10, social and emotional skills:

  • matter more for general mental well-being (such as greater life satisfaction, mental health and well-being);
  • matter similarly for health and health related outcomes (such as lower likelihood of obesity, smoking and drinking, and better self-rated health);
  • matter similarly for some socio-economic and labour market outcomes (such as higher income and wealth, being employed, and not being in social housing);
  • matter less but are nonetheless important for labour market outcomes such as obtaining a degree, having higher wages and being employed in a top job.

The EIF said the study shows that developing social and emotional, as well as cognitive skills, is vital in helping children break inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, improving social mobility and life chances and unlocking access to high-status and well-paid jobs.

The research also shows inequalities in these skills between children from different backgrounds. Children from poorer households tend to exhibit worse self-control and emotional health than wealthier households on average.

But these skills are not fixed and there is a lot that can support children to learn and improve. Parents have a key role in understanding and supporting their child’s social and emotional learning but so do schools, youth centres and other ways of providing opportunities for children and young people to develop socially and emotionally.

The EIF is setting out key recommendations to ensure social and emotional skills are given the priority they need. They include:

  • The establishment of an expert taskforce with government, schools, teachers, other key professional groups, the voluntary and community sector, business and children and young people involved to set out urgently which social and emotional skills should be prioritised and how to measure them within and outside schools.
  • The development of social and emotional learning should be built into teachers’ initial training and continuing professional development.
  • Character and social and emotional learning should have cross-government leadership and responsibility, including not only the Department for Education, but also Health, Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, which leads on youth policy.

Carey Oppenheim, EIF Chief Executive, said:

“This study shows that social and emotional skills developed in childhood help shape our chances of getting a good job, having a family and being healthy, rather than simply being bright or clever.

“They are also vital in improving social mobility and breaking down barriers that hold people back from breaking free from inter-generational cycles of disadvantage.

“Every child deserves the best opportunity to realise their full potential and develop the range of skills we all need to thrive. We want all those working with children – head teachers, teachers, youth workers and volunteers – to look beyond just nurturing academic achievement and be given the training and skills to support the development of well-rounded children.

“As a society we neglect social and emotional at our peril. It is vital to support parents and all those working with children to foster these skills and to make this a priority across the whole of government.”

Read the full report

‘Social and emotional learning: skills for life and work’ by the UCL Institute of Education was published on 11 March 2015

Read the report overview.

Notes to editors

1. The ‘Social and emotional learning: skills for life and work’ project has been jointly commissioned by the Early Intervention Foundation, the Cabinet Office and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

It includes three independent reports:

  • UCL Institute of Education analysis on whether Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life.
  • Evaluation by the National University of Ireland, Galway into what works in enhancing social and emotional skills development during childhood and adolescence and exploring the evidence on the effectiveness of social and emotional skills-based interventions implemented in the school and out-of-school setting in the UK.
  • ResearchAbility study into the nature of current provision and what are the barriers and enablers to improving provision.

2. The Early Intervention Foundation is a charity and one of the Governments seven ‘What Works Centres’, alongside the College of Policing ‘What Works Centre’ for Crime Reduction. Founded in July 2013 by Graham Allen MP, it promotes greater use of evidence-based Early Intervention that improves the lives of children, prevents future social problems and reduces the costs of failure. Visit the EIF website.

3. Early Intervention tackles social problems that risk long-term harm for children, their families and society. Although the approach can be used at any time of life, Early Intervention services – such as parenting support, youth offending prevention programmes and children and young people’s mental health services – are aimed at 0 to 19-year-olds.

4. Picking up the pieces from damaging social problems affecting children and young people such as mental health problems, going into care, unemployment and youth crime costs the Government almost £17 billion a year, new research published by the EIF last month showed -read the press release.

5. Further policy recommendations from the EIF include:

  • The prioritisation of the evaluation of what works to build social and emotional skills to match the focus on what works in enhancing literacy and numeracy.
  • Testing the effectiveness of Personal, Social, Health and Education (PSHE) and ensuring that high quality practice is achieved so that it can be on an equal footing with other curriculum subjects.


Case studies

  • The Good Behaviour Game (GBG)
    The Good Behaviour Game is classroom management strategy that encourages good behaviour and co-operation in children in primary school classrooms. Teachers initiate Good Behaviour Games by dividing children into small teams that are balanced for gender and child temperament. Teams are rewarded with points for good behaviour in short games that take place several times a week.
  • Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management (IY Teacher)
    Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management (IY Teacher) programme is for IY Group Leaders who work with teachers of children between the ages of three and eight. Group leaders learn how to improve teachers’ classroom management strategies to support children’s school readiness and prosocial behaviour. Group leaders also learn strategies for improving communication between parents and teachers. IY Teacher has initial evidence of improving children’s prosocial behaviour, reducing conduct problems and increasing school attendance.
  • Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS)
    The PATHS Curriculum is a school-based programme which aims to improve emotional and social competencies in primary school children. A specific curriculum is available for grades one to six, involving two to three activity sessions that take place weekly throughout the school year. During these sessions, children engage in activities aimed at improving their social and emotional competencies and reducing aggressive behaviour.

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