Judith Harwood, senior regional adviser for the primary and secondary strategy, describes what one school has been learning from its involvement in the Social, Emotional and Behavioural Skills (SEBS) pilot.

Joining the pilot

Morland Community School (not real name) is one of 13 secondary schools in its local authority which became involved in the pilot project to develop materials for Social, Emotional and Behavioural Skills (SEBS). The school was hoping that SEBS could bring coherence, clarity and explicitness to its existing priorities. As the headteacher said: ‘SEBS is what we are all about. It is a way of being. We are looking at what goes on, and intending to enrich it rather than bolt on something new.’

Morland is a mixed comprehensive with around 1,400 pupils, of whom 300 are in the sixth form. The roll has been growing and the school is oversubscribed. Standards of attainment on entry are now slightly above the national average. The last Ofsted report said that ‘teaching and learning is very good in all years with much that is excellent’.
Among the specific reasons for taking part in SEBS, according to the headteacher, are that it would:

  • fit with the school’s urge to improve continuously and ‘be the best’
  • build on the work it has done to achieve Healthy School status
  • further promote an emphasis on the process of learning
  • help further the development, welfare and wellbeing of staff
  • promote an ethos that is inclusive of all students.

Getting started

The school started the programme by holding a series of launch events for the stakeholders, including staff, governors and parents. These outlined the 72 learning objectives of the programme, and used ideas from the professional development handbook. Care was taken to present SEBS as something that would build on what the school was doing already.

Forming a team

The school’s approach has been to ‘drip feed SEBS into everything we do across the school community’. A core team of people, led by the deputy principal in charge of curriculum, is developing SEBS across the school. Also involved are the advanced skills teacher for geography, head of humanities and head of personal development. These represent the main curriculum areas where there is a focus on SEBS. Other participants include the student liaison officer, coordinator of the student support base  and a member of the senior learning team with responsibility for staff welfare.

School activities

The team has sought to integrate SEBS into a wide range of whole-school activities that includes:

Teaching and learning

The school sees itself as an innovator in work on teaching and learning. The advanced skills teacher (AST) leads on this for the local authority as well as the school. In his view, there are five key areas for the development of SEBS in teaching and learning:

Learning forum for staff
This group has representatives from all departments. Its aim is to develop and disseminate good practice in teaching and learning across the school, specifically by trying out ideas from the DfES Pedagogy and Practice materials and looking at how SEBS ideas can be integrated into them. Following a coaching session with the advanced skills teacher, each member of the group worked with the ideas in one unit. This led to the development of a toolkit to go with the pack. 

Tutorial work
The AST has been working with his Year 8 tutor group on the question: ‘What is an effective learner?’ Teacher and pupil assessment has been used to identify students who have problems with learning. Each person identified has been given intensive help to develop one academic and one SEBS skill. 

Modelling
The advanced skills teacher has invited staff to watch him delivering teaching and learning so as to demonstrate ways of building SEBS through using the ideas in Pedagogy and Practice

Information retrieval project
The school is finding that students struggle with extended, project-type work. The sustained effort is emotionally hard for them. This has led to the development of work focused on relevant SEBS dimensions such as motivation, perseverance, and self-knowledge. 

Lesson plans and objectives
The AST has developed a scheme of work for his subject – geography. This integrates SEBS with subject objectives so as to promote the skills of:

  • knowing yourself
  • motivation
  • empathy.

He has asked the students to evaluate his practice, and to set targets for him. The group then focus on themselves and set targets for themselves.

Personal development curriculum

SEBS is being integrated into the school’s personal development curriculum, which is taught for one period a week and covers: personal management, personal relationships, health and safety and citizenship.

Staff are being encouraged to reflect on what aspects of SEBS they have covered in the personal development curriculum. At the same time, they are being asked to consider the links to Every Child Matters, and to see how drama can be used to build empathy and other social skills. The school also sees SEBS as fundamental to enhancing its status as a healthy school.

Student support programme

Before becoming involved in SEBS, the school had targeted its student support efforts on intensive work with between six and eight pupils, for periods of six weeks. The evaluation of this work showed that the unit was acting more as a containment device than as an agent for change. Once pupils went back to mainstream, they usually reverted to their previous behaviour.

The school has used the SEBS programme to rethink this approach. It now works less intensively with many more pupils, keeping them in mainstream classes but holding weekly groups that focus on explicit SEBS work. Up to 80 children take part. Using circle time and other group activities, they explore themes such as anger management, personal organisation and self-esteem.

There is still one-to-one work available for those who have the most acute need. This provides students with opportunities to look at issues such as assertiveness, anger management and behaviour recovery. However, the recidivism rate is now much lower.

Students with a poor record of attendance and motivation are being reached through work on aspirations. A survey was carried out with students in Years 10 and 11 on the factors that influence aspirations. This has led to offers of support, advice, examples of celebrities who did not start life as a success, one-to-one work and inspirational posters around the school about the value of having high expectations and dreams.

Facilitating factors

  • Supportive senior learning team.
  • A clear action planning process, which clarifies what SEBS means and sets clear targets for action.
  • The initial audit and building on core day 4.
  • The clarity, sense of purpose, energy and credibility of the member of staff leading the programme.
  • The commitment and credibility, sense of trust, and support created by the B and A consultant.
  • The drive and teamwork of the key players, sharing ideas and responsibility.

Blocking factors

  • Some staff still do not know about SEBS or accept it as important.
  • The school would have liked more awareness about SEAL and more learning resources, including triggers, checklists, photos etc. They are using the SEAL photo pack and posters and feel that ones for adolescents rather than primary school would be of use.
  • There is not much money to support the project at school level.
  • Parental involvement is proving to be a problem.

Staff wellbeing programme

The school prides itself on having a happy staff and spends a good deal of its budget on continuous professional development, as well as improving the conditions of work. The result is that staff say they feel ‘well looked after’ and turnover is low. The SEBS programme has given the school an opportunity to deepen this work on staff wellbeing and add new skills. For example, the school has added to its work on stress by:

  • becoming more inclusive of support staff
  • paying for staff to self-refer for counselling
  • setting up a relaxation room for staff
  • setting up a support group for staff in their first few years of teaching.

Continuing professional development

Work on SEBS falls naturally into the action research model that the school uses to generate strategies for improvement. This follows a well-established sequence whereby: 

  • an issue of interest to the school is identified
  • a member of staff goes away and reads up about it
  • he or she trials ideas in their classroom, develops materials and reports back
  • if all goes well, the learning from this exercise is turned into consistent practice across the school.

The professional development handbook has been used for training, with the goal of demystifying what SEBS is about, and emphasising the continuity with existing activity. Observation partnering is also being used in humanities. This involves two members of staff working together and observing each other to bring about new ideas. This work now highlights SEBS.

Other activities

  • The student welfare service has engaged in a consultation about how to improve the school environment. Their recommendations have made several links with SEBS.
  • Work on peer mentoring and mediation, as well as anti-bullying, now contains more explicit work on SEBS.
  • Work on equal opportunities and multi-culturalism is driven by SEBS, with its natural emphasis on empathy.

Monitoring

  • The school benchmarked behaviour and attendance data at the start of the project so that they could monitor progress on exclusions, incidents, removals from lessons and staff absence.
  • They also carried out a survey of student attitudes.
    They used the audit in the professional development handbook to identify the key areas for development across the school.
  • The behaviour consultant carried out lesson observation and tracking of a Year 7 class to see whether any improvement could be seen.
  • The school has included aspects of SEBS on their electronic student assessment database. This creates reports from comments about students entered by staff.

Impact

SEBS has clearly had a major impact on almost all aspects of the school. Staff report that it brings things together, provides a useful umbrella for what they were already doing, adds value and makes things more explicit. It is hard work, they say, but ‘infectious’ and ‘having enormous knock-on effects’. SEBS has also strengthened links with external agencies such as CAMHS.

Next steps

There is a huge amount happening. ‘It is spinning off in all directions’, one teacher reports. The school plans to build on activities described here through:

  • a cross-curricular audit
  • work to reach parents
  • further integrating SEBS into teaching and learning
  • looking at staff work-life balance
  • holding a session on staff emotional intelligence.
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