Results from our Social and Emotional Learning curriculum pilot programme


As soon as the first lockdown was announced, Khulisa took swift action to adapt our delivery model so that we could continue to support young people when they needed us most. We developed a new suite of critically needed webinars and support toolkits which gave young people and the professionals and family who care for them constant access to our resources. 

However, while this support was vital, we recognised that it was not enough on its own. Young people faced a double hit to their educational prospects with the pandemic disrupting their learning and affecting their mental health. In addition to a 5 week webinar series, we also designed and piloted a social and emotional learning (SEL) programme, delivered as part of the school curriculum, to provide long-term and structured support to young people (and their teachers) after their return to school.

  • Over 24 weeks in the Spring and Summer terms we delivered our SEL programme to all 501 pupils in years 7 and 8 at Manchester Communication Academy.
  • We also trained 15 teachers who co-facilitated these sessions on Khulisa relational style of facilitation.
  • We coached them on how to recognise and respond to students who may appear distressed, or who appear to be vulnerable during discussions (these pupils could then be referred to Khulisa for further support).
  • And provided group reflective practice sessions with 14 of the teachers involved to review their learning and discuss any changes they have seen as a result of the new SEL Curriculum.

Here are four key things we learned from this pilot. 

1. Some groups of young people are struggling more than others as a result of the pandemic

Covid-19 compounded an already critical situation for young people and exacerbated inequalities that existed long before the pandemic between children from different backgrounds. While girls and students on pupil premium reported some improvements in the outcomes measured, they consistently reported social and emotional wellbeing levels that were below the national benchmarks used for this study. These results were largely in line with national data compiled before and during the pandemic which shows these two groups tend to have lower wellbeing levels than their peers – something exacerbated during the pandemic. While the distinction between girls, pupil premium students and their peers is not as stark on our flagship programmes, as part of a review of our programmes later this year, we will be looking at what more we can do to support specific groups of young people who are struggling with their wellbeing as a result of the pandemic. 

2. The programme was particularly effective for children with SEND

Nationally, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been reported to be among the groups whose wellbeing and resilience has been most affected by the pandemic. This was also reflected in our research. Young people with SEND started the programme with resilience and self-regulation levels that were significantly below both the school average and the median scores for the scales we used. However, by the end of the programme, they not only reported average wellbeing scores that were above the national average, they reported the biggest increases in resilience and emotional-regulation scores observed across all pupils, finishing significantly above both the school average and median scores for the validated scales we used. 

“These things we learnt, like the ladder of emotions, helped me when I was feeling stressed and almost about to escalate with my brother.”– Female Year 8 pupil.

Pupils spoke positively about having the opportunity to learn skills they don’t otherwise get to learn in lessons and the importance of having the opportunity to practice the resilience, coping and self-regulation skills they learnt on our programmes. Young people with SEND especially benefited from the opportunity to pick up these skills. 

3. SEL improves teacher understanding of needs and behaviours

In focus groups teachers consistently told us that receiving training on how to identify and identify pupils’ needs has enhanced their confidence and their ability to better support pupils. 

“Since implementing the SEL curriculum project, the most significant change for me has been having discussions with students about their needs and behaviours that I haven’t had before. I therefore have a better understanding of emotions and behaviours. This change was brought about just by me teaching the SEL lessons. Before the SEL curriculum project, I didn’t have a good understanding of SEL topics and I had less empathy. Greater knowledge means I can impact students more.” – SEL teacher 

4. SEL programmes go a long way in building trust and relationships between young people, their peers, and their teachers

During focus groups teachers and pupils across all groups spoke about how the programme helped young people improve their emotional regulation and helped them better communicate their emotions. Teachers and senior leaders reported that in addition to leading to fewer behaviour-related incidents, these developments also helped improve trust and communication in the classroom. 

Students also spoke of how much they highly valued the opportunity to explore sensitive topics in a safe space with teacher support. Teachers felt that as a result of these conversations ‘relationships with students had deepened’ and that habitually discussing emotions with pupils had increased trust

One teacher noted that: “Anything like this, they will always be suspicious of in the beginning… I think if you give examples from your life, when you were a kid, they are always quite fascinated by that.”

Improving these relationships is especially important for improving student outcomes given the impact of Covid-19 on their educational prospects. Research shows that building positive relationships with a trusted adult associated with better attendance, attainment and social and emotional wellbeing.

Elsewhere, young people also told us that the programme, in giving them practical coping strategies which they now use in friendship situations, also helped to understand and relate to their peers better.

“What’s normal for you isn’t normal for other people… Just in general if I got into an argument with or just disagreement with someone if I’m able to see or understand it from their perspective it helps me to solve our argument or disagreement or whatever.” 

What’s next?

“It’s just been so positive… it felt like we were working really jointly. [We had] a feeling of being able to relax a bit and realise they are willing to adapt to what works for us. The way we are planning to work on this and then the three-year Whole School Approach feels like it’s a really conjoined way of working” - MCA Senior Leader

The SEL programme allowed us to pilot a new way of working with school partners via blended learning and ongoing weekly sessions co-delivered with teachers. Given the effect of Covid-19 on young people’s wellbeing, the programme gave us an opportunity to provide sustained support to 501 young people through the school curriculum. 

Following the programmes success (and the positive feedback from the young people and professionals we worked with) we will be rolling out the SEL curriculum project as part of our Whole School Approach (WSA) with the opportunity to roll out the SEL curriculum across the whole school. We have appointed external evaluators to look at the change our intervention is making to young people’s lives over the next 3 years, and hope to create a blueprint of what effective whole-school interventions look like in both mainstream and alternative provision settings. We cannot wait to get started!

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