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Schools of thought


About half of secondary schools are now involved with the SEAL programme but most have adapted the materials to fit their very individual needs. Emma Mills talks to schools that are using SEAL to support vertical tutoring, staff development and community outreach.

The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme was rolled out in primary schools four years ago and introduced in secondary schools in 2007. The DCSF estimates that about half of secondary schools are now using materials from the programme.

However, there have been numerous adaptations and developments in secondary schools to make the programme work across the curriculum and within their own contexts. For some secondary schools, the programme has become an integral part of their practice and a tool for developing a sense of community and respect.

At St Gregory's Catholic High School in Warrington - a school in a troubled urban area that hit the news in 2007 after the murder of Gary Newlove by three teenagers - SEAL has become part of the school day.

But Rose Howard-Rigby, the assistant head and strategy manager, explains that her inspiration for developing SEAL at St Gregory's actually came from a school in Canada.

"I went out to Toronto a couple of years ago to see some work they were doing with literacy but what struck me most about the schools was the culture of respect and the strong sense of community. The children were happy being in school and parental involvement was strong and supportive."

Student driven

Inspired by the success overseas, St Gregory's applied to become a pilot school for SEAL. "From the beginning we felt very strongly that it wasn't a strategy but a way of life that we wanted for our students. And we wanted them to be the ones to drive the SEAL agenda," says Rose.

The school held a 'SEAL day' which they called Vision and Values. The SEAL agenda was presented to students, who were then organised into mixed age groups of 30 plus two staff members. The students first came up with a statement encapsulating what the school wanted to get from SEAL: 'SEAL it with respect.'

The groups created visual aids to display around the school featuring the five SEAL outcomes and discussed how the SEAL agenda fitted into the school's mission statement. They also designed a SEAL flag which flies from the school roof and wrote a SEAL prayer to be used in assembly.

"SEAL has a sense of branding, an identity, in the school now and you can see it everywhere," Rose says. "Teachers put the logo and tag line on reports or letters home, classrooms and corridors have SEAL displays and it permeates all our assemblies and, most importantly, our lessons."

The school doesn't deliver specific SEAL time, in contrast to most others, but has integrated SEAL values into the curriculum and teachers ensure there is a SEAL outcome for their lessons.

Rose also created a SEAL working party of parents, teachers, associate staff, caretakers, governors, kitchen staff, receptionists and students which meets every half-term, as well as the getting the student council heavily involved.

She wants to ensure more work is done to embed SEAL in the curriculum and is insisting that it features in short, medium and long-term plans for the school. "We also want to become a hub school for the locality, sharing our resources and experience with other schools.

"And we are honoured that Gary Newlove's widow has agreed to meet with us to see how she can help support the SEAL project in the school and local community."

Measuring impact

For other schools getting involved with SEAL, Rose recommends taking the time to do a considered audit of how far the school already meets the SEAL criteria and where it can improve.

The hardest thing, she says, is measuring the impact on students. "It's not exactly quantitative. But if you've done a thorough and honest audit you'll be able to see the effects of SEAL.

"Even simple things like holding open doors, less litter, better queuing at lunch, offering to carry things for teachers, can be great indications that you've developed a respectful, caring community."

In a number of schools, the standard SEAL programme has been completely redesigned to fit the school's specific agenda and ethos.

At Casterton Business and Enterprise College in Lincolnshire, SEAL was introduced at the same time as vertical tutoring. Assistant head Rona Mackenzie saw that the two could work together and began creating a SEAL agenda for the school.

"We intended to use the resources the government had provided but they only made material for year 7, which simply wasn't going to work in our school. So we redesigned what SEAL was doing to reach all our students."

Rona rewrote the SEAL resources and designed them to be delivered in 20-minute slots each week. She kept the five outcomes and chose one as a target for each term, then tied lessons in with outside events, such as anti-bullying week.

Having older and younger students working together has been particularly effective. "There's been a real change in the school dynamics, and in the younger years we're seeing more confidence and motivation," she says.

The school council is driving the delivery of SEAL this year and Rona believes this is why it has been successful. "It makes absolute sense to get the students involved and I've really realised how skilled they all are - the ultimate goal is to have them writing the resources themselves and have them leading the tutorials."

Link to PHSE

For other schools, however, SEAL provides more of a backup and a reiteration of values than a new way of working.

Lynn Davison, assistant head for physical, health and social education (PHSE) and SEAL at Farnborough School Technology College in Nottingham, says that SEAL values were already well established there.

"Where some schools deliver the PHSE as an hour a week, and have added SEAL as an additional consideration, we have been using the PHSE curriculum throughout the school for over three years now and it's well ingrained in the minds of both our students and staff."

The school has been considering for several years how students learn, and has developed a school-wide process which ensures every child and teacher is invested in developing a motivated and respectful community.

Each class up to year 9 has a mentoring and coaching period each week in which they review their strengths and weaknesses from the past week, including behavior and attendance. This is then reviewed with a teacher.

In keeping with the SEAL criteria, they can include positive things they've done outside the classroom, such as tidying their room or helping an elderly relative. They also set monthly and termly targets, which include certain levels of punctuality, attendance and behavior.

"The emphasis is to improve the way our pupils learn," says Lynn. "These weekly reviews are intended to get pupils reviewing their behaviour over the week so they begin to take some ownership of their learning."

The long-term commitment to SEAL values and the PHSE agenda does have an effect, says Lynn. "While we are an urban school in a very deprived area with a high percentage of children on free school meals, we don't look like one. Our pupils are welcoming and respectful, they adhere to strict uniform standards and have good levels of behavior."

Impact on staff

At Abraham Moss High School in Manchester, assistant head and staff development coordinator, Jane Howarth recognised that where SEAL would make a difference to students it would also have an impact on staff.

"We saw SEAL as being linked with CPD. We already have a good respect and behaviour ethos in the school but to ensure we were getting a whole-school approach we wanted to fit it in with professional development so staff could benefit too."

One of Jane's challenges was ensuring that SEAL joined up with other initiatives such as Every Child Matters, Healthy Schools, citizenship and PHSE. "It's about getting all staff involved so you provide a holistic vision and a rounded view for the students," she says.

Teachers went through a training process and worked together to devise a SEAL programme which matched with their individual strengths, covering topics such as friendships though music, words, sounds or actions - whichever worked best for them. Specific effort was focused on the year 7 tutors to ensure children coming into the school were used to working within SEAL parameters.

A number of the teaching staff have reported encouraging results. "In one class, a lesson about walking a mile in someone else's shoes has improved behaviour and attendance as children have said they're starting to see things from the teacher's point of view," says Jane.

"A lot of pupils have started thanking teachers for their support and help. It has helped create an atmosphere of mutual respect, and staff have definitely adjusted the way they relate to pupils, for the better."

Emma Mills is a freelance writer specialising in education.

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