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Improving Pupil Well-being

Mar 9th 2022

The conversation about pupil’s mental health and well-being is one that has been rumbling on for a number of years now, but with the impact of school closures and lockdowns it is an issue that has become even more urgent to address.

It is vital that we have a long-term strategy to support pupils in developing robust strategies and life-long key skills to draw on when times are tough. However, with the allocation of funding to support schools in delivering this agenda unlikely to appear any time soon and the already jam-packed curriculum schools are required to deliver, how are we supposed to juggle this latest addition to our workload?

A review of evidence by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF, 2021) has found a significant positive impact of focusing on developing Social and Emotional Learning on pupil attainment. Even more importantly, UK-based research indicates that development of key social and emotional skills at age ten are indicative of positive outcomes in adulthood, including personal well-being, job satisfaction and general health. However, those pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have well-developed skills in this area, resulting in poorer outcomes for mental health and academic attainment. If the skills that we can impart as educators to our primary pupils will have such a far-reaching impact, then it is vital that we integrate them into our curriculum.

So, what is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) exactly? It involves developing a set of skills through which pupils can learn to manage their emotions and relate effectively to the emotions of others, develop positive relationships, achieve goals and make responsible choices. These skills can be grouped into five key areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2022).

The EEF recommend integrating SEL across your curriculum, filtering it into your everyday teaching for the greatest impact. In terms of your English curriculum, there are a number of ways we can achieve this, without adding to the already overflowing curriculum, and which might actually benefit pupils’ reading and writing.

  • Expand pupils’ emotional vocabulary. Developing an emotion colour chart is one way of getting pupils to consider a range of vocabulary with which to discuss feelings. Which colours do they associate with different feelings? There are common ones that older pupils might have heard of, such as ‘feeling blue’ or ‘green with envy’, but they can come up with their own ideas and explore new words. Once pupils understand what these words mean, ask them to consider times when they have felt that emotion – how did it feel physically, what did you do, how did your body react? If pupils haven’t personally experienced some emotions, they can relate them to characters from books, films or television. This supports pupil’s inference skills: the more familiar they are with emotions and when people are likely to experience them, the more adept they will become at inferring emotions and picking up on clues in texts.
  • Discuss character’s emotions and perspectives. Discussing emotions is almost certainly a common place part of your reading sessions but examining character viewpoints is something we perhaps do a little less regularly. Examining why different characters might have different viewpoints about situations or events again supports inference but also supports pupils in understanding other’s points of view in real life too.
  • Role-play develops empathy. By having the opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes, pupils can begin to appreciate how a character or person from a text may feel. When pupils undertake role-play, encourage them to consider the facial expressions and bodily movements that match the person’s emotions. Use techniques like a magic microphone to delve inside the character’s thoughts and their internal physical feelings (like butterflies in their stomach or feeling sick). Exploring these elements through drama not only support their emotional development, but also will hopefully impact on their writing – incorporating elements of ‘show not tell’ when describing characters and their emotions.
  • Choose texts which support social and emotional learning. There is a wealth of fantastic texts available which can allow for fantastic discussion linked to these important skills but that can also be used to link to your reading or writing curriculum. Some of our favourites include:
  • The WorrySaurus by Rachel Bright, wonderful for discussing feelings with Early Years
  • The Koala who Could by Rachael Bright, ideal for developing self-confidence in KS1
  • The Tree Keepers by Gemma Koomen, great for a focus on friendship with Y2
  • Blue by Britta Teckentrup, delves into issues of sadness and depression for LKS2 pupils
  • Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories by Amanda Li, a collection of short biographies of young people who have overcome adversity perfect for use with pupils across KS2 for discussions around building resilience
  • You are Awesome by Matthew Syed, is a fantastic book for UKS2 pupils – a handbook for building self-confidence
  • The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompsonis a story which deals sensitively with issues of anxiety which would be a great platform for discussion about dealing with stress and trauma with UKS2 pupils
  • Fearless by Liam Hackettpromotes self-confidence and breaking stereotypes through the eyes of an author who was bullied and struggled with self-confidence himself

All of these texts are part of our set of well-being reading units which also include PSHE sessions to run alongside reading sessions. These are available on our website:

Well-being – The Literacy Company

Education Endowment Foundation (2021) Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (2022) What is the Casel Framework? (https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/what-is-the-casel-framework/)