Every month, members of the SPHE Network share their thoughts on relevant developments, policies, events or resources in the areas of social, personal and health education. We are delighted to publish our inaugural blog post from Professor Mark Morgan, Cregan Professor of Education & Psychology, St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra.

In comparison to many countries which have tried to ensure that their holistic school programmes convey the right message, with the title SPHE, we got it so right! Virtually every education system in the world recognises the need for a social/emotional/personal/health dimension to education and the title reflects an emphasis in each case. In some countries the label is Social-Emotional Learning, while in others the title is SEAL (Social Emotional and Academic Learning). With Social, Personal and Health Education we have combined more relevant strands than other countries in a way that is totally consistent with recent research findings.

The reason for the importance of this broad title is that the evidence from GUI and several modern studies demonstrate that one aspect of development/education impinges greatly on another . Durlak et al (2011) did meta-analysis of 213 evaluations and showed that students in the interventions demonstrated substantially higher SEL skills but also academic performance was also improved as a result of the social-emotional interventions. In fact the impact was as great as might be expected if academic skills rather than social-emotional skills were the target of the programmes

For the future, a major issue is the overcrowded curriculum. No one seems able to set limits on the number of topics and subjects that is danger of overwhelming teachers and students. However, a thoughtful application of SPHE can provide a tentative answer to some aspects of this expansion. Many of the new areas and topics arise from a concern about societal issues that ‘schools should do something about’. I suggest that the application of the social and emotional skills of SPHE might enable children to cope with the new challenges rather than inventing a new subject or topic. We should not have a ‘mental health’ subject or an ‘anti-obesity’ programme on a stand alone basis Finally, there are strong grounds for linking teachers’ and pupils well-being; there is ample evidence that happy teacher can enhance personal, social and academic outcomes for their students.

An exciting era awaits us!