SEAL: ‘we get a little crazy’

I’ve been looking into a curriculum subject introduced by New Labour in 2003, called Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL). It began as a voluntary primary school subject, and in 2007 was also made a voluntary secondary school subject. Over 90% of primary schools and over 60% of secondary schools now teach it.

SEAL teaches five emotional competencies: self-awareness, managing feelings, motivation, empathy and social skills. It’s the biggest example of the new ‘politics of wellbeing’, and  of the new confidence governments have in managing their citizens’ emotional development.

What I’ve discovered, to my surprise, is that this new national subject was almost entirely based on one book – Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (EI).

Goleman, then a journalist at the New York Times, wrote EI in 1996. The book was a huge hit and spent a year and a half in the New York Times best-seller list. It captured the 1990s fascination with the emotions, the role they play, and how we can manage them.

Cut to Southampton, in 1997, and Peter Sharp, the local authority’s chief educational psychologist, read EI and was so “inspired” by it that he and Southampton’s chief schools inspector decided that “emotional literacy should be an equal priority with literacy and numeracy for all children in Southampton”. The book must have made quite an impression. Continue reading