Understanding the interpretation and implementation of social and emotional learning in physical education

Paul M. Wright, Shirley Gray, K. Andrew R. Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies such as self-management and relationship skills are associated with positive outcomes for youth. Therefore, educational policies in many countries emphasise the integration of these competencies throughout the curriculum and specifically in physical education (PE). However, little research has examined the impact of such policy in the context of practice. Drawing upon occupational socialisation theory, this study assessed how secondary teachers interpret and implement this aspect of the Scottish national curriculum. Data sources included teacher interviews (n = 14), pupil focus groups (n = 32) and systematic observations of 23 lessons. Quantitative data were analysed using descriptive statistics while qualitative data were analysed using constant comparison and thematic analysis. The trustworthiness of findings was supported through triangulation, peer debriefing and member check. Findings indicate the curriculum is interpreted at several levels driven largely by teachers’ background experience and organisational influences. Generally, SEL is viewed favourably, but ambiguity and lack of support are challenges to implementation. Common practice involves creating a positive learning environment as well as implicit and reactive teaching approaches. More robust implementation involves the addition of explicit and empowering teaching approaches. Implications for practice, teacher education, policy development and research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-86
Number of pages20
JournalCurriculum Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • curriculum change
  • educational policy
  • health and wellbeing curriculum
  • occupational socialisation theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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