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School of Applied Social Sciences

SASS Staff

Publication details

Ventista, O.M. & Siddiqui, N. (2016), Which school interventions are beneficial for the development of non-cognitive skills of primary school students? A review of existing evidence, The European Conference of Educational Research (ECER) 2016, Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers. Dublin, Ireland.

Author(s) from Durham


The impact of school interventions on attainment –and particularly on Reading and Mathematics - is the focus of educational
policies and educational research. However, it can be questioned whether this type of knowledge is indeed important for the
later life of the students. This knowledge provides students with the opportunity to pass the exams and enter the labour
market, but it is possible that the students are still unqualified and unprepared for the true challenges. Schools offer both
cognitive and non-cognitive gains to the students and our knowledge about the non-cognitive domains is quite limited
compared to the cognitive. Non-cognitive skills are referring to the character and this term is preferred instead of traits to
show our stance that these characteristics are not inborn, but they can be learnt (Heckman & Kautz, 2013). This social
emotional learning that takes place in school is crucial and to a greater extent more required in real life circumstances than
academic performance. However, mostly due to the accountability of the schools where effectiveness is commonly
measured by attainment, the reinforcement of non-cognitive skills in schools is undermined.
Non-cognitive skills can result also in the cognitive skills’ development (Heckman &Kautz, 2013; Tierney, Grossman, &
Resch, 1995). There are interventions when the non-cognitive skills have been used as a moderator factor to increase
attainment. An intervention targeting self-regulation found enhancement not only in the attainment, but also general
cognitive traits, such as reasoning and attention (Blair &Rever, 2014). Non-cognitive skills have been associated with the
labour market (Acosta, Muller &Sarzosa, 2015).A follow-up of the Seattle Social Development Programme has used social
behaviour in childhood as a predictor of positive adult functioning and preventing mental health problems and substance use
(Hawkins et al., 2005). Furthermore, non-cognitive skills can be a predictor for adult criminality (Agan, 2011), health
(McCord, 1978) or admission into higher education (Torres-Gonzalez et al., 2014; West et al., 2014).The non-cognitive skills
can be also observed as factors which play role towards the gap in the attainment between different social groups and thus
can berelated with social inequalities since earlier academic stages (Noden&West ,2009).
Therefore, non-cognitive skills have been shown as meaningful to be fostered by schools. In this research we appreciate the
significance of non-cognitive skills and we are looking for evidence in the existing bibliography regarding successful
techniques and interventions in primary schools which could lead to the increase of non-cognitive skills. We did not choose
to include specific types of non-cognitive gains and exclude others, because we support that non-cognitive skills are
interrelated and we cannot have clear distinctions between them. Except for a purpose of categorisation, there are no clear
boundaries between them and a combination of all constructs a complex system.