‘Character’ is increasingly considered to be important in determining academic and employment outcomes, and there is growing attention from policymakers on how character can be developed in children and young people.

By ‘character’ or ‘essential skills’ the EEF means a set of attitudes, skills and behaviours that are thought to underpin success in school and work, such as self-control, social skills, motivation, and resilience. Evidence suggests that support to develop these attributes may be particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The EEF has now commissioned a number of projects which are investigating the impact of interventions on character-related outcomes as well as attainment outcomes. These include a series of trials co-funded with the Cabinet Office looking at the impact of ‘youth social action’.

This page presents evidence on character from the Teaching and Learning Toolkit alongside the results from recent EEF projects investigating character interventions and character skills outcomes. 

Evidence Summary

The evidence in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit gives some indication that character-related interventions can be most effective for improving attainment when they are specifically linked to learning and learning outcomes. For example:

  • Interventions which focus solely on raising aspirations appear to have little to no positive impact on attainment: programmes which do raise attainment tend to also involve additional academic support or increased parental involvement
  • For social and emotional learning interventions, improvements in attainment appear more likely when approaches are embedded into routine educational practices.

Interventions aimed at improving Social and Emotional Learning and behaviour appear to be particularly successful when sensitively targeted at the specific needs of individual pupils. There is also some evidence that SEL and behaviour interventions appear to benefit disadvantaged or low-attaining pupils more than other pupils.

However, improved behavioural, social and emotional outcomes do not always translate into improved attainment. For example, one meta-analysis of an anger management intervention shows a positive effect on behaviour but an overall negative effect on learning.

As part of the Character and Education round, the EEF is funding multiple trials that examine character outcomes, and will add to the existing evidence base. 


The EEF commissioned the Institute of Education to undertake a literature review on the impact of non-cognitive skills on outcomes for young people in 2013.

  1. Updated: 12th February, 2016

    Non-cognitive Skills Literature Review