A Cluster Randomized-Controlled Trial of the MindOut Social and Emotional Learning Program for Disadvantaged Post-Primary School Students

  • Katherine DowlingEmail author
  • Andrew J. Simpkin
  • Margaret M. Barry
Empirical Research


School-based social and emotional learning programs aim to provide students with the skills they need to deal with life challenges, thereby enhancing their social and emotional wellbeing, academic outcomes, and reducing their risk of mental health difficulties. While there is a robust evidence base on the effectiveness of these programs originating from the US, there is a relative paucity of research on how these programs impact young people in other county contexts, especially for older adolescents and those at higher risk. This study sets out to address this research gap by evaluating the effectiveness of a social emotional learning program designed for older adolescents in Ireland, the MindOut program. MindOut is a universal school-based social and emotional learning program designed for older adolescents in Ireland which was developed based on a common elements approach underpinned by CASEL’s framework. Employing a cluster randomized-controlled trial, data on social and emotional skills, academic performance and mental health outcomes were collected from students (n = 497; 51.1% female) ages 15–18 years in 32 disadvantaged schools. There were significant improvements in intervention students’ social and emotional skills including, reduced suppression of emotions (p = 0.035), use of more positive coping strategies [reduced avoidance coping p = < 0.001) and increased social support coping p = 0.044)]. Improvements in mental health and wellbeing were also found with significantly reduced levels of stress (p = 0.017) and depressive symptoms (p = 0.030) as well as reduced anxiety scores for females students (p = 0.044). These short-term evaluation findings support the positive impact of school-based social and emotional learning programs, such as MindOut, when designed to be both age and culturally appropriate and delivered to older adolescents in disadvantaged schools.


Social and emotional Learning Mental wellbeing Adolescence Schools Randomized-controlled trial 



The authors wish to acknowledge the participation of all the school staff and students who took part in the study. We also wish to thank Professor Leslie Daly (RIP) of the Centre for Support and Training in Analysis and Research (CSTAR) for providing invaluable guidance on the randomization process and the analysis. We are grateful to Ms. Anne Sheridan, Mental Health Promotion Officer for Suicide Prevention (Health Promotion and Improvement, HSE) for providing training to intervention schools as well as the research assistants Margaret Malcolm, Jennifer Ryan and Maeve Scully who contributed to the recruitment, data collection and input.

Authors’ Contributions

K.D. and M.M.B. conceived the design and coordination of the study. K.D. contributed to the data collection and input, statistical analysis and drafting the manuscript; M.M.B.provided supervision at all stages of the study including data collection, data interpretation and drafting the manuscript; AS contributed to the statistical analyses and interpretation of the data. All authors read, revised and approved the final manuscript.


This work was supported by the Irish Research Council (IRC) Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship and the Health Service Executive (HSE) Health Promotion and Improvement in Ireland.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The study received ethical approval from the NationalUniversity of Ireland Galway Research Ethics Committee (ref: 16-Jul-01). All procedures performed in studies involving human participantswere in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/ornational research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration andits later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Written informed consent was obtained from all individual participant included in the study and passive parental consent from all participants was also sought.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine Dowling
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrew J. Simpkin
    • 2
  • Margaret M. Barry
    • 1
  1. 1.Health Promotion Research CentreNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayIreland
  2. 2.School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied MathematicsNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayIreland

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