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Social and Emotional Learning Program Quality Assessment (PQA)

The PQA is an observational tool designed to assess the quality of staff practices in terms of the environment they create within provision. It describes three levels of quality related to a Safe Space, Supportive Environment, Interactive Environment and Engaging Environment.   

About the tool

The PQA establishes a standard of practice and enables you to measure performance against that standard. It was designed to; assess the quality of staff practices, build a culture focused on quality, develop programme improvement goals, identify staff training needs, and provide information about how specific aspects of programme quality relate to young people’s socio-emotional skill growth. It can be used by programme staff for self-assessment or by trained external assessors for programme evaluation, or both.  

What it does

The PQA process can be done at any time during the course of provision. For example, it can be completed in the middle of a programme to understand how well staff are implementing best practices. It could also be completed twice: once at the beginning of a programme, to inform improvement goals and training priorities, and then at the end of a programme to assess improvements in the quality of delivery practices. The timing and whether it is done internally or by an external assessor should be determined by the goals of the organisation. 

It is best used for group-based provision where a team of staff can take turns observing staff members interacting with several young people for at least 30 minutes of continuous time. It can be used for sessions with young people ages 5 and up, but it was designed for older groups (ages 10 and up) who are in the process of developing their full range of SEL skills. The PQA scoring process should take about 90 minutes to complete. 

The PQA can be used as part of the Youth Programme Quality Intervention (YPQI), a structured improvement programme that involves cycles of assessment, planning with data, and improvement. For more information, see visit the YPQI page or watch this video.

Since 2018, the College has been adapting and piloting the YPQI for the UK Youth Work sector. The PQA and YPQI were developed by the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Programme Quality in the US.


The PQA can be administered digitally or on paper. 

Strengths and Limitations


  • The tool supports self reflection and group reflective practices to promote quality improvement. 

  • It can also be used for online or detached provision and there is specific guidance to support this.


  • As it is an observational tool, the PQA does not work for one to one or very small group settings where the presence of an observer would affect the session dynamics. 


Scores from the SEL PQA can be entered into the Weikart Centre’s Scores Reporter portal. The four PQA domain mean scores can be used to inform decisions about future training decisions or provision planning (e.g. organisations with especially low scores in any one area may decide to provide youth workers with training opportunities, or other professional development activities, focused on that).

Practitioner Overview

An easy to read quick overview of the tool and how to use it. 

Download here

The Tool

A printable version of the PQA tool. 

Download here

The Technical Guide

If you are interested in understanding more about the theory of change, reading about the tool in depth, and the validation process, download the full guide below.

Download here

Visual guide

Watch this handy video on the PQA tool.

Watch here

SEL assessment tracker [Excel]

Use this excel template to record your notes once you’ve completed your observations – you can start aligning observation evidence with the tool in preparation for the scoring meeting, and share with the wider team.

Download here

Using the PQA for detached work

This guidance looks at how the YPQI can be used to assess the quality of and strengthen the skills of detached workers. Get in touch for a copy of a revised PQA items list for detached youth work. 

Download here

Online Youth Work Tool Guidance

This guidance looks at how the YPQI can be used to assess the quality of youth work delivered online. Get in touch for the revised PQA items list for detached youth work

Download here