Please note that What Works Wellbeing will close operations on 30 April 2024.  Read more
Apr 13, 2023 | by Nancy Hey

#BeeWell year two: young people’s wellbeing in Greater Manchester

Since 2021, 60,000 young people from 187 secondary schools in Greater Manchester have completed the pioneering #BeeWell surveys. Insights are used to understand children’s wellbeing and drive positive educational and community-level change. 

The project is a collaboration between the University of Manchester, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Anna Freud Centre, and we have worked as a long term advisor on the programme from its inception.

Here, Nancy Hey, our Executive Director, takes us through the headline findings of the second wave of the #BeeWell survey, delivered in schools during autumn term 2022.


Key insights from #BeeWell Year 2

Overall wellbeing:

  • Life satisfaction and mental wellbeing scores of young people across Greater Manchester have been stable across 2021 and 2022, and are on average lower than those of young people in England (in studies using the same measures as in #BeeWell). The report authors advise caution on comparing regional and national level data due to socio-demographic differences and natural variation.
  • Around 16% of young people in Greater Manchester reported a high level of emotional difficulties in both 2021 and 2022.
  • Wellbeing declined slightly for young people moving from Year 8 (2021) into Year 9 (2022), reflecting wider research that wellbeing declines with age during adolescence.

Drivers of wellbeing:

  • Sleep – there is a reduction in young people reporting they get enough sleep has been observed, with 41.8% of Year 9 students reporting they aren’t getting enough to feel awake and concentrate at school, compared to 36% in Year 8 and 46% by the time they reach Year 10. There is a larger reduction for those eligible for Free School Meals from 40% in Year 8 (2021) to 46% in Year 9 (2022).
  • Places to spend free time – there has been a decline in young people reporting that they have good places to spend free time. In 2021, 75.5% of young people in Year 8 agreed or strongly agreed that they had good places to spend free time, compared to 67.6% of those young people when they were surveyed again in Year 9 in 2022. This equates to just under 15 in the average class of 22 Year 9 pupils who think that they have good places to spend their free time. 
  • Feeling safe – in 2022 81% of young people reported that their area is very safe or safe to live in.

Further thematic briefings co-authored with partners for each of the key drivers of wellbeing, including physical activity, and arts and culture will be published later this year.

Wellbeing inequalities

  • The same patterns in wellbeing inequalities have been identified in 2021 and 2022, particularly for gender and sexual orientation, highlighting the need for action in reducing disparities in wellbeing for young people. 
  • There continues to be a modest association between socio-economic disadvantage and wellbeing, with life satisfaction scores increasing from 6.44 to 6.67 between Indices of Multiple Deprivation Q1-Q52.

For more detail about the 2021 findings, see our Year 1 summary.

For full details of 2022 findings, see the #BeeWell Year 2 report.

Developing measures of children’s wellbeing

In response to a lack of cohesion and reliable benchmarking for measures of children’s subjective wellbeing, What Works Centre for Wellbeing collaborated with The Children’s Society in 2021 to map what existing tools were being used in the UK.

We developed:

  1. A conceptual report detailing three core domains of subjective wellbeing and related concepts. 
  2. A searchable database of metrics and measures.
  3. A user manual to inform decision making when choosing and using measures. 

View the resources

Through this project, we have continued to build consistency and good practice in the field of measurement, enabling a better understanding of what works to improve children’s wellbeing.

As advisors on #BeeWell, we have been able to use this literature evaluation – as well as analysis of ONS data – in practice to inform the programme’s conceptual framework and measures. The #BeeWell team also consulted with young people to help identify the things that mattered most to them. 

Its methodology – driven by young people and refined by a panel of expert academics – is an example of measuring young peoples’ wellbeing at large scale, using validated metrics. It builds on the work of different organisations including the National Lottery funded HeadStart programme.

Now that #BeeWell is in its second year, we can compare snapshots and longitudinal data to see changes to wellbeing overtime. Specifically, we can start to identify areas of positive change, stability and negative change.

Turning evidence into action

People’s experiences of life vary, and understanding these differences can help close the gap between and within different groups in society to increase national wellbeing. This is the aim of the UK government’s Levelling Up programme. 

To understand what works and to track progress we need to build a strong evidence base at a national level. While we measure adult wellbeing consistently and at scale, our national statistics for children are smaller scale.

We know that how children and young people are feeling creates a foundation for later life, with 50% of adult wellbeing determined by our life under 18 and predictive up to eight years. To improve wellbeing outcomes for the UK population, and make sure it’s sustainable for the future, we need to regularly and robustly monitor children’s wellbeing and act on the insights. 

We think the best way to do this is measuring children and young people’s wellbeing in schools from key stage 2 as part of the National Pupil Database. This way, we can see the link between performance and wellbeing. The learnings should also be made available to communities as well as schools and colleges to enable them to rapidly understand what makes a real difference and take action.

#BeeWell is an example of a concerted effort to get high-quality wellbeing data to people and organisations who are interested in, care about and can act to support the things that keep young people well at a neighbourhood level.

As part of the survey, pupils provide their residential postcode, which enables the mapping of aggregated data across the neighbourhoods of the city-region to show variation in wellbeing across different communities. This can be explored in Neighbourhood Data Hive, an interactive dashboard.

#BeeWell measures are being adopted by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), ensuring young people’s wellbeing will be at the heart of future strategy, and schools are supported with bespoke, confidential insights to help them understand and use the data.

What’s next?

From Spring 2023, #BeeWell is being delivered in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, as part of the wider aim to establish it as a nationally recognised programme. Over the next three years, the programme will be rolled out in all four Local Authorities within the region, supported by £4 million of investment. This offers an opportunity to coalesce action across the Integrated Care System. 

The survey will be delivered in Autumn 2023 to secondary age pupils in mainstream schools, special schools, independent schools and alternative provision settings. The insights will help guide local government and civil society in improving young peoples’ wellbeing both locally and nationally.

To lead further growth, #BeeWell is seeking to appoint a National Director. The role will support their 10 year plan “to build a movement to give equal weight to wellbeing and academic attainment at the heart of the public policy agenda”.

Find out more about the job opportunity and share with your networks.

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