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Jun 23, 2022 | by Nancy Hey

How to put wellbeing at the core of education

The Times Education Commission was set up in June 2021 to consider the future of Britain’s education system and act as a catalyst for fundamental change.

Chaired by Times columnist Rachel Sylvester, the year-long project heard evidence from more than 600 experts across fields including business, arts, politics and education and visited schools across the world. It considered British education in the light of the Covid-19 crisis, declining social mobility, new technology and the changing nature of work. 

Our Executive Director Nancy Hey shares the wellbeing highlights from the Commission’s final report and explores what these mean for the Centre’s mission to understand and share what works to improve the nation’s wellbeing.

Wellbeing is central in the Times Education Commission Final Report

The report mirrors the UK Government’s Levelling Up White Paper by recognising the intrinsic nature of wellbeing and placing it at the core of its agenda.

The report’s 12-point plan, which calls for a reset of the educational system, details two specific recommendations focusing on wellbeing and its measurement:

  • “Wellbeing should be at the heart of education, with […] an annual wellbeing survey of pupils to encourage schools to actively build resilience […].” (Point 7)
  • “[…] a new “school report card” with a wider range of metrics including wellbeing, school culture, inclusion and attendance to unleash the potential of schools.” (Point 9)

The emphasis on wellbeing, as well educational attainment, is right and very welcome. 

Education supports the key drivers of wellbeing, along with employment, health and environment. With 50% of our adult wellbeing determined by our life under 18, how children and young people are feeling creates a foundation for later life. 

In order to improve wellbeing for the UK population as a whole – and our future wellbeing and resilience – we need to be looking regularly at how young people are doing.

Achieving tangible impact through consistent measurement

The Times Education Commission’s call for a national measurement echoes the work we’ve undertaken in partnership with The Children’s Society. Specifically, this has been to audit what tools are being used across the UK to measure children and young people’s wellbeing, and understand what works.

“After over ten years campaigning for a national measure on children’s wellbeing, it’s fantastic to see The Times Education Commission share the call.” – The Children’s Society

To support the levelling up goal of improving wellbeing outcomes across the nation by 2030, a key thing we can do is assess what works, and what is cost and time effective. This can be done by collectively and robustly measuring wellbeing and its drivers in schools from Key Stage 2 (ages 8 – 10 years) upwards. A focus on effectiveness is particularly important in a time when finances are constrained. And we need progress to happen rapidly to ensure tangible impact in areas that make the biggest difference.

Without comparability or reliability benchmarking, our understanding of what works to improve children’s wellbeing in different sectors is limited. There needs to be a core set of robust, consistent, comparable measures used across education which connects with economic, health, community and workplace measures locally and nationally.  

What does this mean in practice?

Measurements of children and young people’s wellbeing should be captured as part of the National Pupil Database so that 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 take action, as it is being done in Greater Manchester through the #BeeWell pilot project.

Our recommendation is to make an action plan based on the domains or drivers or wellbeing (similar to the capitals in levelling up). This brings everything that isn’t educational attainment into a single coordinated plan rather than ad hoc initiatives as leading Heads of Wellbeing are doing. Research on what works for wellbeing in the workplace suggests that both wellbeing and performance are more likely to improve when there is an integrated strategy rather than ad hoc initiatives. 

We need to then implement the plans, including universal social and emotional learning, in schools as professionally as you would English and Maths.

What works so far 

Since 2019, we have begun to search for impact evaluations more systematically, starting with our Rapid Evidence Assessment of wellbeing impact evaluations that use the Office of National Statistic personal wellbeing measures (ONS4). They measure life satisfaction, happiness, sense of purpose, and anxiety. 

The Times Education Commission final report includes recommendations to make greater use of what we already know works, including:

What’s next? 

To achieve a system approach we can continue to:

Read the Times Education Commission’s final report in full.

Explore our work on what tools are being used across the UK to measure children and young people's wellbeing

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Explore our work on what tools are being used across the UK to measure children and young people's wellbeing

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