I think we would all agree that today’s world is ‘loud’, both literally and metaphorically. We face tremendous levels of sensory stimulation, be it in the form of noise, traffic, crowds of people, clutter, and ever-present electronic devices.
It is within this modern era that paying attention to a child’s wellbeing is of prime importance, particularly if we want them to develop into well-rounded individuals, who can achieve academically and are able to flourish as global citizens of the future. For a child, achieving positive wellbeing requires support from anyone who spends an extended amount of time with them on a regular basis, however this piece concentrates on why a focus on wellbeing should be part of a child’s educational experience.
The Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations defines pupil wellbeing as “a sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school.”
Much research, has highlighted links between pupil health and education, which provides conclusive evidence underlining the value for schools (and their pupils) in making wellbeing a discrete part of their curriculum. Key points highlighted by a Public Health England briefing in 2014 included:
- Pupils with better health and wellbeing are likely to achieve better academically.
- Effective social and emotional competencies are associated with greater health and wellbeing, and better achievement.
- The culture, ethos and environment of a school influences the health and wellbeing of pupils and their readiness to learn.
- A positive association exists between academic attainment and physical activity levels of pupils.
Top achieving schools have led the way in focusing on a number of areas where they can help to support and improve their pupils’ general wellbeing. These include promoting social and emotional learning to give pupils important skills in cooperation, empathy, resilience, responsible decision making and effective problem solving. As children acquire knowledge, attitudes and skills through a range of social and emotional learning experiences, they learn how to understand and control their emotions, establish and achieve goals and establish supportive relationships, building a strong sense of self-worth and self-belief. These give children the confidence to take risks, to try new things, to step out of their comfort zone, to not be afraid of failure. Sometimes the most meaningful learning is achieved through trying, failing, amending and trying again.
By engaging pupils through inspirational, innovative and individualised learning, schools can build a relationship between wellbeing and attainment that is mutually beneficial “Engaged students do better and doing better increasesengagement.”5 Children who are taught by professionals who differentiate the learning for every child in their class, who look beyond the ‘normal’ way of instruction to motivate and challenge their pupils and who break down barriers between subjects to develop inter-disciplinary awareness and create relevance, are interested, motivated and excel.
Alongside this, praising a child’s efforts rather than focusing on the end product, has long reaching implications in terms of a child’s attainment and their wellbeing, many of which are outlined in Carol Dweck’s studies on Growth Mindset6. We have seen the impact of this at Brighton College, where praising and celebrating our pupil’s efforts rather than the final accomplishment has led to not only increased levels of effort but of achievement as well.
It is equally vital that schools create a safe and nurturing physical and emotional environment for their pupils. As Public Health England states “the physical and social environment in which staff and pupils spend a high proportion of every weekday must have profound effects on the physical, emotional and mental health as well as affecting their attainment.” It goes without saying that schools should be a place where children are safe from danger, somewhere that affords child protection the upmost importance.
The development of positive relationships between all parts of a school community – pupils, staff and parents, is also critical in promoting a supportive emotional environment, free from negative behaviours such as bullying. Leading schools have also increasingly focused on providing a physical environment that actively promotes learning and nurtures wellbeing, rather than one of formal, institutionalised spaces Children learn best when they are comfortable and making a school a welcoming and homely environment helps them to progress.
The schools successfully promoting positive pupil wellbeing are the ones who take a whole school approach, where wellbeing under pins all aspects of academic life. This reflects the holistic concept of wellbeing, whereby the focus is on engaging and developing the multi-dimensional levels of each child’s character – physical, emotional, psychological and social.
In the modern world schools have a responsibility to promote the wellbeing of children and elevate its importance within the academic environment. Schools not only help shape a child’s mental and physical health they also play a broader role in the development of young people in becoming thoughtful, caring citizens who respect themselves, others and the world around them. As the Chief Medical Officer of England reported in 2012 “promoting physical and mental health in schools creates a virtuous circle reinforcing children’s attainment and achievement that in turn improves their wellbeing, enabling children to thrive and achieve their full potential.”