Articles 4. Evidence and well-being: join the campaign to re-balance the way in which we hold schools to account

4. Evidence and well-being: join the campaign to re-balance the way in which we hold schools to account

Children with higher levels of well-being do better academically, according to evidence discussed by Joe Hayman, Chief Executive of the PSHE Association. But the balance of accountability in schools is biased towards academic outcomes. We need to change this and have a concerted push to bring schools to account for how they promote the well-being of their students.

Well-being: a statutory obligation for education

In debates about raising academic standards it’s forgotten that schools have a statutory obligation to promote pupil well-being. The 2014 national curriculum states that every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which promotes pupils’ spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development. Ian Morris, PSHE lead from Wellington College, provided a fascinating input at the workshop about how PSHE education as part of a whole school approach can support pupil well-being.

Ofsted: pupil well-being “Not yet good enough”

We know that not all schools give such prominence to PSHE education and wider pupil well-being. A 2013 Ofsted report found that PSHE education is “not yet good enough”, with over 40% of schools needing to improve their provision. The report directly related this position to lack of curriculum time, teacher training and low priority for the subject in many schools.

The challenge is far wider than PSHE education.  A 2013 survey of 2,500 teachers reported that as schools increased their focus on a narrow band of academic subjects there was a decline in planned provision of a range of non-academic.

Well-being linked to academic success

Those of us familiar with research showing that pupil well-being has a direct impact on academic outcomes know that this view is counterproductive. For example, The impact of children’s well-being on educational outcomes showed that children with higher levels of well-being have higher levels of academic achievement and are more engaged in school, make more progress in primary school and are more engaged in secondary school. The evaluation of the National Healthy Schools Programme, provided evidence of the impact of pupils’ development and health improvement on attainment, showing improved pupil behaviour, attitudes, confidence and concentration, and a positive influence on achievement, attendance and exclusion, while a DfE-funded 2007-2010 study of emotional resilience programmes in 22 UK schools found improvements increased attainment and attendance.

We need to expand and promote the evidence

For those committed to pupil well-being, there is a clear imperative to add to this evidence base and then promote it to heads and governors, academy chains, local authorities and those working at a national level to develop accountability measures and frameworks for schools. I hope that the new What Works Centre for Well-being will not only support the development of the evidence base linking school-based well-being interventions with academic and non-academic outcomes but that it will also join the campaign to rebalance the way in which we hold schools to account.

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Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.