Adrian Bethune argues that the happiness and well-being of our children should be the main aim and purpose of our education system and a What Works Centre for well-being will lead the way – gathering the evidence that boosting a child’s well-being often boosts their academic performance too. He asks: will you get on board too or risk being left behind?
As a primary school teacher in Lewisham, I continually question what my purpose is. As I assume most teachers do, I got into teaching because I thought it was a worthwhile career and I thought my work would genuinely benefit children. But all too often I find myself swept up with the bureaucracy of the education system, with the relentless focus on test scores and academic progress (with the frustratingly narrow focus on just English and Maths) and I sometimes forget why I became a teacher. I want to change the system by making our children’s happiness and well-being the main aim of our education system.
However, over the last three years of my relatively short four year teaching career I have made it my mission to try and change the education system. My plan was to start small, by trying to make my classroom the happiest place for me and my kids as it could be, then try and spread this out to other classrooms across my school. Then, once my school becomes the happiest school in the borough, I would then take over the world. No, wait, I mean I would then try and influence more schools and teachers until the happiness and well-being of our children becomes the main aim and purpose of our education system.
What would a What Works Centre for Well-being do?
Which was why I was delighted to be invited to attend the Alliance For Useful Evidence’s seminar on the launching of a What Works Centre for Well-being. In the same way that NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is a What Works Centre for the health and social care profession, the What Works Centre for Well-being would aim to gather together the best research and evidence for what helps people lead happy, fulfilling lives and place this powerful information in the hands of frontline practitioners such as teachers, doctors, health care workers, and in the hands of the policy makers at Whitehall.
We need to gather the evidence that shows well-being boosts academic performance
There is a great demand for a What Works Centre for well-being particularly in education. I know from personal experience how tricky it can be to convince fellow teachers of the need to introduce various well-being measures in their schools. There just isn’t enough time and space in a jam-packed curriculum, they argue.
However, every well-being initiative I’ve introduced into my school (from meditation practices to random acts of kindness projects) has been because the evidence of their success in other school settings was so compelling. When you can show how something works, that is has been rigorously tested, and that it can genuinely benefit children’s lives, then there is no excuse for not implementing it. And when the evidence shows that boosting children’s well-being actually boosts their academic performance too (which it very often does), then suddenly head teachers are making space for these measures in the curriculum. But I’ve had to hunt around for this evidence or I’ve stumbled across it in books or articles that I’ve read.
Having a dedicated centre for well-being would allow teachers like me to see what the latest research shows works for children, and it would allow me to share the evidence and persuade others to try these initiatives out in their classrooms too. More than that, I hope it could even lead to convincing Ofsted and the education secretary of the need for placing children’s well-being at the heart of education.
Imagining the future of well-being
At the event, it was so refreshing to hear influential people talk seriously about putting the well-being of our nation at the forefront of government policy, not purely for economic reasons but, ultimately, because it is the right thing to do! Ideas that were discussed ranged from the sublime (with Lord Gus O’Donnell foreseeing a future where at the start of a government’s term in office, the PM instructs their ministers to structure their budgets to bring about the greatest well-being for the nation), to the rather amusing (David Halpern suggesting HMRC should send thank you letters to tax payers for paying their taxes). On the day we got to discuss what the priorities of the What Works Centre for Well-being could be, and how it could best serve the frontline practitioners and decision makers.
The fact is, well-being is being talked about seriously. It matters to people and it’s starting to force itself inexorably on the agenda of governments. As Richard Layard pointed out at the event, we are at the beginning of the journey but, thankfully, Britain appears to be leading the way. Who knows, maybe in years to come our world-leading finance industry will be superseded by our ground-breaking well-being industry? Ok, maybe not. But still, I’m happy to be doing my bit in the classroom whilst the powers that be slowly but surely get on the well-being bandwagon. The question is, will you get on board too or risk being left behind?
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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.