“What is the place of wellbeing in education?”
That was the question we asked ourselves over two years ago when we were examining the reasons behind the decline of staff and pupil wellbeing and why the narrative promoting a whole school approach to health and wellbeing wasn’t landing in the education sector.
On reflection, perhaps the better question is ‘What is the role of education in improving wellbeing?’
So, one year on from launching Well Schools, what have we learnt?
During the past 18 months, we have all faced a reality check about what is important in our lives.. Organisationally, too, we have had to re-examine many aspects of our work, but our mission to improve children’s wellbeing and to support schools and stakeholders to put wellbeing at the heart of everything they do remains paramount. In fact, COVID-19 has made our mission more vital and our ambition to create a Well School movement more important than ever.
The purpose of the Well School movement is to support schools to drive improvements in wellbeing for all teachers, senior leaders and young people by placing wellbeing at the very heart of school life. It isn’t a programme, quality mark or intervention; it’s all of us coming together to drive change, share challenges and solutions and help each other to navigate all the support that is already available. What we learned very quickly is that the opportunity to change the system is now, and the narrative we need to create for staff and pupils should be about positivity and looking forward.
We learned that we shouldn’t be waiting for policy, strategy, investment, or a mandate. With unprecedented numbers leaving the profession, this is about ensuring our schools are WELL LED by a staff body that is itself supported and well themselves. With a rise in childhood poverty and reduced life-chances, it is about ensuring children are WELL EQUIPPED with the human skills and characteristics they need to thrive and achieve their potential in employment and life and, with the world falling down around them, it is about ensuring they are WELL PREPARED for learning and coping with daily life through positive physical and mental health.
Let me be clear, this isn’t about schools abandoning their educational priorities and suddenly delivering health programmes. It is instead about understanding that addressing the decline in children’s wellbeing will bring improvements in progress and achievement. It is about educating the heart as well as the mind, creating a well-rounded young person equipped with the skills and experiences to take their place in the world. It is about developing citizens who are healthy and ready for their future. However, we have learnt that none of this is possible if the role models in front of them are suffering from increased stress and anxiety, workload challenges and are feeling undervalued.
So, we launched Well Schools back in September 2020, fast tracked due to the global pandemic during which the focus on these issues has been dramatically intensified. We launched a free-to-access community and we now have close to 750 amazing schools all sharing resources and insight into how they are delivering their Well School vision. We have also been supported by 30 founding schools, an incredible education board and a group of inspiring education and wellbeing partners including ASCL, and the welcome investment and leadership from Bupa Foundation.
How has Covid changed our vision?
All the pieces are now in place, so what does the future look like and what are the positives we can take from the last 12 months that can shape the direction of travel? Well Schools is putting all these questions and insights into guiding schools by:
- Activating a movement for change through Well Schools
- Developing a high-quality community of practice led by schools, for schools.
We must try to take a positive from the doom mongering around catch-up and loss. It has shown that children’s education needs a rethink, and it is heartening to see so many prominent leaders and organisations in the sector calling for that change, and in some cases, driving the change. Well Schools is here to help. We will support and mobilise the movement for change, by putting a spotlight on the key issues and challenges, helping to provide the solutions, and influencing on behalf of staff and pupils on the importance of wellbeing in education.
We need to support schools and colleagues when they join the movement and it is so important that this support comes from other likeminded schools and professionals - that is where the community of practice plays its part. It will help schools navigate their own Well School journey, navigate the confusing and over-populated landscape and, particularly right now, help find solutions for the key challenges that have been heightened these last twelve months:
- How do you develop a culture and ethos across a school that is built on a foundation of ethical leadership and in which staff and pupil voices are valued?
- What are the key ingredients for a staff wellbeing charter that helps the workforce navigate these tough times and retains them within the profession as motivated, effective, and well practitioners?
- How can we use our curriculum and enrichment programmes to ensure all children leave school with the personal traits that allow them to thrive in their future life?
- What are the benefits of supporting positive physical and mental health at the heart of school life as a foundation for health and happiness?
- How do you measure the impact of this and engage parents in the positive contribution a school is making to the wellbeing and future life chances of every child?
They seem like really big questions to answer. However, to use a sporting analogy, this is a marathon not a sprint. Rather than rushing to repair the damage of Covid with sticking plasters, we need to lay out a vision for the entire future of education with real clarity about the place of wellbeing within it, and more specifically, the role education has to play in improving wellbeing over the next 5 to 10 years.
It must be our joint aspiration to make every school a Well School.
Chris Wright - Head of Health & Wellbeing, Youth Sport Trust