Yesterday’s event at the House of Commons was chaired by Lisa Nandy MP and included on its panel Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, and director of the Wellbeing project at the LSE, and Stephen Twigg, the shadow secretary of state for education.
Lisa Nandy‘s introduction to the meeting raised the question of what we mean by a decent and proper childhood. Hunger and adequate nutrition are problems for too many of our children and families – which is almost incredible in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
What else do people really care about? Some key points raised at the meeting concerned the wellbeing of children and families, bullying, and how children’s wellbeing is affected by the pressure of examinations.
Richard Layard stressed that our politics should be about the things that matter the most to people – the things they worry about the most. It’s clear from research that the quality of relationships and mental health are the foremost concerns of the great majority – not wealth or income.
Most of us are primarily concerned about relationships with our partners and our children; how our children get on with others; our own mental health.
Are we satisfied with life? Income dissatisfaction explains just 1% of unhappiness. Mental health is the absolute key, and the greatest worry. One third of families have mental health problems within their family circle.
Children also say that relationships are the things that concern them the most – at home and at school.
What’s very clear is that there is NO proper preparation for parenthood, and very little education for relationships and conflict management. Is it any wonder, then, that behaviour in schools is such a major issue, or that so many children identify relationships and poor classroom behaviour as the things that most impair their learning?
A big concern for us has to be about basic training for teachers, and to what extent personal, social and emotional learning is part of every teacher’s professional development. Lisa Nandy has tabled an amendment to the current Bill going through Parliament but she’s not hopeful that its call for PSHE to be a statutory element in the curriculum will be agreed or even considered, as the amendment is not at or near the top of the list for consideration. It’s appalling that important pieces of legislation like the one currently going through Parliament do not have time scheduled for proper consideration, scrutiny, debate and amendment.
Schools need a “wellbeing and values” policy. Character development is crucial, as are attitudes, values, and a sense of purpose in life. Wellbeing should be a policy goal for the next government, since the present government seems concerned solely with academic attainment. (see today’s announcement by the secretary of state – yet another attempt to force through a set of examinations that maintain a focus on timed test results to the exclusion of all else, and to the great disadvantage of children who struggle to demonstrate their learning through feats of memorisation and the regurgitation of knowledge in high-stakes timed examinations.)
Stephen Twigg told the meeting that early action and intervention is the key to solving these problems of wellbeing. “There has been a move away from wellbeing since 2010.” Good schools put a strong emphasis on building character, respect, relationships, self-expression and listening skills. Also on building up confidence and resilience. Citizenship is also considered important.
Our own 3Di comments at the meeting:
1) Children who are engaged and interested in their learning aren’t disruptive
2) Every Child Matters was an excellent strategy in principle – but in practice the focus of government and Ofsted was entirely on raising academic attainment
3) PSHE ought to be a strong element in every school curriculum, and part of every teacher’s remit – but there is currently negligible initial teacher training in these crucial areas of teaching and learning.