Three headlines from the BBC Education website – at first glance unrelated but with a possible connection:
First headline: “Children’s mental health service cut”
Second headline: “Parents ‘ignore school league tables’”
Third headline: “Short-term politics ‘damages schools’”
On one level this could be depressing reading (apart from the information that league tables are almost irrelevant for parents).
- £50 million cut from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services since 2010 is horrendous in itself. Add to this the fact that only 6% of mental health funding is spent on young people and this becomes an abomination of short-sightedness.
(For more statistics and comments on wellbeing, take a look at our post from June 2014 reporting on Dr Tanya Byron’s address to the Festival of Education at Wellington College).
- Parents’ views on education and what is needed for their children are all too frequently ignored. That’s a sad indictment on the system and the whole notion of parental choice.
- The whims of consecutive Secretaries of State for education have been the driving force for policy change, not the needs of young people.
This is a sorry acknowledgement of the current situation yet there’s a glimmer of hope that connects these stories, and it’s all about wellbeing in one form or another.
Wellbeing is important. Wellbeing has to be at the core of what we all do in the name of education, for the good of our children and young people. This is what parents want. It’s certainly what our young people want and we’re confident that this is what professionals in schools want too – for our children to be well.
Today, Sir David Bell has criticised the political interference that directs policy. Like others, he is calling for an independent body to make educational decisions.
Whilst he doesn’t use the word “wellbeing”, there would certainly be an improvement in the wellness of schools and teachers if they felt more empowered to act in accordance with their philosophy of education rather than having to adhere to imposed doctrines and policies.
(NB to BBC headline writers: The headline for this piece says “Political interference ‘damages schools’”. More accurately – political interference damages children and teachers.)
David Bell has called for no further imposed changes to education during the course of the next parliament. This may be welcome news to teachers, and yet, can we really maintain the status quo in its current form – which has been brought about by the least popular secretary of state for education in living memory?
Moving on to the next story, the BBC reports on the NASUWT commissioned survey of parents. 87% of parents are satisfied with their children’s teachers and 95% agree that it’s important for their children’s teachers to have a professional qualification. Yet it’s in the qualities of a “good school” where we get a clear picture of priorities for parents.
Asked to name the five most important qualities they wanted in a school:
54% listed supportive staff
39% a good inspection report
38% a track record on dealing with bad behaviour and bullying
36% good buildings and facilities
21% good league table positions
(Quote from the BBC article on Parent Survey above)
The desire for “supportive staff” is far more important than a school’s position in league tables.
Could one argue, therefore, that wellbeing and nurturing of the whole child is more important for parents than their academic attainment?
Is the tide turning? Or has this always been the case for parents: that their fundamental desire is for their children to be happy, contented, well, safe – and have these important factors or values have been ignored or neglected in the name of driving up standards?
Naturally parents want their children to achieve but these statistics also indicate a real concern and wish for the wellbeing of children to be a vital component of education and schooling.
Returning to Sir David Bell’s request that education should be left alone for the five year duration of the next parliament – can we really maintain the status quo in its current form in the light of this survey? Can we maintain the status quo when so many of our children and young people aren’t receiving the CAMHS provision they need to be well?
We also have to address another issue.
Many schools are patently aware of the needs of the child and are trying to promote and nurture wellbeing – but they’re stymied in their efforts. Schools have a range of slogans and buzz words to promote independent learning, love of learning and wellbeing, and these should be lauded. Yet the overpowering rule of the league table undermines these values.
One example from a school we know advocates “self-managers, team workers, creative thinkers, effective participants, and ownership of learning” – all positive qualities that support the wellbeing of the learner. Another has 5Rs “readiness, resourcefulness, resilience, reflection, responsibility” – again all positive attributes for enabling learning which should contribute to the wellbeing of the child.
Simultaneously, however, these schools are concerned about their position in the league tables. This translates into a micro-management of learning and as such completely goes against the notion of self-management and ownership of learning. They expect hours of homework which severely tests rather than supports a young persons’ resilience and resourcefulness – all because schools are judged purely or mainly on academic attainment and not on their efforts to nurture the individual child and promote wellbeing.
The appalling increase in the number of children who are self-harming is NOT a coincidence. This is an outcome of extreme pressure and a lack of support for their personal and social development which has been effectively side-lined due to constraints on curriculum time for PSHE education as well as inappropriate pedagogy.
So whilst we understand Sir David Bell’s request for some peace, we also feel that the needs of young people should take precedence and we can’t continue with a system that’s unsupportive of wellbeing.
These BBC reports are very different but if we delve into the messages that are coming out of all three reports, they all demonstrate a need for change and that this change is about the promotion of wellbeing.
Parents want their children to be supported – and a nurturing staff appears to be the major factor when choosing a school.
Sir David Bell wants autonomy for the profession. This is a wellbeing issue as well as recognition of the professionalism of teachers. The potential impact on the wellbeing of the child is enormous.
The very fact that mental health issues are so prevalent in reports on education is evidence that people want change. We can’t maintain the status quo when so many are suffering.
We refer back to our previous post on wellbeing for a possible way forward. If we use our 3Di definitions to direct policy AND practice, then we could have an education system that’s fit for purpose and is acceptable to parents, practitioners and pupils – and in the long term will support the development of a more emotionally intelligent society, one that puts wellbeing at the core of its being.