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Finding happiness in an uncertain world

Rosi Prescott, CEO of Central YMCA, says schools must start prioritising student wellbeing

Posted by Stephanie Broad | August 29, 2016 | Health & wellbeing

Last month, the Boston Consulting Group’s Sustainable Economic Development Assessment (SEDA) found that the UK is ranking below neighbouring countries when it comes to translating economic growth into the wellbeing of its citizens. 

Add to this, the results of our World of Good report, launched earlier this year, which revealed that issues concerning wellbeing, including body image, health, and education, were amongst some of the most pressing concerns of young people in the UK. 

Clearly, something is amiss with how the UK translates growth to happiness. So, as the recent Brexit vote forces even more uncertainty into society, how do we engrain improved wellbeing into our population? And how do we ensure we’re doing this from an early age? 

The fact that there’s a clear link between health and wellbeing and academic attainment in schools, means that it makes little sense for it not to be prioritised  

Assessing wellbeing

Although debatably the essence of human existence, wellbeing has traditionally been hard to distinguish. The very definition of wellbeing - the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy - can be highly subjective, and vary from person to person. This could be attributed as one of the reasons the UK has traditionally found it difficult to get it right. 

Arguably, wellbeing has long been seen as a secondary issue – often overlooked by policy makers, and on scales of global success. However, if the SEDA report tells us anything, it’s that there’s more to think about than just financial performance; wellbeing considerations should be integrated at all levels of society.

Integrating wellbeing in schools   

It’s our belief that wellbeing should be prioritised from an early age - not just when society believes pressures become more stressful. Children are increasingly reporting instances of mental illness and issues around body image in particular, so addressing this type of issue is moving higher and higher up the agenda of most teachers. 

The fact that there’s a clear link between health and wellbeing and academic attainment in schools, means that it makes little sense for it not to be prioritised. Decision and policy makers now have a responsibility to ensure the school environment is working to improve wellbeing for pupils. 

And while some forward thinking schools are making strides in integrating wellbeing specific processes into their schools – meditation and mindfulness courses in some cases - not all are ready for such a big change. For those not ready to fully embrace it in its full form, there are a number of standard school practices which can be optimised as a starting point: 

1. Recognising the link between wellbeing and academic success

The importance of academic success and how this translates into how good students feel about themselves shouldn’t be overlooked. Of course, good quality teaching should be prioritised, but schools should also look further than this, and also start monitoring student engagement in studies and their receptiveness to different methods of teaching. Teaching practices should be adapted to individual students, so they’re able to thrive academically and in turn benefit from improved wellness.   

2. Physical activity and health

Numerous reports demonstrate a strong correlation between being active and academic success, so school activity programmes must be reviewed. Schools might want to consider incorporating physical activity outside of the traditional ‘set hours’ required each week. In addition, health and its importance should be promoted more explicitly in the curriculum and not seen simply as an add-on. 

3. Promoting a safe and secure environment for learners

Fostering an emotionally secure environment – which sets to remove instances of bullying and exclusion - in schools is a crucial aspect of improving wellbeing. Changes in behaviour, including anxiety and any social issues, should be closely monitored and addressed if they begin to become a concern.   

Clearly, there are a number of interlinking factors in the school environment which much be considered – many of which indeed already are, just not necessarily from a wellness standpoint. Ultimately, if issues surrounding wellbeing are prioritised from an early age, we’ll be much more likely to ensure it’s engrained into society and doesn’t become an even bigger issue further down the line. 

Rosi Prescott is CEO of Central YMCA – the UK’s leading health and fitness charity and the world’s first YMCA.    

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