Could student wellbeing be linked to academic achievement?

Without a doubt, recent events have propelled student wellbeing into the spotlight. I’ve seen with my own eyes how even a ‘happy go lucky and adaptable’ five-year-old can struggle after months locked away from her newly found school friends with just her middle-aged parents to interact and play with! (I won’t even mention the effect of juggling home schooling and work on our wellbeing!).

Student wellbeing certainly isn’t a new concept and there are some great examples from schools who were focusing on it far before the pandemic hit. It is worth noting though at this point that the term ‘wellbeing’ can have different meanings and definitions. Some people use wellbeing as a term for general happiness, others as a term encompassing physical and mental health, but what we can all agree on its importance.

The significance of student wellbeing

This is not just about following the trend of the moment. Student wellbeing is fundamentally important. Low levels of wellbeing and associated mental health problems can have adverse consequences for the health and development of young people. They are usually the precursor to difficulties in adulthood, and are strongly connected with poverty, disadvantage and deprivation, both as causes and as outcomes. Past experiences, attitudes and outlook can all impact wellbeing as can physical or emotional trauma.

On the contrary, students who are happy and healthy tend to be more successful in developing:

  • concentration, motivation and energy levels
  • coping skills for life to help overcome difficulties
  • better relationships with others

And they are more likely to continue with and be successful in their academic studies.

Employers also value soft skills such as emotional resilience, adaptability, and lateral thinking, making it even more important that schools focus on developing these skills in order to support their students’ academic, personal and future professional successes.

This need to focus on student wellbeing inspired our new Oxford International Curriculum (OIC). OIC offers a new approach to teaching and learning with an emphasis on wellbeing and global skills development taught both as stand-alone subjects and interwoven across the four core subjects.  This focus on wellbeing prompted us to commission an Evidence analysis impact study1 to explore any potential links between wellbeing and student outcomes.

Dr Ariel Lindorff, Departmental Lecturer in Research Methods, Department of Education, University of Oxford undertook the research. She analysed a range of literature (research articles, books, etc.) from many different countries to uncover evidence and create an overall picture. Her work centred on whole-school approaches to promoting wellbeing as well as exploring the factors that contribute towards an effective strategy and implementation.

What were the results?

The impact study found strong evidence to suggest that whole-school approaches to promoting wellbeing can have a positive effect on academic attainment as well as other educational outcomes including:

  • mental health
  • self-esteem
  • self-efficacy
  • motivation
  • behaviour
  • decreased probability of dropout.

These findings were extremely encouraging however, as this is a relatively new area for research, it was highlighted that further evidence is needed from studies over longer time periods. The impact study also highlighted that research evidence had observed that in order to maximise chances of success schools needed to:

  • Take an integrated, cross-level (school and classroom) approach
  • Actively engage the wider community
  • Focus on professional development for teachers
  • Ensure that sufficient time and resources are available
  • Put monitoring systems in place.

There is indeed a lot to be considered if you truly want to implement a successful strategy for enhancing the wellbeing of pupils. This is clearly not something that will happen overnight!

Over the next few weeks we will take the key areas identified by the impact study and explore them in more detail together with useful tips and advice from external experts. If you would like to find out more about the impact study and the findings, visit our wellbeing page. Here you can also discover some practical resources and guidance on wellbeing from experts for parents and teachers.

1 An Evidence analysis seeks to find and analyse a range of literature (research articles, books, etc.) on a specific topic of interest to uncover evidence and create an overall picture. You can find a full breakdown of the literature referenced in the full impact study report.

By Jane Digby, Marketing and Communications Manager, Oxford Impact, Oxford University Press (OUP)

Jane works with OUP teams all over the world helping them share the evaluation findings gained from undertaking impact studies on our products and services. With over 20 years’ experience in educational publishing and IT, she is passionate about how educational resources can have a positive impact and support teaching and learning.