Wellbeing in schools is now being discussed more than ever around the world. But if your school is serious about wellbeing and implementing it, how can you measure the improvement of it?
Can you measure wellbeing?
The simple answer is yes, and economists, psychologists and even governments have been doing it for decades. To measure wellbeing in a school, you can ask people about their lives and how they feel about them (such as how safe someone feels, or how satisfied they feel about their life overall), as well as tracking any observable factors (such as rates of absence).
Importantly, you don’t measure wellbeing as a one-off but you track it over time.
The link between wellbeing and attainment
Measuring wellbeing also makes sense because of its links with positive educational outcomes. A recent Impact Study carried out by Dr Ariel Lindorff at Oxford University, looked at international research over the last 10 years, to better understand links between wellbeing and academic attainment as well as other educational outcomes. The study concluded that there is strong international evidence to support the claim that ‘whole-school approaches’ to promoting wellbeing can influence academic attainment and have positive effects on a wide range of other educational outcomes, including mental health, motivation and behaviour.
Top tips for measuring wellbeing in schools: a beginner’s guide
Below are some things to consider when measuring wellbeing in your school, to make it a more effective and meaningful process
- Start with your intention
You first need to decide what you want to measure. Are you hoping to take a snapshot of overall pupil wellbeing in the school to track over time? Or are you wanting to measure the impact of interventions used with a select group of children? Your intention will help you decide which measure to use.
- Do your research
There are many different wellbeing measures out there which all measure slightly different things. The Anna Freud Centre have designed a toolkit for measuring children’s wellbeing and the Child Outcomes Research Consortium have created a free e-learning module called ‘measuring mental wellbeing to improve the lives of children and young people’. This useful Employee Wellbeing Snapshot Survey by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing can also be a great starting point when it comes to staff wellbeing. It’s very useful to use measures that are well established and that you can benchmark against.
Keep in mind your intention and choose a wellbeing measure that is right for your context.
- Select a way to capture the data
Schools can conduct surveys using free resources such as Google Forms, or an excel spreadsheet. Although these may save you money, they may cause more stress and take up more time when it comes to analysing the data. Again, research the different wellbeing measurement platforms out there that help you capture and analyse the data such as Bounce Together, Tranquiliti or Edukit and choose one that works for you.
- Explain to people why you’re measuring wellbeing and what you’ll do with the data
You might want to tell students (and their parents and carers via a letter home) that you want to see how they feel about their lives inside and outside of school and what the school can do to make their lives better. Similarly, you may explain the survey to staff, as it is intended to see how they feel about working at the school and what could be done to improve their working lives.
Communicate clearly why you’re measuring wellbeing with students, parents and staff.
- Measure wellbeing and get a baseline
The next step is to allow students and staff to fill in the surveys and make it as easy for them as possible (the more responses the better!). It’s important to let them know that if answering the questions brings up anything uncomfortable for them, they can speak to someone inside the school (make sure there is someone available like a school counsellor or Mental Health First Aider). The data you capture at this stage, assuming it’s your first time, is your baseline data. Any changes in wellbeing can then be compared to this starting point.
- Analyse the data
Averages can hide differences in wellbeing between different groups. By using well-designed wellbeing measurement platforms you should be able to dig deeper into the data. It might be useful to look at how girls are doing compared to boys, or children with special educational needs, children from low-income families, or how individual classes compare. There might also be national data to compare against to see how your staff and students are doing in a wider context.
- Share the results
It’s important that wellbeing measurement isn’t something that’s done and only the senior staff get to see the results. The data ultimately belongs to the people who filled in the survey so find an accessible and easy-to-understand way of sharing the results with students and staff. Highlight what your school is doing well and celebrate your school’s strengths, as well as identifying any areas that need work.
- Make a plan of action and involve all stakeholders
Once you know the areas that you need to work on, ask students and staff to join the decision-making process. For instance, if students answered that they don’t feel listened to at the school, ask them what they think could be done to make things better. Reach out to other schools to see who has effective ways of listening to and acting upon student voice and share these ideas too. Give the key stakeholders in the school the autonomy and agency to be part of the process for change and start to make a plan for what changes can take place.
- Put the plan into action
You’ve surveyed wellbeing. You’ve identified strengths and weaknesses. You’ve engaged stakeholders in the planning and decision-making process. Now it’s time to put the plan into action. Decide who is responsible for delivering the various actions, set time frames and give them the support they need to succeed.
- Measure again and continue the cycle
Once your action plan is being enacted, you’ll need to review if the changes are working and having an impact, so it’ll be time to measure wellbeing again following the steps above.
Measuring wellbeing doesn’t have to be a long or complicated process. It allows schools to see if what they’re doing is making the difference they want it to which is, ultimately, to improve the quality of people’s lives.
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About the author
Adrian Bethune is a part-time primary school teacher and the education policy co-lead at the Mindfulness Initiative. He also delivers wellbeing-focused training in schools across Europe. Adrian is an award-winning author on the topic of wellbeing, and is the lead author for the Oxford International Wellbeing Curriculum.