What is it that makes you happy?
For many people, life satisfaction will be influenced by many
different factors, including their family and education. For those
working in the education world, the aim of achieving happiness for
pupils once they leave school and become adults may be a motivating
factor, but rarely something they can focus on day-to-day.
Do teachers, politicians and civil servants go about their work
thinking, "how can I help the next generation to be happy?"
Possibly not. However, if a population shows widespread life
satisfaction and wellbeing, surely we are all doing our jobs
"While supporting students to achieve
their academic potential is certainly important, it is not the be
all and end all for helping children become fulfilled
What is the purpose of education?
As highlighted by LSE
researchers, education policymakers have focused much of their
attention on improving academic achievement over the last half
century, in the hope that this will result in higher levels of life
satisfaction amongst the population. But with this focus on high
academic achievement, have we lost sight of why we want our
children to get good grades?
The assumption may be that if you get good grades, you can leave
school, get a good job and "be happy". However, data on children's
emotional and mental health in the UK shows that this generation
are amongst the least happy in the world, with British
ranking 14th out of 15 countries for wellbeing in relation
to life satisfaction.
While supporting students to achieve their academic potential at
school is certainly important, it is not the be all and end all for
helping children to become fulfilled adults.
Broadening our focus
With this in mind it is clear that the current focus of the
education system must be broadened. By putting academic achievement
above all other aims, we are missing an opportunity.
Instead of purely focusing on improving test scores, schools
could be taking steps to empower and equip young people with skills
to develop their emotional wellbeing. These skills include things
like self-awareness, empathy, communication and the ability to work
research shows, skills that promote emotional wellbeing
are best indicators for whether a child will grow into a happy
adult. All these abilities are things that can be taught in
schools, and have a much greater bearing on our life satisfaction
as adults than test scores do.
This is not to say that academic achievement is not important,
but it is to say that putting emphasis on emotional health is the
best thing we can do to help ensure that the next generation can
"It is vital that policymakers take note
of this, as the current emphasis on grades over emotional health is
letting our young people down"
The vital importance of emotional health
As the CEO of an emotional health charity working with schools
across the UK, I have seen this in evidence. A primary school we
work with in a deprived area of Oxford is one of many that has
embraced a "whole school approach" to teaching their students
essential social and emotional skills over the past decade.
This means that all their staff are trained to support their own
and the children's emotional health, the school's policies align
with principles of emotional health and wellbeing, the students
receive a social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum to develop
their skills, and parent groups are on offer too. All this adds up
to relationships being at the core of the school's ethos, to create
the best possible basis for learning.
We know that happiness, or life satisfaction, rests on many
different factors, including family life, employment, income,
physical and mental health, and others. But if a child has these
vital social and emotional skills nurtured in them throughout their
education, they will be in a much stronger position to lead a
fulfilled life than if they had straight A grades but lacked these
essential life skills.
It is vital that policymakers take note of this, as the current
emphasis on grades over emotional health is letting our young
Haisman-Smith is Chief Executive at Family
Links and the Nurturing Schools Network.
Find out more about the Emotional Health for All campaign and follow on
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