Research: Moving Beyond Student Wellbeing

Lynn How

Lynn is the Editor at Teacher Toolkit. With 20 years of primary teaching and SLT experience, she has been an Assistant Head, Lead Mentor for ITT and SENCO. She loves to write and also has her own SEMH and staff mental health blog: Lynn…
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Are current school wellbeing practices effective?

All too often, wellbeing policies and practices in school have been a surface value, box-ticking exercise. This research sets out to deepen understanding of how to create effective wellbeing environments, as well as highlight the currently less effective practice in some international settings


This article critiques contemporary understandings and practices related to wellbeing in education.

Beyond Wellbeing


This article analyses conceptual and policy frameworks related to wellbeing in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Findings from 222 interviews with educators include terms of their understanding of wellbeing. There are also references to the research and development work in the U.S., Germany, and Norway.


Wellbeing in educational policies and settings are an important step forward in educational change …

… but this progress is in danger of being reified through simplistic understandings of life satisfaction and other frameworks that evade the complexity of human development.

Further noteworthy areas

  1. The study mentions comparisons between global education systems
  2. It gives reference to the opinion that test-led systems narrow curricula
  3. The notion of wellbeing is defined regarding the negative aspects of raising academic achievement
  4. Questions are raised regarding the focus on more positive aspects of wellbeing
  5. There is no acknowledgement of other emotions and how to navigate them
  6. The pandemic questioned traditional methods of education and,
  7. How to look beyond wellbeing to support pupil aspirations and resilience.

In 2016, the OECD published its first child wellbeing study to accompany the usual PISA test results.

The data showed that high-achieving Korea and Japan ranked near the bottom for child wellbeing, as did the four jurisdictions in the People’s Republic of China. Norway, firmly in the middle of the PISA academic rankings, was at the top. Child wellbeing was only average in the highly touted reference societies of Canada and Singapore.

Ontario school findings

  1. Within the study of Ontario schools, wellbeing programs such as yoga were popular
  2. More energetic wellbeing concepts, such as play, were not conceptualised in the Canadian structure.
  3. In Ontario, the wellbeing agenda appeared to be mainly supporting the management of stress caused by exams.
  4. The reader is encouraged to think beyond wellbeing and imagine an education for wholeness.

Wellbeing was not being developed to promote critical ways of thinking about the world, or to impart to the young moral lessons that could help with their overall socialization.

Bringing purpose into schools

The study states this can be improved by:

  1. ‘Deep learning’ whereby pupils can have some choice over what they are learning
  2. Enhanced teaching to open dialogue about the purpose of activities; many teachers evaded pupil questions
  3. Small-scale purposeful interventions for pupils with a role model.

Finally, another way to bring purpose into schools would be by transforming entire schools and systems so that all students have opportunities for continual conversations with adults about what activities they could find meaningful and how best to realise them.


  1. Wholeness: This regard refers to the dynamic unfolding of the individual over time. This includes the ability of the self to practice mindful detachment and to view oneself from other points of view, including critical ones. Such a disposition should not be viewed as one tangential part of education, but rather as an essential component of one’s moral formation over time.
  2. Incorporation of wholeness: This can be done in small steps, changing our pedagogies and revising curricula. More ambitiously, it is time to rethink the bureaucratic structures of schooling that too often lead to dehumanising situations in which students are not encouraged to explore the purposes they want to give to their lives.
  3. Educator influence: Educators frequently underestimate their power and influence, deferring to the authority of others even if they know better.
  4. Rethink: Our schools need a fresh burst of humanistic education. This must value individuals in their quest for wellbeing and encourage them to be their best whole selves, with freely chosen inspirational purposes guiding their lives.

By bringing issues of wholeness and purpose back into the centre of contemporary school improvement deliberations, it is possible to develop models of education that go deeper and are more rewarding than has been attainable in the recent past.