. PSHEeducation | Happiness lessons: the essential prerequisite of top academic results

Sir Anthony Seldon, whose school Wellington College was the first in Britain to introduce timetabled ‘happiness lessons’, says that governments must realise that a focus on mental health, well-being and good character goes hand in hand with top academic results.

His comments this morning come ahead of the launch tomorrow of a major report by Professor Lord Darzi, a former Health Minister, and Prof Lord Layard, an economist and former Government advisor.

The report will say that young people should have weekly ‘happiness lessons’ to counteract the effect of schools being ‘exams factories’. It is being presented at the World Innovation Summit in Health in Doha.

Wellington College has seen a transformation of its academic results since it introduced such lessons in 2006.

Sir Anthony Seldon said: “Governments in Britain and across the world are labouring under a pernicious falsehood, that you either promote student health and well-being in school or you have academic results.

“The truth is that good schools have both. Indeed, schools across the world will be far more likely to achieve top academic results if they teach their young people about their mental health, happiness, well-being and good character. At Wellington College, we have improved from 256th to 21st in the Sunday Times A level league table from 2006-2014, the very years when we have been teaching well-being and happiness.” Wellington is not aware of any school in Britain that has improved so dramatically.

Sir Anthony has long campaigned for this kind of fundamental change in the way that children are educated. He has written ‘An end to factory schools: An education manifesto 2010-2020’, in which he makes 20 recommendations which would help bring about such change.

One in ten young people in Britain now suffer from clinical anxiety and depression and Childline have reported a tripling in the numbers of children receiving stress counselling in the last year.

“All the main political parties should place well-being and character at the heart of their manifestos for education. The Duchess of Cambridge is quite right in calling today for much greater attention to be given to helping young people with mental health problems, and helping to prevent such problems occurring. This is exactly what this emphasis on happiness and well-being will achieve.”

Under the Darzi and Layard proposals, school pupils from the age of five would spend at least one hour a week discussing their emotions, setting positive life goals, and learning how to cope with everyday pressures and social media. [Wellington College. 17.2.2015]