Since Aristotle in his Nicomachean ethics (350BC) used the term eudemonia, which today we refer to as well-being, academics continue to debate its definition often using objective measures that include social and economic conditions such as income, educational resources and health status whilst others have used subjective indicators including life satisfaction, anxiety and emotional well-being. Two of the most basic human needs are health and education and if we look at the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child we see that the right to be educated and the right to be healthy are two of the key principles. Education and health are underlying basic and intermediate needs.
Morrison, Gutman and Vorhaus’s study (2012) demonstrates the importance of well-being for children and adolescents throughout their primary and secondary school education. For academic progression, better emotional well-being is a key factor and studies indicate that activity and attention problems are associated with lower educational outcomes for children with SEN (Special Educational Needs).
It is obvious that early intervention strategies are needed to identify and support children in their emotional well-being when they have difficulty learning. Children who exhibit signs of troublesome behaviour may even be prevented from taking a downward spiral of disengagement. Therapeutic intervention can enable effective learning which in turn supports positive health and well-being, and good levels of health and well-being support effective learning.
Across Great Britain governments are mindful of the capability approach of equality and they all strive to try to balance things out and promote well-being in schools to ensure pupils realise their potential and schools are inspected on how they manage pupils well –being. In May 2014 the National Assembly for Wales brought out an act to reform social services law; to make provision about improving the well-being outcomes for people who need care and support. The act specifies that in relation to a child, “well-being” also includes physical, intellectual, emotional, social and behavioural development.
It is a school’s duty to create a nurturing and stimulating learning environment, to promote and enhance health and well-being. It is essential that staff recognise when and what kind of support is needed to ensure the mental, emotional and social needs of pupils are met.
Dr Anthony Seldon, founder of Action for Happiness and Head of Wellington College, claims that the education system now ‘focuses too heavily on academic learning and attainment and not enough on education for life.’
It can be difficult to measure well-being accurately. Measuring objective well-being usually consists of collecting data. If we try to measure subjective well-being we come across the problem that feelings, like happiness, anger or enjoyment, are actually difficult to measure. When pupils have difficulty communicating all that we can do is study the behaviour of a person to gauge their well-being.
Because of the inclusion agenda, pupils in both mainstream schools and special school often have health difficulties as well as learning difficulties and sometimes they have emotional difficulties. Before they can actually access an education they have to feel able to access it. Schools throughout Great Britain provide various therapies to aid pupils’ access to education and improve their well-being. The way we interact with our most vulnerable members of society teaches them about their perceived value and place in society.
Do these therapies have any impact on the pupils’ educational progress and their health? Do these therapies have an impact on their well-being? In the data driven society that we have become evidence is needed to show whether any therapeutic intervention has any impact.
Neuroscience claims that what people say about how they feel corresponds closely to actual levels of activity in different areas of the brain and that therefore you can measure subjective well-being or happiness simply by asking people or their carers how the person feels. This is one of the things that we have done as a school. All of this information is analysed and a report produced. (p.106 The Future of Special Schools and Therapeutic Intervention :Amazon:2015). However we also use assessment data to back this up.
There is a need for a systematic study across all schools to focus on how they promote access to the curriculum for children with learning difficulties and how this can improve their well-being and ability to learn. There is also a need to provide data analysis to show how effective this is.
At the beginning of the 21st Century in order to bring education into line with the needs of society, it has been necessary for many countries to undertake a complete revision of the methods and aims of education systems. Pupil well-being is at last being taken into account during this revision.
The future of education in Great Britain appears promising.
Ange Anderson is a head teacher/ Principal of a special school catering for pupils aged 2 to 11 during the school day and people with learning difficulties in the evenings and at weekends.
Ange has written articles for prestigious journals and has a strong public speaking record raising awareness of the incredible benefits of therapies in schools and this year alone spoke in Poland, Portugal, Japan, America and Dubai and was guest speaker at the SWALSS; Headteacher and Principals annual conference in 2016 in Torquay.
The pupils and adults attending Ange Anderson's school have learning difficulties ranging from Profound and Multiple, Severe and Complex to Emotional and behavioural needs. 75% of our pupils have autism as a primary or secondary diagnosis.
The school currently provides 24 different therapeutic interventions. If you visit our website and head to the therapy video section you can see some of our therapies in action
Also, in Ange's words "In January 2015 our book “ The Future of Special Schools and Therapeutic Intervention” was published. In October 2015 we held the first International Therapies in Education Conference and many well known people in the field gave workshops and demonstrations. Ysgol Pen Coch offers workshops in different therapies.You can find out more here
We also held a Cosplay Masquerade on 2nd of July 2016 in the school grounds and the 2nd international Therapies in Education conference on 21st October 2016. The magazine Special Children published an article on us November 2016"