The right tools to evaluate, explore, teach and promote student wellbeing

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The links between wellbeing and student achievement, relationships, behaviour and satisfaction are becoming increasingly clear in schools. Here, we’re re-sharing an article written by Kate Bailey, Managing Director of Cambridge CEM, originally posted on Cambridge Partnership in Education blog, in which she explains some of the key issues around wellbeing in schools and how The Cambridge Wellbeing Check helps give teachers a clear picture of student wellbeing.

Schools and education systems are judged on their students’ academic achievement. But, for learners to thrive, those academic successes also need to be balanced with the wellbeing of teachers, staff and, of course, the children themselves.

There is growing evidence of the links between wellbeing and learning. Students with high levels of wellbeing feel they are enjoying their education, getting the most out of it, and reaching their potential. They are more motivated and engaged.

But how do we ensure this is the case, that children in our schools benefit from good mental wellbeing?

Why wellbeing matters

Measuring and promoting positive student wellbeing has been an area of increasing focus for me and my team at Cambridge’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring. The centre is part of Cambridge University Press & Assessment and we support and work alongside Cambridge Partnership for Education.

"Since the centre’s earliest roots in the 1980s, we’ve focused on what we’ve long known matters for successful student outcomes, namely vocabulary, numeracy and literacy skills. But we know these core skills only form one part of what matters for successful outcomes. Students’ personal attributes are also critical to understanding how they are progressing and performing. And central among these attributes is wellbeing."

For example, imagine a very able student whose achievements in the classroom don’t match that ability. Why are they not performing in the way their teacher would expect? It could be that wellbeing provides context within which the teacher and school can begin to address the student’s underperformance.

A growing focus on wellbeing

The promotion of positive student wellbeing has taken on a new urgency in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the unprecedented disruption it wrought on education systems the world over.

The pandemic has heightened anxiety, impacting on children's feelings about how they’re doing and how well they’re feeling.

But sadly, the problem doesn’t stop at the pandemic. From deepening environmental worries, to conflicts around the world, adults and young people alike are arguably now far more anxious about daily life.

These concerns have propelled wellbeing into education conversations at the highest level. The OECD noted in 2020 that “all OECD countries need to take action if they are to maintain today’s wellbeing for future generations.” And, as my colleague Peter Phillips, Chief Executive at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, commented in May 2022 during the Education World Forum (EWF) in London - the world’s biggest gathering of education ministers - wellbeing “has to be a top priority: for students, teachers and our whole community.”

Supporting teachers

So how can we rise to this challenge, and ensure we approach student wellbeing from a truly evidence-based approach?

We’ve developed a student-based assessment, called the Cambridge Wellbeing Check, to gauge the wellbeing of learners aged between 7 and 18.

It’s based on research carried out by Ros McLellan and Susan Steward, who work in the Faculty of Education, here at Cambridge University. Their research shows that wellbeing may change over time and in different contexts; it could be high at home, but low in school. Also, two children in identical circumstances might experience very different levels of wellbeing. So, if we want to understand wellbeing, we must speak to the children themselves about it. Which is precisely what happens in the Cambridge Wellbeing Check.

It’s a tool that gives you unprecedented insight into how students in your school system are feeling. Your schools can use the check in several ways:

  • Measure how well children are feeling, at any moment. Teachers can use the assessment numerous times during the year, for example at the start of every term. They could use it if something traumatic has happened in their school or in the world, using it to check in on how they’re doing and get an idea of who might need support.
  • Monitor levels of wellbeing across the school and over time, enabling staff to better understand how happy and how well the school is and then create a caring culture - as well as caring for their academic outcomes.
  • Use the check to teach children about wellbeing. Along with the assessment, we have age appropriate lesson plans, enabling schools to share the outcomes from the assessment and use the information to talk about what wellbeing means for each of the children and for the class or school as a whole.

So we’re identifying children who might need support. We’re monitoring wellbeing and developing a caring culture in the school and we’re teaching them about wellbeing; why it matters, how to look after themselves and each other.

It’s hard to think of kids who are in greater need of wellbeing support than those displaced by conflict. As part of work Cambridge is undertaking to support the Ukrainian Ministry of Education & Science, we hope to provide digital evaluations of displaced Ukrainian children’s wellbeing and social and emotional learning. These evaluations will be based on our work on the Cambridge Wellbeing Check, adapted where necessary for this challenging context and to align with generating wider records of learning for Ukrainian children. It’s one small part of a larger collaboration to help the Ukrainian government ensure no child is left behind.

But wellbeing matters for children everywhere. By assessing wellbeing, and acting on the results, you’ll be taking a step towards giving students in your country the support they need to flourish and do better throughout their learning journey.


Find out more about the Cambridge Wellbeing Check

Wellbeing Check