Wellbeing research at Cambridge CEM

At Cambridge CEM we’re always trying to build a better understanding of our schools. Alongside our development of the Cambridge Wellbeing Check, our researchers carried out two research studies – one about a key area of student wellbeing, and one about teacher wellbeing. Both studies have been published in Cambridge University Press & Assessment’s peer-reviewed journal, Research Matters. We’ve also presented our research at the ICERI 2021 conference.

Learning during lockdown: How socially interactive were secondary school students in England?

By Dr Joanna Williamson (Cambridge University Press & Assessment), Dr Irenka Suto (Cambridge CEM), Dr John Little (Cambridge CEM), Dr Chris Jellis (Cambridge CEM), and Dr Matthew Carroll (Cambridge University Press & Assessment).

For countless students, the national lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 caused serious upheaval. Across England, school closures gave rise to a lot of anxiety, as did Government expectations that most students continued their schooling from home. Alongside lost opportunities for learning, students’ wellbeing was a real concern for parents and teachers. Students’ social interactions with their teachers, each other, family, and friends are critical to both pedagogy and wellbeing.

Our researchers surveyed over 600 secondary school students about their perceptions of their social interactions during school closures in early 2021. They identified big changes in the types of activity occurring both within and outside of lockdown schooling, compared with schooling prior to the pandemic. The students reported spending less time interacting with their teachers and peers though whole class work, small group work, and pair work, and more time working independently. Over half perceived working independently to be helpful, apparently valuing their increased autonomy. The experiences of students learning remotely were strikingly like those of students who attended school during lockdown. That is, face-to-face schooling appeared to have changed temporarily in the direction of remote schooling.

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How well do we understand wellbeing? Teachers’ experiences in an extraordinary educational era

By Dr Chris Jellis (Cambridge CEM), Dr Joanna Williamson (Cambridge University Press & Assessment), and Dr Irenka Suto (Cambridge CEM).

COVID-19 caused many schools to close for long periods in 2020 and 2021. This had a huge impact not only on children, but on teachers too. In this study, our researchers explored teachers’ experiences and concerns during and after England’s national lockdown in early 2021.

54 teachers in England completed a survey based on a well-established scale of teacher wellbeing. They reported their wellbeing around organisation and student interactions was positive both during and after lockdown, but slightly higher after lockdown. However, their workload-related wellbeing was slightly negative overall, and slightly lower after lockdown. Strikingly, the issues that most affected teachers’ wellbeing were not especially connected to lockdown. The teachers were most concerned about the time available to do their jobs and their administrative burdens. Interestingly, some of the longest-serving teachers were amongst those finding that time pressure and administration affected their wellbeing. The researchers concluded longer-term working conditions impacted teachers’ wellbeing far more than teaching through lockdown did. Ensuring wellbeing needs are met in “normal” times may help increase resilience when novel challenges arise.

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Further wellbeing research

CEM’s new Cambridge Wellbeing Check was validated by Dr Ros McLellan and her renowned research group at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education. It was used by a nationally representative sample of over 5,100 students (aged 7-16) in England, and its psychometric properties were analysed statistically for robustness and validity. Since then, we collaborated with the research group to refine the Check a little, and our in-house research team have successfully trialled it with an even more varied sample of schools. We’re excited about our plans to continue our research in the future, exploring how the different types of wellbeing covered in the Check vary across different student populations.

Over time, we also plan to study how wellbeing relates to academic attainment. We think of psychological wellbeing as a personal attribute. Unlike stable personality ‘traits’, however, wellbeing is a transient ‘state’. It can fluctuate over months, weeks, and even days. This means that whilst a measure of wellbeing at a single point in time is unlikely predict success at GCSEs, IGCSEs, IB, or A Levels, repeated measures of an individual’s wellbeing could help to build up a picture of their ‘typical’ wellbeing levels, and this could be relevant.

We’re excited to take you on our wellbeing research journey!


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