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Pupils put their happiness on the map

Can you map the happiness in your school? Asking pupils to think about happiness and happy places not only improves their geography, but can lead to better schools, according to an academic.

Dr Fran Martin, senior lecturer in education at Exeter University, and colleague Tessa Willy, senior lecturer at Roehampton University, are calling for schools to take part in a project to draw maps of their happy places.

Teachers are being asked to discuss happiness with their pupils and then ask them to map places where they are happy, either in school, in the school grounds or further afield.

The scheme, principally aimed at primary schools, is designed to improve pupils' skills at geographical inquiry, fieldwork, mapping and - if they do a survey of another class and compare the results - data analysis. Its findings will be published in the Geographical Association journal Primary Geographer.

Dr Martin said: "The concept of place, space and location is not just about where places are. It is about the distribution within places of various factors and how that distribution makes differences to the way places are perceived."

These factors do not have to be just physical characteristics, such as rivers or roads, but they can be about people and communities, and even people's feelings.

Dr Martin added: "It may even lead to pupils looking at how to change places to make them more pupil-friendly through the school council. It also helps pupils realise that quality of life is about more than material things."

The geography of happiness has a serious academic side. In 2004, the Social Disadvantage Research Centre at Oxford University's department of social policy and social research discovered that the happiest neighbourhood in England was Chorleywood West in Hertfordshire, while Harpurhey, in Greater Manchester, was the least.

The 37 quality of life indicators used by the research team included unemployment, crime and rates of depression among residents.

The information has been used to help target funding.

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