Academies test truth of positive psychology

9th January 2009 at 00:00

Pupils at two London academies are taking part in a controlled experiment to find out whether happiness lessons really work.

The Haberdashers' Aske's Federation of psycholgists has joined with academics to develop an experimental wellbeing curriculum for pupils of all ages.

"There are more pressures on children than there were," said Elizabeth Sidwell, chief executive of the federation. "When I look at what some of them go through outside my schools, I think it is something that really needs to be looked at. We decided to look at it in an academic way through positive psychology."

Pupils at Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College, a three-to-18 academy in Lewisham, south London, are now being taught wellbeing.

After a year's trial, they will fill in the same psychological questionnaires as pupils at their sister academy in Bromley, Kent - Haberdashers' Aske's Knights Academy (pictured) - who have not followed the wellbeing curriculum.

"Then we will see if it has made any difference at all," said Dr Sidwell. She added that the lessons would probably be given more than a year, whatever happened.

The academy will not be the first school to offer happiness lessons. But it will be the first to take such a scientific approach to evaluating them.

Dr Sidwell said she had stuck her neck out over the idea of the curriculum that some colleagues had feared was "a bit crazy or happy-clappy". "But of course it isn't," she said.

Ten staff at Hatcham College have been specially trained to teach Years 1, 7 and 10. The federation approached the University of East London - which offers a degree in positive psychology - to come up with a bespoke curriculum.

"They are the experts," said Dr Sidwell. "They understand positive psychology and emotional wellbeing, so they provide the material and we teach it.

"We are working with them to try and build up pupils' strength so that they can cope with the loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend or the bigger things. It is about giving them that resilience."

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