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Wellbeing agenda flawed, says expert

Speaker will tell ASCL conference that there is too much pressure on schools to solve society's problems

The pressure on schools to promote pupil wellbeing is based on questionable research and risks undermining children's learning, an expert will warn headteachers.

Carol Craig, founder of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing, in Glasgow, will tell the Association of School and College Leaders' annual conference that too much emphasis is being put on schools to solve society's problems, which will lead to parents abdicating their responsibilities.

Some 600 school leaders are expected to attend the conference, which starts in Birmingham today. It will also hear a speech from Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, who is due to talk about the ways schools can break the link between pupils' social background and attainment.

Ms Craig told The TES that the Government was "rushing in" to promote pupil wellbeing on the school curriculum.

"The empirical evidence is still quite thin, and a lot of it is questionable," she said, before her speech tomorrow. "Parents and schools increasingly believe that children must be protected from negative feelings. That's a massive problem in the UK, and the wellbeing agenda is set to make it worse.

"Self-esteem is primarily about personality type and parenting. We act as if it's primarily about schools, but it's not. What schools end up doing is trying to protect how young people feel, which can militate against learning."

Ms Craig said schools attempting to protect children's feelings - by, for example, banning competition - created an over-protective environment that could damage children's resilience.

"Kids often now don't want to learn things if they don't think they will be good at them," Ms Craig said. "That is not an issue in developing countries where it has not been complicated by psychology, but it is huge within our schools.

"The idea that schools are going to take on responsibility for young people's emotions and wellbeing will encourage parents to give up responsibility."

The school wellbeing agenda has grown considerably in recent years, with the extension of the social and emotional aspects of learning (Seal) programme, now taught in both primaries and secondaries. It attempts to improve behaviour by teaching conflict resolution and empathy.

Since September 2007, all schools have had a statutory responsibility to promote pupils' wellbeing.

Heads have voiced concerns about Ofsted's proposals to include indicators for aspects of students' wellbeing in inspections, such as teenage pregnancy and obesity.

Ms Craig, a proponent of positive psychology, said whole-school interventions should be resisted by schools.

"You don't need specific happiness classes," she said. "A lot can be delivered through the aspirations and ethos of the school."

The jobs from hell

Schools are losing out as local authorities struggle to fulfil their responsibilities in education and child safeguarding, the Association of School and College Leaders is warning.

John Dunford, its general secretary, will tell delegates this weekend that being a director of children's services has become "the job from hell" because of the level of responsibility and the vulnerability to being sacked. A survey of ASCL representatives in 65 local authorities showed 75 per cent thought services for schools had deteriorated since councils were required to merge education and children's services departments.

Dr Dunford's concerns follow the publication of Lord Laming's child protection progress report, which was commissioned after the death of Baby P.

John Dunford, page 33.

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