Don’t forget health and happiness of pupils, schools told

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Children’s health and happiness is being neglected as schools are encouraged to focus purely on academic achievement, academics have warned.

Concentrating solely on attainment can be harmful to pupils as it can lead to youngsters losing interest in education and taking up “risky” behaviour such as smoking, taking drugs and violence, it is suggested.

Writing for a leading medical journal, the academics, led by Professor Chris Bonell from the Institute of Education, argue that students who are in decent health achieve better results in the classroom, and that research shows that school schemes aimed at improving pupils’ health also help their academic attainment.

In an editorial on bmj.com, they write: “Education policy in England increasingly encourages schools to maximise students’ academic attainment and ignore their broader wellbeing, personal development and health.”

Personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) is not a compulsory subject and schools are spending less and less time teaching it owing to a pressure to focus on academic subjects, the article says.

It suggests that this has been caused by two ideas – first that spending time on students’ health and wellbeing leaves less time for academic learning which leads to lower results, and secondly that improving attainment is the only crucial measure needed to increase the nation’s economic competitiveness.

“Both these ideas are deeply flawed”, the academics write, arguing that health and education go hand in hand. Those who are well educated have better health and wellbeing. Students in better health have higher academic attainment.”

It adds that in countries such as Finland, Sweden, Australia and Singapore, schools focus more on children’s development and social and emotional learning and have better academic results than England. The editorial says: “Some schools not only neglect students’ health but may actively harm it.”

A review of research shows that in systems which concentrate narrowly on academic achievement, some schools focus only on bright students.