All Children Should Receive Happiness Lessons From The Age Of Five – The Telegraph
Children of all ages should be given an hour’s “happiness lessons” every week to nurture their development and stop schools behaving as “exams factories,” a major report will warn this week.
It comes as separate figures show the numbers of children receiving counselling sessions because of exam stress has tripled in just one year.
Former ministers and Government advisors are calling for radical changes in the way British pupils are brought up, with accusations of a “grossly inhumane” failure to care for children’s wellbeing.
Their report, due to be presented to a global health summit this week will say mental health problems among children and teenagers have become “a massive problem” with one in 10 now suffering from diagnoses such as anxiety and depression.
The study by Prof Lord Darzi, a former Health Minister, and Prof Lord Layard, an economist and former Government advisor, calls for sweeping changes in the education of all children, so that “life skills” are given the same attention as reading and writing.
Under the proposals, school pupils from the age of 5 would spend at least one hour a week discussing their emotions, setting positive life goals, and learning how to cope with everyday pressures and social media.
Such approaches – dubbed “happiness” lessons – were pioneered by Wellington College in Berkshire, one of Britain’s best-known boarding schools by Dr Anthony Seldon, but are not used in most schools.
The new report, which will be presented to the World Innovation Summit in Health in Doha on Tuesday, says such lessons should be offered to every child, from the start to the end of their time at school.
It also says help should be offered far earlier to children showing signs of mental distress.
The damning report warns that the failure to offer counselling is not only “grossly inhumane” but economically inefficient, because well-rounded children are more likely to succeed in life, while those in distress are more likely to end up on benefits.
The professors say that modern lifestyles are heaping too many pressures on children, without taking care of their development.
“Our schools need to adopt children’s wellbeing as one of their major objectives – both in their ethos and their teaching. Life skills can and should be taught as professionally as mathematics or literature,” they said.
International research involving 270,000 children enrolled in programmes to develop social and emotional skills found a 10 per cent gain in their skills, behaviour and academic performance, the study says.
The report suggests schools which push children too hard can end up getting worse academic results, as well as damaging their pupils.
“Increasingly in many countries, schools are becoming exam factories,” the authors say.
“To improve child wellbeing, this must be reversed, and schools must address the emotional and spiritual needs of their children, as well as their intellectual development,” they add.
The report will be presented to health experts at the global health forum, which opens in Doha on Tuesday.
New figures from national helpline Childline show a steep rise in the number of children receiving counselling who say their anxiety is caused by exams.
The charity’s annual statistics show a tripling in the number of counselling sessions relating to exam stress in just one year, with 7,546 cases in 2013/14, plus 87,500 views of online advice on the topic.
In total, 43 per cent of those receiving counselling about school and education problems were under the age of 11.
Last week Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, said the Government had a “moral mission” to provide compassion and support to children struggling with mental health problems.
Ms Morgan said that preparing “well-rounded young people” to be ready for adult life is one of her department’s key aims, since she made it a priority, soon after her appointment last year.
Next month the Personal, Social and Health Education Association will produce guidance for schools, funded by Government, on how to teach mental health issues.
Earlier studies have suggested that child development in in Britain is languishing behind most western countries, with standards of literacy, numeracy and physical skills far behind those of almost every western country.
Researchers from University College London’s Institute of Health Equity said the figures suggest many children in Britain are left damaged by early years in which they did not get enough time cuddling, chatting or reading with their parents.
A Department for Education spokesman said:“As part of our plan for education, we are placing a fresh focus on improving young people’s mental health and providing opportunities for young people to develop the character and resilience they need to succeed in modern Britain.
“Good schools recognise the importance of children and young people’s wellbeing on their attainment and have a duty to promote mental and physical development.”