14 SES 07 C JS, Conceptual and Empirical Perspectives on Student Wellbeing
Joint Paper Session NW 08 and NW 14
Whilst interest in social and emotional issues is ‘clearly nothing new’ (Weare, 2007, p. 239), public debate concerning the well-being of children in Britain has intensified over recent years. Pressure from outside of Britain has gathered momentum since the turn of the millennium, when the WHO (1999) called for schools to create an environment where social and emotional development should be prioritised so that child well-being can be enhanced. The need for improved social and emotional well-being of children in Britain was further highlighted in a report commissioned by UNICEF (2007) where comparatively, across OECD countries, British children rated ‘their health as the poorest, disliked school most and were amongst the least satisfied with life’ (Blair, 2007, p. 12). One aspect of the UNICEF (2007) report identified specific weaknesses relating to the education system, where Britain fell into the bottom six countries with regards to how 11 to 15 year olds rated their enjoyment of school life and their judgments of satisfaction with the education they received. Although improvements have been reported in more recent UNICEF reports (see UNICEF 2013; 2016), there have been a spate of publications (see Palmer, 2006; Alexander and Hargreaves, 2007; Layard and Dunn, 2009; UNICEF, 2013; 2016) that continue to demonstrate concern pertaining to the ‘unhappiness and emotional ill-health amongst growing numbers of...young people’, in Britain, (Ecclestone and Hayes, 2009, p. 373). Indeed, such findings have led to calls for greater state intervention so that the well-being needs of British children are met, with an OECD report in 2009 calling for ‘Governments (to) continuously experiment with policies and programmes for children…..to enhance well-being’, (OECD, 2009, p 163).
Acting on these national and international concerns, subsequent British governments have utilised various education-based schemes as a vehicle to target the social and emotional well-being needs of its children. Such strategies include, but are not limited to, the ‘Healthy Schools’ programme, designed to promote a whole school/whole child approach to emotional health, and the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) initiative, ‘designed to support schools in promoting the well-being and learning of children and young people’ (Banerjee, 2010, p. 8). Whilst an aim of the international comparisons of child well-being, outlined above, is to illustrate how ‘performance in protecting children compares with the record of other nations at a similar level of development’ (UNICEF, 2013, p. 4), in this paper I explore some of the practicalities experienced by schools when implementing schemes that focus on child well-being. I make the case that the ‘discourses of emotions’ (Burman, 2009), inherent within the various supranational publications on well-being, are susceptible to exploitation by policy makers and practitioners alike, through the examination of data taken from a study that demonstrates how primary school staff members interpreted and made use of the SEAL initiative. Drawing on Goleman’s (1995) theory of emotional intelligence, Hargreaves’ (1995) typology of school culture, current notions of a ‘whole-school approach’ (Weare, 2007; Banerjee, 2010), and concepts within the interpretive paradigm, the study aimed to determine how social and emotional learning schemes, such as SEAL, were interpreted and utilised within primary schools. As a means of achieving this aim the issues captured in the following research questions were addressed:
1. What are the main motivations for using SEAL in primary schools?
2. How is SEAL being interpreted in primary schools?
3. What are the influences behind these interpretations?
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