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‘A wise old man told me one time
Happiness is a frame of mind
When you go to measuring my success
Don’t count my money, count my happiness’

A recent article by the UK’s happiness tsar, Richard Layard, caught my eye, in which he argues that the aim of society should be the happiness of the people. ‘We want people who will act for the greater good – at work, at home and in the community. This produces better results for everyone.’ It’s an aim that is hard to argue with.

The problem however is that happiness is rather subjective and can be difficult to measure. As we know, it tends to be the things that are easiest to measure that become the accepted measures of success. For an individual, success is measured by wealth, for a business it’s profit and for a school, success is measured by an Ofsted rating or a positon in a league table. All of these things have little baring on our collective happiness.

Layard talks about a piece of research taking place in Bristol which measures children’s happiness at age 16 compared to, amongst other things, the primary schools they attended. The conclusion absolutely tallies with what I’ve always suspected – how happy an individual is at 16 is profoundly affected by which primary school they attended.

I’m always struck by the feedback we get from the secondary teachers at our local schools – ‘We always know who the Highgate Primary children are – they’re really happy’. And I suspect it’s true. The great majority of our children are proud to have attended Highgate Primary, talk fondly of their time here and often come back to attend school events. Last night I popped in to our after-school club ‘Night Owls’ where it was lovely to see past pupils volunteering.

So, what is it we do that gives our children this sense of happiness? The answer here is lots of things, but significantly, children’s happiness and wellbeing is explicit within our school ethos: we know that child centred learning works; we know that children learn best through positive messages; we listen to what children say and allow them to dream and we know that strong pastoral support can make all the difference. Our school explicitly sets out to promote happiness.

Layard draws the conclusion that schools must be judged, in large part, by how they promote the happiness and behaviour of their students, after all, ‘happy children learn better, behave better and contribute more to society’. It feels like the tide has started to turn in this direction and the new Ofsted framework is definitely a step in the right direction. However, as we approach the season of national tests (from which the statisticians will create the next set of league tables), promoting happiness is clearly a message yet to be grasped by the DfE.


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