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28 October 2014

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Youth could be happy

Jo O'Connor
With the worst truancy rate in the country, education bosses in Manchester have decided to take action and send teachers to America to train them in resilience – a move that is hoped will reduce childhood depression and raise attendance.

School children
Who is responsible for children's happiness?

Recent figures showed that 3,300 youngsters in the city were on average missing a third of the school year. To tackle this, Manchester Council is taking part in a government backed initiative that aims to help children cope with problems in their lives that may cause their performance and attendance at school to slip.

Teaching feelings

"This is very much about providing children and young people with the tools they need to manage their feelings and motivation and to find solutions. The work complements what schools already do in parts of the curriculum and in ways they support children,” says Pauline Newman, Director Children's Services, Manchester City Council.

The council is spending £25,000 to fly 25 teachers to Philadelphia this summer to learn about the scheme which has been adopted by hundreds of American schools. The scheme, aimed at 11-year-olds, will train pupils how to cope with life's problems through role-playing, confidence building sessions and discussions.

"All the evidence available from the programme in the USA where it was developed is that young people benefit greatly from this - their self esteem and confidence is boosted, they feel more in control of their lives, and better able to deal with the things that happen to them.  As a consequence of this their attendance at school and performance improves because they no longer feel that they can't cope with school on top of all their other problems, and this in turn leads to improved results in the classroom,” says Pauline.

Campaigning for real education

"You can’t really teach happiness. It is something that comes from individual achievement."
Nick Seaton, chairman of Campaign for Real Education

But the move has received criticism from Campaign for Real Education (CRE). “Schools have enough to do to raise standards without adding more things into the curriculum. You can’t really teach happiness it is something that comes from individual achievement. All you can do it tell students to look on the bright side of life and have a positive attitude,’ says CRE chairman Nick Seaton.

But in Wigan teachers are already making use of a similar scheme. Primary school children there are using SEAL, Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning, which encourages students to engage emotionally with the learning process and deal with problems such as bullying.

Sealed and delivered

“SEAL ensures that children are emotionally and socially able to engage in the learning process. Youngsters who are happy have confidence and not suffering from bullying and therefore are able to learn better than those who are not engaged in this process,” says Simon Jenna, strategic manager principal educational psychologist at Wigan Council.

The material used in Wigan has been provided by central government but makes use of good practice from countries across the world, including America. Simon says that it is having a positive effect on children in Wigan.

‘Our evaluation shows that it is benefiting children and improving their emotional state. You are teaching youngsters how to relate to each other and work together and look at their own emotional needs and that is having a knock-on effect on raising attainment,’ he says.

last updated: 14/05/07
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