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Put the right data in the right hands to improve wellbeing

Today, #BeeWell launches two new ‘neighbourhood dashboards’ as part of an effort to put young people’s wellbeing at the heart of local and national decision making. We believe this is vital, because we know their wellbeing is alarmingly low. One in four 15-year-olds reports not being satisfied with their life, placing us second from bottom in the latest OECD league table for youth life satisfaction.

To address this, we need to listen to the voices of young people, understand the factors that affect their lives and act upon what they tell us. And to do that, we need much better data than an international survey can provide.

It’s clear to me that schools are ready to act. Despite their capacity being tested to the limit in recent years, almost 300 secondary schools across 14 local authorities in two regions of England have delivered the annual #BeeWell survey, reaching over 85,000 young people in years 8 to 10.

In turn, the data they have gathered is already informing them, their local authorities and civil society in a way that hasn’t been possible before. 

Consistent data is allowing school leaders in these communities to place the needs, complexities and challenges of their environment in the context of other similar schools. This is achieved by providing anonymous, private comparisons with schools of similar size, or with similar intakes of pupils eligible for free school meals or with a similar mix of ethnic backgrounds.

Armed with this data, which has been accessible across Greater Manchester for three years, headteachers have already identified areas where the greatest improvements can be made. Aggregated wellbeing data shared in this way fosters a culture of sharing best practice to improve young people’s lives – a world apart from the forced nature of accountability metrics.

So far, we’ve seen schools providing more nutritious food, improving physical health offerings, changing their PSHE curriculum, tweaking school uniform protocols, developing their student engagement programme and improving parental engagement.  

Schools are the catalyst for this place-based action

But while educational settings are the obvious place to measure the wellbeing of young people consistently and accurately, the key to the dashboards is that they allow the voices of young people to be heard way beyond schools themselves.

Crucial to their success will therefore be to inform decisions across local government and civil society. Critically, the dashboards present data where young people live, rather than where they go to school. In this way, and fundamentally, there can be no analysis of pupil wellbeing by school. This data is private to each school.

The 2023 #BeeWell survey data covers both Greater Manchester (across 64 neighbourhoods) and Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, and Southampton (HIPS) (46 neighbourhoods).  And the dashboards enable anyone to interrogate the data and act upon what they find.

In Greater Manchester, responses to date have included physical activity programmes for girls, additional efforts to provide arts and creativity opportunities, a social prescribing pilot and engagement with young people in areas where extra-curricular activity take-up is low.

As partners across HIPS react to their neighbourhood dashboard for the first time, we have no doubt that they, too, will deliver similar improvements according to the needs of young people across the region. Policy making is being changed according to local circumstances. What works in HIPS may well not apply in GM, or anywhere else.

Schools are the impressive catalyst for this place-based action beyond the school gates. With increasing talk of balanced scorecards for schools, we believe that the demonstrable commitment of school leaders to improve the lives of young people within their schools and beyond can be harnessed without the need for additional accountability metrics.

After all, our experience across some three quarters of all mainstream secondary schools in Greater Manchester and HIPS shows just how committed our nation’s teachers are to this cause. Their determination to do the right thing for their students is humbling, and often outside of the remit of the regulatory system of which they are a part.

If we are to prepare our country’s young people for their futures in an uncertain world, let’s get behind our school leaders and give them the consistent data they need that will help shape their and their communities’ responses.

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