How well-being targets could help change the exam culture in schools

YoungMinds Annual Debate, held at the Unicorn Children's Theatre, London

Last night’s YoungMinds Annual Debate asked the question “Is our target driven school system damaging children’s wellbeing?”. At its heart was the contention that we have a schools system in the UK that seems to prize exam grades above everything else – including the well-being of our children.

Contributions from a panel of commentators, including Ian Morris, head of well-being at Wellington College, columnist Fiona Millar, and the RSA’s Matthew Taylor, got straight to the point. All agreed (to a greater or lesser extent) that the targets and incentives that drive our education system are too narrowly focused on attainment.

So what can we do about this imbalance?

Scrapping targets is not an option – there is no political will or public appetite for it, and if the government didn’t publish league tables someone else would.

Targets can also be a very good thing. Ian Morris pointed out how they act a strong motivator for behaviour change and Fiona Millar gave a governor’s perspective on how they were a critical factor in helping her failing local school to improve.

What’s the answer then? I think we need more targets. This may sound perverse, but we clearly aren’t measuring enough of what matters.

Everyone agrees that well-being is important but there is no requirement for schools to report on it and not much more than a nod towards the subject from Ofsted. I think that’s a problem.

Self-esteem, emotional well-being and resilience, can all be measured so why shouldn’t we? In the same way that schools are required to report on attainment, why doesn’t the same apply to well-being outcomes? (And for those of you that need convincing that schools can measure well-being, you are in the right place.)

I think well-being targets can be part of the answer to the imbalance of priorities in our education system. They will make schools more accountable and help us towards a less one-sided education system. It’s high time we spent more time thinking about them.

Agree or disagree? Comments welcome.

To read how NPC’s Well-being Measure can be used to measure well-being, visit our website You can also sign up to our mailing list here.


About John Copps

John is part of NPC's research and consulting team and is the founder of NPC's Well-being Measure, a social business that provides an online tool to measure young people’s well-being. He has eight years experience of research and consulting, and is passionate about how data can be used to improve the performance of organisations. John is a regular contributor to NPC's blog and has also contributed to pieces for BBC Radio, the Guardian, and the Financial Times. John is a governor of a secondary school.
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