The Cameron / Gove 'chasm' on well-being classes
This is an excellent piece in the Guardian on well-being classes. It suggests there is a "chasm between David Cameron and Michael Gove" on the issue, "and it's going to get wider":
When the prime minister set up the National Wellbeing Project in 2010, he said that finding out what improved lives was a serious business for government. Cameron's commitment to wellbeing is shared by, among others, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund. But what about his own Department for Education?
While the Office for National Statistics is busy compiling the country's first wellbeing tables, the DfE has written it out of the new inspection framework...The new framework requires them to check on behaviour and safety, but not how a school cares for its pupils. It does not refer to health or emotions. It mentions relationships only as potential hazards and friends only as "critical" ones. Gone is the need to make sure that pupils have a "strong voice in decisions relating to their learning and wellbeing".
Indeed, the word "wellbeing", which ran like a river through the previous Ofsted framework, has disappeared. The education secretary, Michael Gove, has said the new framework will allow inspectors to concentrate on what matters and forget the"peripherals". Thus, wellbeing has been cast into Ofsted's dustbin at a time of soaring youth unemployment, when teenagers routinely hear themselves described as a "lost generation".
Debbie Watson, whose book Children's Social and Emotional Wellbeing in Schools is published tomorrow [the book is actually authored by Watson, Phil Bayliss and Carl Emory], says there has been a policy void with regard to wellbeing in education since the coalition came to power. "There's a chasm between Cameron and Gove," she says, "and it's only going to get wider."
Watson, who is director of childhood studies at Bristol University, argues that wellbeing is a "poorly understood, rather nebulous concept". It should, she says, start with individual children, celebrating and respecting their rights and needs. "It's subjective and individual, and not about universal standards and norms."Watson says that two key initiatives introduced by Labour and still in use – Every Child Matters and the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (Seal) programmes – have flaws because they are "top-down rather than roots-up". Nevertheless, "the concept of wellbeing must not be allowed to disappear".
I don't think Michael Gove is necessarily against the idea of well-being classes per se - one of the new 'free schools' that have been set up under his education policy is called the Maharishi Free School, where all students take meditation classes. He's just wary of top-down diktats. He's a liberal, in other words, or a conservative-liberal, and believes head-teachers and parents should be given the power to set the moral agenda of their schools for themselves - rather than them being forced to follow a moral, psychological and emotional programme set by psychologists and bureaucrats in Whitehall.
Cameron, by contrast, is more of a paternalist Conservative - he appears to think a handful of experts should define well-being and then teach or nudge the nation towards it. Cameron called for an age of 'post-bureaucratic government' - but it strikes me that it's Gove's policies, not Cameron's, that are more post-bureaucratic here.
It's too early to say exactly what the Coalition's attitude to well-being classes is - the Department of Education is in the middle of an independent review of the subject Personal and Social Health Education (PSHE), which includes Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (ugh, these endless acronyms!) So when that report is finished and the government responds, we'll have a better idea of the lay of the land.
But, contrary to the academic Neil Humphrey in that article, I would suggest that well-being classes are not just about finding what 'works' scientifically - because well-being can't be defined purely scientifically. It's about finding the right balance between liberalism and choice, and the science of the Good Life - or between Gove's pluralism, and Cameron's paternalism. We haven't quite found that balance yet.