Measuring Wellbeing at your School

Dr. Georgiana Cameron

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Many of the schools we work with are excited about starting their Positive Education journey. There is usually an intense focus on training staff, getting the curriculum in place, and an enthusiasm for topics like gratitude, mindfulness, growth mindsets and optimism. Yet the measurement side of things does not seem to engender the same level of gusto, and many educators do not know where to start when measuring wellbeing.

The measurement of wellbeing is often referred to as something schools ‘should’ do. Tracking individual wellbeing over time allows schools insight into whether Positive Education is having a positive impact. Schools need to understand the wellbeing of their students and staff to most appropriately tailor programmes, policies and services, as well as continuously improve their practice. The task of working out which measure to use, who to measure and when to measure can be overwhelming. Yet for the research enthusiasts among us, measuring impact and evaluating what is working within a school context is where the fun begins.

Wellbeing measurement can range from a free 8-question scale which is administered to staff (e.g. Diener et al (2009), Flourishing Scale), to a commercial multidimensional scale regularly given to students throughout the year which generates detailed reports and has an online portal complete with personalised wellbeing resources (e.g Flourishing At School, Assessing Wellbeing in Education). In the last five years we have seen a surge of quality wellbeing measurement packages designed for schools being offered.  Schools have a lot more choice in the level of investment they wish to make, yet this can make it harder to choose.

Schools should consider how the model of wellbeing being implemented aligns with the available measures on offer. For example, if a school has a focus on resilience, the measures chosen should predominantly tap into resilience as opposed to gratitude, mindfulness and other less related domains of wellbeing. Other considerations for a school might include reviewing the continuous costs and resources involved, how often and to who the measure is given, the purpose of collecting data and how findings will be analysed and communicated.

Interpreting the data requires a clear understanding of what the school is currently doing in relation to Positive Education.It pays to take a curious yet scientific approach to the data, recognising that there may be many causes for observed patterns and an infinite number of steps a school can take in response to the data.

Despite the fact that it would be ideal to collect wellbeing data from most people in the school community on a frequent basis – this is not a practical or popular option for most schools. Even yearly surveys can create survey fatigue amongst students and staff, especially when there is no obvious outcome from the surveys.

Each school will be unique in how they weigh up the costs and benefits of measurement. For one school, once a year may be sufficient in supporting their Positive Education initiative, whilst another school may require termly measurement to test whether specific practices are having an impact on groups of students. Not surprisingly, it comes down to a school’s purpose for measuring wellbeing, what Positive Education looks like for them and the goals they are working towards.

Another challenge with wellbeing measurement and evaluation is how to most effectively interpret and use the findings each year to improve Positive Education. This brings us to what we can expect from the data. Often times, there is an assumption that if Positive Education is implemented in a school, you should see an upward linear trend reflecting individuals’ enhanced wellbeing. Although not impossible, this result is unlikely. As we know, school populations change cyclically, as we welcome new preps and year 7s, we wave goodbye to our year 6s and year 12s. With each new intake of students, wellbeing data will be affected.

In contrast to a linear production line, tracking wellbeing is far more akin to growing a garden of annuals and perennials. Each year the student population changes, annual plants have a specified lifetime. The perennial teachers and school staff follow the same cycle yet remain fairly constant - resetting each year yet remaining the same. It is likely that students’ wellbeing improves over the course of their ‘lifetime’ at the school.Yet when these students leave, growth begins all over again, hopefully with ground more fertile than before.  

In essence, measuring the wellbeing of staff and students at your school makes sense, yet we strongly recommend schools ask themselves the major questions to maximise the benefits of measurement: Why are we measuring wellbeing? Who needs to be involved? What do we hope to understand and/or improve from the data? How we will we most effectively use the data?


List of Student Wellbeing Measurement Options

These options all incur a cost to the school and provide additional services such as analysis and reports

ACER – Social-Emotional Wellbeing (SEW) Survey

Assessing Wellbeing in Education*  

Flourishing at School* 

National Schools Survey*

Resilience Youth Survey

Well-being Profiler

*Staff Wellbeing Measures available

List of Free Student Wellbeing Measurement Options

These surveys are freely available to schools yet no additional support is provided 

EPOCH Measure (Engagement, Perseverance, Optimism, Connectedness, Happiness)

The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales (S)WEMWBS

Adolescent Mental Health Continuum – Short-form (AMHC-SF)

Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)

The World Health Organisation-5 (WHO-5)

Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI)

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Dr. Georgiana Cameron

Georgiana Cameron is the Research Manager at the Institute of Positive Education. As an educational psychologist and trainer, Georgiana has worked closely with individuals, families and whole school communities in supporting evidence-based approaches to improving wellbeing.