Fiona Carter, director of international business development at Wellington Colleges China, tells Wellbeing in International Schools Magazine about the group’s strategic approach to wellbeing.
Could you tell us about the wellbeing work that you do at Wellington College?
Since our first international school in Tianjin, ensuring that wellbeing is a priority in our policies and practice has been at the heart of everything from curriculum development to group governance. The foundation for the approaches in our international and Chinese bilingual schools are based on a pioneering approach first started in The Wellington College in Berkshire, UK.
In Wellington College International Shanghai, a key focus for this year is the evolution of a taught wellbeing curriculum. All pupils from Year 1 to Year 13 now have a timetabled wellbeing lesson which follows a new developmentally sequenced curriculum, rooted in the principles of Positive Education.
However, they are conscious that simply teaching wellbeing does not mean it magically appears, and so they are consistently looking at ways that daily provision can offer pupils the chance to “live” what they have learnt, be it through house and tutor times, pupil leadership schemes or through modifying school practices to support their wellbeing and mental health.
Wellbeing and learning support now work much more closely together with support from the designated safeguarding lead. The department has a new custom space which offers an escape for pupils, as well as the reassurance of always knowing where counsel can be found in a variety of forms from counselling, art therapy or simply a place to talk.
“They are conscious that simply teaching wellbeing does not mean it magically appears.”
Across all the early years departments in Wellington Colleges China, pupils are observed for their levels of wellbeing and involvement using the Leuven Scales and then graded from one (lowest) to five (highest). These are reported and monitored internally at pupil progress meetings, during the monitoring process of the quality of our teaching teams and, of course, as a meaningful and effective way of triangulating levels of wellbeing with standards of attainment and rates of progress.
Investment in training our teaching teams and making leaders accountable for pupil wellbeing has moved this aspect of the curriculum from being an add-on or initiative to the golden thread which runs through our schools.
At Huili School Shanghai, one of a growing number of bilingual schools in the Wellington College China group, the wellbeing curriculum has been adapted to incorporate aspects of the Shanghai City Moral Education curriculum. The programme is embedded through every facet of school life, from break times to assemblies. Children are encouraged to reflect not only on their own wellbeing, but also that of those around them – at school, at home and in the wider community, ultimately making a contribution as a truly global citizen.
What motivated you to do all this?
Initial wellbeing programmes began at Wellington from the belief that children should learn about a life well-lived and what that looks like. Our schools hold very strong beliefs that the purpose of education is far removed from just getting pupils to achieve excellent results in exams and that our educational offer is rooted in the shared principle of developing well rounded individuals, equipped to deal with the rigours of modern life.
For Wellington Shanghai, when it came to developing their taught wellbeing curriculum, it often came down to a simple question: “What do we wish we’d known when we were at school?” Supporting pupils to discover a breadth of skills such as emotional self-regulation, the power of discovering their own values and character strengths, to engaging flow state, truly offers the ability to shape pupils as people, not just learners.
“Our schools believe that the purpose of education is far removed from just getting pupils to achieve excellent results in exams.”
We also feel that using tools and approaches like the Leuven Scales and PASS data to get the most holistic and thorough view of a child will ultimately lead to every individual child being given the chance to maximise their potential. Wellington College Tianjin began a project to look at the correlation between PASS data and CAT4 scores in pupils from Year 7 and above, aiming to bring pastoral data to the table as part of internal reporting.
By working with consultant Matthew Savage, the data showed the likelihood that pupils with a larger verbal deficit were not fulfilling their potential. The pupils studied had low self-regard and did not feel great about the curriculum, and by observing wellbeing this closely, the changes that needed to be made were clearly highlighted.
In our bilingual schools in Hangzhou and Shanghai, where the demographic is largely Chinese pupils whose ultimate tertiary education and beyond is likely to be in countries outside of China, the “why” is focused on developing alumni who are committed to “living” the school’s values and identities.
What have been some of your proudest achievements in relation to wellbeing, and what has the impact been?
For the Wellington College UK, setting up a mediation service in 2019 and the development of an engaging curriculum which most pupils consider to be useful and relevant have been the proudest achievements. Also, incorporating Aristotelian character education, which has given it philosophical coherence.
A comprehensive use of the Leuven Scales as a central focus for measuring and improving wellbeing in Wellington Colleges China has been instrumental in the improvement of the standards of not only pupil outcomes but of the quality of teaching. It is highly noticeable in adaptations to learning environments, planned proactive interventions, much faster rates of second language acquisition and our youngest children being able to label and explain how they feel.
“Incorporating Aristotelian character education has given it philosophical coherence.”
Involving parents in understanding the importance of wellbeing has been a major focus across all age groups. All our new parents to our nurseries attend an induction session on the relationship between wellbeing and levels of engagement in learning. In Huili School Hangzhou, parents receive a comprehensive booklet which outlines how wellbeing is taught and monitored across all age groups.
What have been some of the challenges that you have faced, and how have you tried to overcome them?
Developing teaching materials that have weight and credibility is challenging, and the most helpful resource reported at Wellington UK has been the pupils themselves. There is now a much greater focus on listening to the pupil voice as a way of not only improving wellbeing but removing as many barriers as possible when challenges occur. In turn, this is leading to our schools considering how much agency children have in their daily learning experiences and impacting on curriculum development in primary.
Tianjin and Huili Shanghai schools are weaving inquiry much more into their junior and primary schools’ planning, and Huili School Hangzhou has transformed grades One and Two with classrooms of continuous provision and project-based learning, including a specific timetable for outdoor learning, all of which are really improving wellbeing amongst pupils and staff.
The current context of the global pandemic has provided all our community with some of its greatest challenges but has also highlighted, more than ever, the need for a concerted and well thought out approach to wellbeing, for both pupils, their families, and for our staff.
If you were to give three top tips to schools when devising a wellbeing policy, what would they be? What should schools think about?
A school should be very clear about the differences between wellbeing, safeguarding and mental illness. They are not the same thing and are potentially in conflict. A lot of the current messaging about “mental health” and safeguarding has the danger of pushing pathology on young people, and this is a distortion of a properly worked philosophy of a flourishing life. Wellbeing is not just the absence of dysfunction. Equally, a school should be clear that wellbeing education is not therapy and teachers need to avoid constantly asking children to talk about their feelings.
“A school should be very clear about the differences between wellbeing, safeguarding and mental illness.”
Have a clear philosophy of wellbeing education which runs consistently throughout the school and across all age phases. Think about how you can engage the whole community, as this is vital for ensuring its success. Every wellbeing initiative should be considered first through the lens of the pupils, parents and staff and even if one area is neglected, it will undermine the overall effort and strategy. Moreover, wellbeing should be given curriculum space and taught intentionally rather than being considered as something which can be “absorbed” through tutor programmes and assemblies.
Remember that wellbeing can be a very disruptive concept in schools and that safety nets might be needed once monitoring has highlighted areas of need for either one pupil or a wider group. Be prepared to change other policies and practices if you are serious about embedding wellbeing through planning strategic and operational interventions as well as conversations with families.
Finally, by adding the reporting of wellbeing to our termly academic sub committee board meetings, its importance and correlation with deep levels of learning has given a real gravitas to the teaching and assessment of this part of our curriculum. What is assessed and reported at the highest level reflects our values as a group.
Do you use any products or set programmes to support wellbeing in your school? What resources/support is your school drawing on?
Our international and bilingual schools are lucky to have access to the pioneering wellbeing programme from Wellington College in the UK whose taught curriculum has been a huge help and foundation for any individual school development. The materials are devised in-house and slowly refined since 2006 and are coupled with the Dialogue Road Map from Peaceful Solutions in their mediation work. They feel it is an incredible approach to conflict resolution and change management rooted in Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication.
“Our international and bilingual schools are lucky to have access to the pioneering wellbeing programme from Wellington College in the UK.”
The Institute of Positive Education has assisted Wellington College Shanghai with their knowledge and expertise to ensure that work remains focused and content from the Moral Education curriculum in our bilingual Huili schools is useful, especially in the area of social responsibility. Play therapy techniques are used in our bilingual school in Hangzhou for three to 12 year olds.
Staff versus students – how does your approach differ, and can you talk us through how your wellbeing focus supports all of your school community and how the different elements join up?
As Ian Morris from Wellington UK suggests, “Approaches to wellbeing should be consistent across a school community and should be rooted in compassion and dignity. Whilst there are necessary differences relating to children as pupils and adults as employees, the ways in which we support the wellbeing of people in our school communities shouldn’t be any different just because of age”. Indeed, Professor Ferre Leavers who created the Leuven Scales also has talked about the approach being used across all age groups – adults and children. Giving senior leads the responsibility for staff wellbeing is a great way of ensuring this.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of Wellbeing in International Schools magazine, out now.