The pursuit of happiness

Bookmark and Share

 The pursuit of happiness


Lord Layard caused something of a storm when he suggested that schools should be introducing lessons for pupils on how to cope with life and be happy. Bram van Asselt, of Sportplan explains how schools are already doing this simply by asking pupils to provide the information needed to create high impact lessons.


This article in a nutshell…

Bram Van Asselt of Sportplan refers to Lord Layard’s speech in defence of promoting life skills and happiness. The ‘Health Passport’ is an approach promoted by Sportplan to involve pupils in discussing emotions, feelings and concerns. Pupils input into an online diary on a regular basis in five subject areas – wellbeing, exercise, nutrition, transport and school work.


The data they input can then be used in a number of ways including influencing lessons, picking up on particular concerns, identifying whole school issues even providing feedback for Ofsted on Every Child Matters. In some cases parents have been linked in and received feedback. The health passport can also help identify just how often pupils are engaged in a sporting activity in line with the Government’s two hour target and help collect evidence for drafting school travel plans.


To find out more


Let’s be honest, Lord Layard shouldn’t have been that surprised that his assertion that one of the central purposes of schools should be to teach "the secrets of happiness" together with his call for a new generation of teachers to specialise in what he called "emotional intelligence" wasn’t received with unbounded enthusiasm. Teaching unions and individual teachers writing on various forums and discussion boards claimed that they already did all that they could to promote emotional wellbeing among children within the confines of an already crowded timetable. Others pointed out that this was a further request for teachers to take responsibility for not just the education of children who weren’t their own, but also for their upbringing as well.


Whether schools should be delivering so-called “happiness lessons” and teachers responsible for the emotional upbringing of students is, and I suspect, always will be a moot point. However, there are steps that teachers can take to involve pupils, particularly at primary level, in discussing feelings, concerns and emotions by drawing on their actual day-to-day experiences and those of others in their cohort, but without breaching confidentiality or leaving any pupil feeling exposed or uneasy.



The Health Passport

A new concept – called Health Passport – is already being implemented in more than 250 primary schools around the UK. Pupils input into an online diary on a regular basis in five subject areas – wellbeing, exercise, nutrition, transport and school work. Pupils are encouraged to record how they feel – happy, sad, frightened, worried etc - how much exercise they take, how they travel to school and what they eat.


Results can then be collated by class, by year group, whole school or gender enabling teachers to see what percentage of pupils have done what, what percentage feel what, and what percentage have eaten what and then using this data to inform their lesson planning. Children’s responses and feedback can form the basis of lessons themselves, so that pupils are actually influencing lesson content by giving their opinions on pertinent issues such as exam stress or even bullying. Pupils actually like inputting the data, in contrast, for example, with the Body Mass Index tests not so long ago, where parents, typically of overweight children, opted out in order to preserve their child’s self esteem. In some areas, the system appears to have made boys more attracted to ICT lessons because the content may be related to sport.  More generally, it’s being used in a cross curricular way in subjects such as science and maths, developing graphs and other things associated with themselves. Another advantage is that it doesn’t add to a teacher’s existing workload.


Keeping an overview

Schools can then take a helicopter view of the habits of all pupils in a given year group (perhaps, whether SATs have an influence on levels of happiness), of all girls or boys or the whole school (perhaps happy to return after a holiday…or not happy to return to school). The logs of individual pupils remain private, though parents can receive a confidential email weekly outlining for them what their child has recorded on the system, so they can pick up on whether their child has recorded any worrying emotions or problems. As a data collection system Health Passport can assist schools in the delivery of, and demonstrate evidence for ‘Healthy Schools’ and ‘Every Child Matters’.



Feedback suggests that the Passport is not only popular with pupils – it is structured in such a way as to celebrate achievement – but also in providing teachers, schools and authorities with a snapshot of their pupils on a range of subjects at any one point in time. Continued use of the Passport in lesson planning enables teachers to track consequent changes, trends and developments in the behaviour and habits of their pupils.


We know, for example, of school sports partnerships which have tried to get evidence of how much exercise pupils are getting, particularly in relation to the Government’s target of two hours per week. Although it was less difficult to prove what pupils were doing in schools, it was less easy to be clear how much exercise they were taking outside it. However, because its whole focus is on the children’s involvement and interaction, it has given staff a more rounded and more accurate view of their pupils’ lifestyles.

Reaching the two hour target

One of the biggest challenges facing schools has been the Government’s PESSCL target to increase the take-up of sporting opportunities by 5 to 16 year olds so that 85% of children by 2008 experience a minimum of two hours’ high quality PE and school sport within and beyond the curriculum each week. Many schools are struggling to get two hours within the curriculum, let alone get achieve the 2010 target of four hours. However, access to the bigger picture offered by children inputting data on their extra-school activities is enabling schools to assess appropriate strategies to increase participation in exercise where the data indicates that it needs to be directed.


In addition, given that many of the subjects could be deemed sensitive, the fact that it is class-based and not focused on the individual, means no pressure is placed on individual pupils. The teacher takes the results from the class, looks at issues and then addresses them to the class as a whole, so no child is singled out. This obviously encourages children to participate and to do so with more honesty.


Moreover, by involving all of the children in the data collection exercise, schools can speed up the time they take to develop Healthy Schools programmes. We heard recently about one school that had taken a week to draft up a school travel plan. However, another which had asked its pupils to input data on how they traveled to school, was able to collate the information and, based on pupil behaviour, identify key objectives and form a plan in a fraction of the time.


Like so much, these days, much of the beauty for the school comes in the efficiency it delivers. Everything is covered in one system, so schools and local authorities can get all the information they need without asking, and because every school is obliged to undertake government strategies in order to hit targets, whether it’s Healthy Schools, Extended Learning or Every Child Matters, the system gives every child, even the quietest ones, a voice.




What is Sportplan?


Sportplan started as a company which developed online coaching manuals,

drills and training routines across multiple sports from elite athlete level

down to school level.   The resources they provide are aimed at both coaches and teachers in order to help them achieve the best for their players and teams. Sportplan materials include online libraries incorporating thousands of Flash animated practice drills, from which teachers can create, save and edit their own

coaching sessions or lessons.


In addition to the Health Passport, they also provide an Online Training Log

Book system for athletes to  log their training, review performance and interact with their coach / team manager.


Further information is available at