Negative educational experiences cause lasting damage to wellbeing

The knock-on effects to long-term wellbeing now revealed in our Eudaimonia research report.
18 November 2016

Alex Marshall was just 13 when he was kicked out of school after an altercation with a teacher. “It hurt me a lot because I really didn’t know what to do,” he says. “I was confused for a long time. My head was everywhere. I was moving up and down the country because I’ve got family in Scotland. Then I was made homeless when my parents kicked me out and so I went to a hostel.”

Sadly, Alex’s story is not unusual. There are many people who don’t have a good experience of mainstream education. The emotional toll at the time can, of course, be punishing. But what about the lasting damage?

To help us better understand the situation, we commissioned a study into the wellbeing of the UK population. The results were published in our report ‘Eudaimonia: How do humans flourish?’ and they make for startling reading.

If you have a bad time at school because you didn’t fit in, you were bullied, or mainstream academia wasn’t right for you, it could leave you feeling 30% less happy.

Our research revealed a 30% disparity in wellbeing scores between those that have had positive and negative experiences during their time in education. That means, if you have a bad time at school because you didn’t fit in, you were bullied, or mainstream academia wasn’t right for you, it could leave you feeling 30% less happy long after you’ve left. That could include feelings of stress, issues surrounding confidence, depression – even thoughts about suicide.

Our research

So how did we get to that figure? We carried out our research on a nationally-representative sample of 1,000 UK adults. We asked them 14 statements relating to wellbeing and quizzed how various lifestyle factors – such as how active they are, their financial confidence, relationships, and education – could affect them.

Those respondents who felt they’d had a positive experience of the education system – regardless of their current circumstances and lifestyle – displayed much higher wellbeing scores (6.92/10 on an index) than those who felt traditional education didn’t help them to achieve their potential (4.92/10).

The average Brit scored 6.13/10 on an index for their overall wellbeing.

Bigger picture

The figures add to an already developing picture. Previous studies have revealed that schools are failing to support the mental wellbeing of youngsters in their care, with a 2015 report by think-tank, Demos, showing that final year students are three times as likely than 14-year olds to feel their school is only focused on preparing them for exams, rather than to succeed in life more generally.

Another report from Kings College London reveals that being bullied frequently as children leads to an increased risk of depression or anxiety – and that those people are more likely to report a lower quality of life at 50.

Opportunities

Clearly there is much to be done, but there are rays of hope. Almost 22% of respondents in our study cited a place of study or work as being the place where they encounter the highest feelings of wellbeing. So we just need to work at replicating this on a wider scale. And much of that comes down to understanding young people better and making sure they get the right educational fit.

Almost 22% of respondents in our study cited a place of study or work as being the place where they encounter the highest feelings of wellbeing.

Rosi Prescott, chief executive at Central YMCA, agrees: “It is vitally important to give young people a positive experience of education”, she says. “Feeling that we’ve failed to achieve our full potential in education can create a negative impact on wellbeing, which we carry with us into later life.

“It’s now vital that we work together to achieve a healthy balance of positive levels of physical activity, mental stimulation, and relationships – all which have a significant impact on our feelings of wellbeing.”

Luckily Alex has managed to get his life back on track. Now aged 22 he is doing a  two-year grounds maintenance apprenticeship through YMCA Training. “There’s a possibility of a job at the end, which is great. I’m so glad I got an opportunity to sort myself out.”

Learn more about the current state of the UK’s wellbeing and the factors that influence it by reading our full report ‘Eudaimonia: How do humans flourish?’

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