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Just what is Wellbeing?

Just what is Wellbeing? With calls for wellbeing to be put on the curriculum. NAPCE looks to break down the word wellbeing. We felt a reminder and de-construction of the word adds a little clarity so that we can address its components.

The dictionary definition of Wellbeing: ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’. In our environments the current priorities are child protection, free school meals, healthy living and inclusive school environments. Both physically and psychologically, students must have their needs met so that they are ready to learn efficiently. The state of wellbeing in our environments that we are part of/control are shaped by psychological, biological and sociological factors. Each play a part in the shaping of those within it. So from whole school planning, to lesson design, bear in mind these three factors- we can have an influence on each.


Mental wellbeing describes your mental state – ‘how you are feeling and how well you can cope with day-to-day life’.

Ryan and Deci see the basic components of psychological needs as competence, autonomy, and relatedness (think ‘CAR’ ????). The level of each clearly varies in relation to developmental stages in life (bear in mind that autonomy can still be given if it has a good structure). Having an understanding of these components allows us to develop a framework for living and learning that is intrinsically motivated- self-determined.

To put it in context, we will use the well known ‘learning through play’ and an example of watching my five year old nephew last week. The child has relatively free choice how they interpret the stick (high jump pole, freeze ray, telescope etc.), they relate to their interests and become curious into the capabilities of the stick (just how much does it bend before it snaps?). I would say whilst playing high jump outside for two hours, intrinsically driven to beat the 52cm record set by himself just moments earlier, he was ‘comfortable, healthy and happy’ but also resilient in his attempts to beat nobody other than his own expectations.

Suggestion: Question your planning to see if those you are planning for a CAR to drive them forward.


Biological Wellbeing: ‘the physical (external and internal) health of the body’

This area needs a little less explanation but is not to be forgotten- each intwines with another. Use of exercise not only benefits the body, but also the mind. Going a little deeper draws you into thinking around pre-existing conditions, genetic influence etc.(an argument, that as I currently stand, as having less impact than nurture- our sociological influences). What aspect of physiological health/need are your schools focusing on this term? Are they not? Can you build in a five minute break into your lessons to consider it?

Suggestion: With research suggesting thirty minutes as a maximum for efficient concentration, a short break could be justifiable.


The culture of a school, and therefore its expectations, is one of the largest factors in pupils flourishing. There are some schools setting some incredible models for use beyond, but improving, test success. Geelong Grammar in Australia has adopted the elements of Positive Psychology in doing just this. Some schools are even taking an Ofsted approach to achieving ‘outstanding happiness‘. The autonomy to this approach is evident.

Suggestion: Up to down or from the bottom up, someone has to be the lead in each institution to grow the culture of addressing wellbeing in all aspects of the above, so our pupils are ready to learn.

NAPCE wishes you well for your new school year!

Are you interested in becoming a part of NAPCE? Our AGM is on the 7th of October at King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS (Committee Room in King’s Building).
020 7836 5454 (for any questions).  

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