Will schools compete on well-being?

I have been trying to work out how international schools (generally) might respond to post-COVID parental expectations.

I borrowed the model below (thanks to Ross Maclean) and it’s a great tool for plotting changes over time. I’ve included: academic rigor, holistic education, well-being, facilities, and exam results, which I know feature highly for parents seeking the “best” schools.

The biggest ‘mover’, I think, will be towards wellbeing.  COVID has raised awareness that whilst schools can provide Incredible experiences for students and prepare them well for “after”, they can also seriously affect their mental health and well-being.  

The focus on wellbeing has been on the rise for some time now, but parents will now be looking for something beyond vision statements and assemblies (or a Mindfulness Monday).  All schools will need to work out what this looks like and I envisage that parents will expect to see how the ‘best’ schools will be able to evidence (not just talk about) how well they look after their students.

There is an obvious dilemma with these competing priorities for parents.  For example, it is challenging to provide an environment that both promotes academic rigor and systematic exam results, whilst simultaneously providing an authentic focus on holistic learning and wellbeing.  That’s not to say it can not be done.  But can it be done with fidelity?

I am curious as to whether parents would choose a school for their children that competed on the well-being and health of their students (and staff)?  Honestly, this is one of my hopes for the future of school.  However, I am pragmatic enough to appreciate that it will not be that simple when success is so often determined by one’s access to the “best” universities.  I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

So part of the work ahead is to redefine what success at school looks like.  For many it will remain exam success (which is no problem if they can retain their health in the process), but what about the many others who are hit with the double whammy of suffering through school and then also falling short in some exams they are not interested in taking in the first place.  Do the ends justify the means?  Not for me. Not for them.

More and more parents are asking those difficult questions about health and wellbeing.  Students too are talking about it and are calling out their schools (amplified on social media). I don’t think that more of the same will be tolerated so I expect that the “good” schools will need to act fast and authentically to retain their “school of choice” status.

There may be some interesting times ahead.

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