Building Back Fairer with young people across Greater Manchester

Student wellbeing must form part of our educational recovery post Covid

David Gregson Chairman, GMYPWP Advisory Board

The challenge and opportunity to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people in the UK is more pressing than ever. Recent international surveys have shown that adolescents in the UK are in the bottom four of some 80 countries in terms of life satisfaction. This desperate state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue and a coalition of local and national actors are now working together to seize the opportunity to radically improve the lives of young people across Greater Manchester.

Our long-term aspiration is to trigger a step change in education, rebalancing our nation’s focus on educational outcomes and underscoring the complementarity of wellbeing and academic attainment. We intend to create the conditions for all young people across Greater Manchester to have the opportunity to thrive, regardless of background, and lead national change on wellbeing that is inspired by the work that we will deliver across the city region.

The reality is that mental health of young people in the UK was decreasing well before covid-19, and the pandemic is exposing the wildly divergent experiences and outcomes of young people from different backgrounds. As they return to school, we believe that supporting their mental health and wellbeing, thereby improving their life satisfaction, needs to be central to the recovery process.

The Greater Manchester Young People’s Wellbeing Programme will use effective and standardised assessment and monitoring to focus and inspire holistic efforts to improve the wellbeing of all young people across the city region. We are designing, and will implement, a methodology for assessing the wellbeing (and the factors that influence wellbeing) of young people in years 8 to 10 in up to 230 secondary schools across Greater Manchester.

The University of Manchester and the Anna Freud Centre, leaders in this field having delivered the national Headstart programme, will oversee the delivery of the survey. Co-designed by young people and academic and practitioner experts, it will take place across three years from autumn 2021.

Participating schools and localities will receive aggregated feedback, using our dynamic online data dashboard (developed for HeadStart), which enables them to interrogate data trends at different levels of granularity and over time through intuitive, accessible visualisations. The Child Outcomes Research Consortium will provide expert support for schools to act on this evidence. We intend that a community of practice of school leaders and teachers will empower practitioners to address emerging issues around wellbeing and monitor their effectiveness.

The research will also create a rich longitudinal evidence base leading to a better understanding of the socio-economic and other determinants of health and wellbeing, such as the relevance of the arts, culture and physical activity to wellbeing. As the work develops, the Programme is building a wider coalition of actors, such as arts and cultural organisations, youth clubs, sports clubs, businesses and charities – making the wellbeing of young people everybody’s business in neighbourhoods across the city region. It is interesting to see that this wider perspective is right at the very heart of Sir Kevan Collins’ plans, following his recent appointment as the Education Recovery Commissioner. We will be doing our very best to support his efforts.

The voice of young people is critical to the success of the Programme. Our Young People Steering Group said that one of the long-term changes we should aim for is “Powerful young people creating their own futures”. This approach is being embedded into the programme from the start: with young people sitting on our governance boards, engaging in questionnaire design, holding the programme accountable to its aims and co-creating solutions to the issues that are raised by the survey.

Partners, including GM Mayor Andy Burnham, the leaders of the ten districts, local health partners, funders and Sir Michael Marmot, will ensure that the Programme findings inform policy and investment decisions in the city region and, in due course, beyond. Greater Manchester is the only city-region in England with a devolved health care budget and so has the capacity, structures and ambition to deliver services on a holistic basis. The programme is closely linked to the Mayor’s focus on life readiness and the Young Person’s Guarantee.

We will continue to develop the Programme in the next seven months or so, prior to its launch in schools in Autumn 2021. You can find more information on our current plans and our team here. If you would like to become involved, please do get in touch with any member of the team as shown on the website.

We are determined to improve the lives of young people across Greater Manchester by focussing on their wellbeing, and lead the national debate on the importance of wellbeing in the assessment of our country’s young people.

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