public school to create chain of \happy academies\
Last Updated : GMT 00:05:49
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Public school to create chain of \'happy academies\'

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Public school to create chain of \'happy academies\'

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The network of state-funded academies will have “well being” at the heart of the curriculum, with lessons in positive psychology for all pupils based on classes pioneered at Wellington College in Berkshire, where fees for boarders are £30,000 a year. Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington, has appointed James O’Shaughnessy, who until October was David Cameron’s head of policy, to run the scheme. Mr O’Shaughnessy, a Wellington old boy, is a proponent of the Prime Minister’s controversial “happiness index”, a measure of the nation’s well-being levels to be published this summer. He said the private school’s brand of education could benefit thousands of children in up to a dozen new academies in the next five years. “I was initially very sceptical about the happiness and wellbeing stuff,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “But at Number 10 we did a lot of work on it and I came to believe that there was a science to it and that it wasn’t just airy-fairy wishful thinking. “The field of positive psychology has demonstrable, scientifically tested benefits to people’s mental health. It helps people to lead better lives. It doesn’t mean that money or jobs or other traditional things don’t matter but we all have a sense that there is more to life than that. We want to encapsulate that in an education context.” Mr Seldon, the biographer of Tony Blair, is in the vanguard of the “happiness agenda”, having introduced it in Wellington in 2006. The lessons, designed by Professor Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, are aimed at developing pupils’ mindfulness, optimism, emotional resilience and self-confidence. They are also taught at the new Wellington Academy, in Tidworth, Wiltshire, a state-funded boarding school, sponsored by the independent college with a £2 million donation from Goldman Sachs. It opened in 2009, replacing a failing school. Mr Seldon is in a minority of independent school head masters who has answered David Cameron’s call for the private sector to play its part in the academies programme by sponsoring nearby state schools. His new chain, for which he is seeking £5 million private funding, will include a mixture of failing schools, new schools and good schools which want to convert to academy status under the Government’s expansion plan. They will join the 1,641 secondary schools in England, out of a total of 3,261, that are now academies or have applied to be one. The Wellington chain curriculum will be built around the aim of developing pupils’ character. For instance, English lessons could involve looking at the strengths and weaknesses of characters in classic English literature to encourage pupils to consider their own. “There is a false dichotomy in British education – that it is about learning facts or producing happy people,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “The truth is, it is about both. “If you think about what those really good public schools do so well, develop the personality traits of optimism and ambition, altruism, service, character and grit, these things are not advertised in the glossy brochures but they are implicit in the kind of education parents pay good money for. “They have developed over decades of tradition and they are in every brick. That is what we want to transfer. We don’t just want a good group of schools, but a tangible \'Wellington group’ of schools.” The former adviser said the approach, based on the positive psychology pioneered by Martin Seligman, an American psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, had a scientific basis. As a result, it differed from the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme, which the Labour government spend millions of pounds on to little discernible effect, he claimed. “It is not the same thing,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “It is very far from the \'Are you all right, are you happy?’ approach that turns into fluff at one end of the spectrum. The resilience programme developed by Pennsylvania University has been adopted by the US Army for over a million soldiers, it is a tough approach.” Academies are schools which are funded directly from Whitehall and independent of local authority control. They employ their own staff and set their own pay, conditions and curriculum. Many successful academies are members of chains run by charities and not-for-profit companies such as Oasis Community Learning, the United Learning Trust, Harris Federation, E-ACT and ARK. The Government argues that academies produce better results. Opponents point to statistics which show that the schools exclude three times more pupils than the national average. The Office for National Statistics is due to deliver the first official “happiness index” in July.

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