The #BeeWell project is a £2m collaboration between the University of Manchester, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Anna Freud Centre, and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing is a long term advisor. Each year, the programme will measure young people’s wellbeing and aims to bring about positive change in local communities. In this blog, Nancy Hey, our executive director, takes us through the findings of the first #BeeWell survey.
What do we know about young people’s wellbeing? Through the #BeeWell project, almost 40,000 young people in Year 8 and Year 10, from 93% of secondary schools across Greater Manchester, have taken part in the largest survey of its kind. Pupils in non-mainstream schools were able to complete a short version of the survey. A symbol-based version was also created for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.
The results have been made available to all the schools and overview summaries of the findings shared by the #BeeWell team. Crucially, the data is being made available not just to schools, but to all 66 neighbourhoods and families too through a pioneering interactive dashboard.
What do we know about young people’s wellbeing?
In the UK, we measure the wellbeing of adults regularly, consistently and at scale. When it comes to young people’s wellbeing, our Children’s National Statistics are robust, thanks to pioneering work from The Children’s Society, but smaller-scale.
The Office for National Statistics has a rigorous children’s wellbeing framework, and a good number of organisations are doing great work to measure wellbeing in schools.
However, the data is still patchwork and could easily be incorporated into national data sets and used more effectively.
Wellbeing measures are Mission 8 of the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ white paper, and the overall outcome of all 12 Missions. We know that young people’s wellbeing can be predictive of adult mental health up to 8 years later. Therefore, if we are to improve outcomes across the nation by 2030, we need to measure, monitor and act on supporting children’s wellbeing now.
What did #BeeWell measure and why?
The measures used by #BeeWell build on the pioneering work of many organisations, including the National Lottery funded HeadStart programme.
The What Works Centre for Wellbeing worked with the Children’s Society on the conceptual underpinning of the drivers and domains of wellbeing. We have advised on the #BeeWell project in a number of ways since its inception, including on the conceptual framework of subjective wellbeing measurement, and on the domains and drivers of wellbeing based on our reviews of the wellbeing literature and analysis of ONS subjective wellbeing data. The #BeeWell team also consulted with young people themselves to identify the things that mattered most to them. These were:
Domains of wellbeing
The areas of wellbeing that were found to be most important to young people were:
- Life satisfaction
- Meaning, purpose and control
- Understanding yourself
- Your emotions
Drivers of wellbeing
The things that were found to impact, drive and be most important to the wellbeing of young people were:
- Health and routines: sleep, food and drink, physical activity
- School: environment, work, relationships with staff
- Hobbies and entertainment: free time, social media, activities outside school
- Environment: home, money, local area and feeling safe
- Future: feeling ready for life and hope for the future
- Relationships: with parents and carers, friends, bullying, discrimination and loneliness.
What have we learned about young people’s wellbeing?
The #BeeWell team is publishing three sets of findings from the survey:
- Headline findings – an overview of the key results.
- How different groups of young people are doing – a look at wellbeing inequalities.
- Neighbourhood-level data – the interactive data dashboard, which will enable users to explore the domains and drivers of wellbeing in their local area.
The findings provide reasons to be hopeful for the future. However, they also highlight important wellbeing inequalities that call for further action.
Here’s a look at some of the key findings:
- Belonging at school: 4 in 5 young people feel that they belong at their school.
- Sleep: 40% of young people say they do not normally get enough sleep to feel awake and concentrate on schoolwork during the day. The average time spent on social media is 4.4 hours a day.
- Physical activity: 67% of young people are still getting involved in sport outside of school at least once a week, while 4 in 5 feel they have good, very good or excellent physical health. However, only 1 in 3 young people are reaching the recommended levels of physical activity. Similar to the national picture, physical activity levels appear to have dropped during the pandemic. These findings are important: we know that physical activity provides resilience to the ups and downs of life, along with support from a trusted adult and friends. Taking part in sport and dance can also have a positive impact on young people’s wellbeing.
- Places to go: 71% of young people feel they have good places to spend their free time, but this varies from 61% to 80% across neighbourhoods and there are also inequalities across other groups.
What do the findings tell us about wellbeing inequalities?
- There are gaps in wellbeing scores between males and females, with girls reporting lower wellbeing than boys. The life satisfaction average score is 6.2 out of 10 for girls, and 7.2 for boys. This reflects student and adult findings too and is worth exploring further through qualitative research.
- There are also sizeable inequalities for young people who identify as LGBTQ+, who on average report higher levels of stress and emotional difficulties.
- There are smaller wellbeing inequalities across ethnicity, SEND status, free school meals eligibility, caregiving responsibilities, and age. This is good news as it means it’s possible to make a difference in many different life circumstances.
What’s next? Turning evidence into action.
The #BeeWell project is a 100+ organisation cross-sector coalition, and the findings are already informing activity across Greater Manchester.
A new social prescribing pilot in five neighbourhoods has launched in response to the data, where young people will have access to £20,000 commissioning pots to spend on mental health and wellbeing activities in their local area. A youth-led radio show will see young artists exploring the key themes that have emerged from the data. The findings will also inform mental health commissioning led by LGBTQ+ people from the GM Health & Social Care partnership.
Action to increase physical activity and sport will include:
- Supporting schools to prioritise physical activity across the school day.
- Understanding and reducing the barriers to physical activity participation faced by young people who identify as LGBTQ+.
- Embedding physical activity in mental wellbeing services.
- Creating more opportunities for girls to be active.
The Greater Manchester Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is working with #BeeWell to offer the scheme to marginalised young people, and the findings have also been discussed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
Thank you to schools and young people in Greater Manchester, the #BeeWell partners and coalition for your pioneering action.
Likely areas for further development: evidence and action gaps
Personal wellbeing is feeling good and functioning well and we often miss the functioning well aspect, which is a key part of successful coping. Wellbeing isn’t just about relaxing. Areas with potential are:
- Continue to research mental health rapidly and robustly and implement universal social and emotional learning in schools as professionally as you would English and Maths.
- Make an action plan based on the domains, bringing everything that isn’t educational attainment into a single coordinated plan rather than ad hoc initiatives.
- Focus on problem solving, social problem solving and life skills along with goal setting and aspirations for some groups.
- We don’t yet get things right for:
- People who are introverted or have a preference for online communication.
- People who have high empathy.
- Types of perfectionism that are high risk for suicide and self harm whilst maitaining high performance.
- The evidence base on effective action and prevention of bullying and addiction needs significant progress.