While we’ve known for some time that our experiences of the education system can have a lasting impact on our lives – good or bad – in the past it has been difficult to determine just to what extent positive or negative experiences of education affect us in the long-term.

To help us truly evaluate the consequences of poor education on our wellbeing, earlier this year Central YMCA decided to conduct our biggest study to date of wellbeing in the UK – so we could find out not only how education has an impact on how we feel about ourselves, but how other lifestyle factors affect this too.

The findings of this research – based on a nationally-representative sample of 1,000 adults - were published in Central YMCA’s latest report and raised a number of alarm bells.

One of the most worrying results was found in the reading around education – where we uncovered just how devastating having a hard time in education can be when it comes to our wellbeing and opinion of self later on in life.

The research uncovered a sizeable 30% difference in the overall wellbeing scores between those who had said they enjoyed their time in education and those who did not – regardless of current personal circumstances.

So, if you had had a hard time at school – if you were bullied, or someone that struggled with mainstream academia - your wellbeing score today could be almost a third lower than that of your peers who had an easier ride.

If we then take into account the rising number of students suffering mental health problems, and the rocketing number of those seeking counselling and other support services, it’s clear just how important working to foster positive wellbeing among students is.

So, what can we do to help our young people flourish?

Impact of education on wellbeing

Our wellbeing report did also give us some hope – almost 22% of those we spoke to told us that a place of study or work is where they felt their wellbeing was at its highest.

Therefore, we must work to optimise this. But how?

There are some practical tips colleges and universities should consider to improve the wellbeing of their students:

1. Training staff to help create a safe environment

Ensuring staff are trained up to understand student wellbeing – its importance and how to bolster it - is vitally important if we wish to make students feel safe and secure in the environment in which they’re learning.

Members of staff must be trained to monitor student behaviour, and identify any noticeable negative changes, so that these can be addressed at the earliest point.

2. Encouraging an active lifestyle

Our research uncovered a 32% difference in wellbeing scores between those who are physically active versus those who are not. Encouraging students to get active is really important – keeping students informed of any activities that are happening on campus is one way of doing this.

It’s also crucial that colleges and universities work to ensure students have access to facilities– whether that’s on campus or elsewhere.

3. Increasing focus on support services

If we’re serious about improving wellbeing – we need to ensure there’s enough focus on student support services, and that anyone in need of counselling has access to it at their place of learning.

Many FE colleges and universities will be aware of how the experiences young people have in education can shape them in later life, but hopefully our research will add to the growing body of evidence that show colleges need to support investment in this area.

Bearing in mind that 77% of NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups have frozen or cut their child and adolescent mental health services this year, there clearly needs to be greater overlap in the pastoral care provided by education providers and the primary care system.

Rob May, Director at YMCA Awards, part of Central YMCA

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