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Case for children's well-being measurement

In partnership with the What Works Centre Wellbeing and The Gregson Family Foundation, this briefing outlines why comprehensive national measurement of children's well-being is needed in England and what steps decision makers should take to make it a reality.

Number of pages:

19 pages

Date published:

The case for change

Children’s well-being in the UK is in decline.

Our young people are anxious. Within the OECD, only young people in Turkey and Korea are more anxious than young Britons. National surveys of mental ill-health show increasing levels of emotional problems like depression and low mood, particularly among older teenagers.

Our young people are lagging behind their international peers when it comes to education. By the ages of 16-19, young people in the UK have the lowest literacy rate, and the second lowest numeracy rate of all OECD countries.

Increasing numbers of children are not safe. Numbers of children being removed from their families to the care of state have risen 24% in the last decade. There have been huge increases in safeguarding referrals for children suspected to be at risk of abuse and neglect.

Many children are inactive and rarely get the exercise they need to stay healthy. By the time children turn 15, the UK ranks 115th out of 122 countries included in the World Health Organisation’s physical activity rankings.

The social contract society has with young people, to ensure they live a better life than older generations, is at risk of breaking.

Despite being worried about the future, young people are still optimistic. They can overcome these challenges.

But we must support them and do what we can to address the problems they face today. We must hold ourselves to account so we can demonstrate the progress we have made.

Improving the well-being of the current generation of young people is one way to ensure that they grow up to become happy and confident adults.

There is lots of evidence about improving well-being. We do not need to re-invent the wheel.

Prioritising children’s well-being in policy and service delivery could yield significant results.

But if we are to be truly accountable we must measure our progress. We must have a baseline of data from which to make decisions and we must understand change over time.

Comprehensive measurement of children’s well-being would provide the foundation needed to rebuild the social contract.


In order to enable national measurement of well-being in schools the Department for Education should:

  • Establish an expert reference group to review existing well-being assessment in schools and relevant data, consult with professionals, parents, carers and young people and to recommend a core set of national questions on subjective well-being.
  • Establish a pilot programme trialling comprehensive measurement that tests different methods of consent, data collection methods, and the use of either the National Pupil Database or a bespoke and fully anonymised national well-being dataset.
  • Concurrently the Department for Education, working with key stakeholders, should design, test and pilot a range of teacher well-being measures to help understand the links between teacher and child well-being and to help understand how to improve teachers’ well-being.
  • The Department should also consult with local authorities about a duty to measure the wellbeing of the most vulnerable young people who may not be in school. This should include an examination of cost and the resources, advice and support needed to implement such a duty.
  • Establish a cross-departmental working group to identify different departments’ needs that could be met by a national survey in schools. Once established, this group could include a small number of additional questions annually to explore important public policy topics.
  • Alongside developments in measurement the civil service should look to develop a “Well-being Test” for new policy. This could be combined with children’s rights considerations to provide the strongest framework.
  • Following the publication of the a “State of the Nation” Report in October 2019, the Department should commit to making this an annual publication that draws on the data obtained through comprehensive national measurement and other services to inform decision makers and the public on children’s well-being.
  • Localised report cards for local government, CCGs, academy chains and schools to understand their children’s well-being.
  • An open source data set, outside the National Pupil Database, for academics and policy makers to utilise in addition to requests to the Department for use of the full NPD when ethical and appropriate.

The Children’s Society, the What Works Centre for Well-being and the Gregson Family Foundation will be very happy to assist in implementing these recommendations if such support would be helpful.

Full report

If you'd like more information, read the full case for a national measurement of children's well-being.