Mental health league tables 'are needed to measure schools' success'


League tables should be brought in to measure pupils' mental health, the former head teacher of a leading public school has said. 

Sir Anthony Seldon, who was head of Wellington College in Berkshire from 2006 until 2015, said children would continue to suffer needlessly if league tables were only used to chart academic performance.

And he said a failure to address mental health issues would also translate to poorer performance in the classroom - and lead to a generation of "A-star junkies" who lacked other crucial skills.

Sir Anthony, speaking at Tatler magazine's Schools Live conference in London on Monday, said: "It is perfectly clear to me after 20 years as a head of schools that parents will pay more heed to the well-being tables than to the exam league tables.

"They know, even if the Government doesn't, that schools that prioritise well-being - which includes challenging and stretching students - also build character and help them to perform better than those schools which are just exam factories.

"Focus on well-being and character thus improves exam results: a focus on exam results alone diminishes well-being. It doesn't even prepare students for work because employers want young people with character strengths and personal responsibility not A-star junkies who can't converse.

"We now know much more than we did ten years ago how to teach well-being and character in schools."

Sir Anthony, who has written books on several former prime ministers, added: "Running a university now, it has become even clearer to me that by the time students arrive at 18, the damage has been done, and universities are on the back foot. The groundwork needs to be done in schools."

Figures from the Office for National Statistics, published in September, showed there were 186 suicides of 15- to 19-year-olds in 2015, the highest number since 1998, and up on the previous year's total of 156.

Nine children aged from 10 to 14 killed themselves in 2015 - the joint highest since records began in 1981. 

Speaking on World Mental Health Day, Sir Anthony, who is co-founder of the Action for Happiness which works to build a healthier society, added: "The evidence is totally clear that well-being interventions enhance well-being and allow students and young people to cope best with problems.

"As long as the only metric on which schools are being assessed is their exam performance, our schools will never have the incentive to take well-being as seriously as they should."