What makes a happy school? | Education Support
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What makes a happy school?

3rd October 2019

When some of us think back to our school days, a smile immediately spreads across our face as we remember friendships, funny teachers and fun lessons. For others, the memory of school is one they’d rather forget. But the evidence is clear that when teachers and students enjoy school, everyone does better. Happier children learn better and healthier and happier teachers appear to teach better. In fact, numerous studies show that when staff are happy at work they’re more productive, more creative, have less time off sick, are better at their jobs, and have happier customers. So, it makes complete sense to want to make schools a happy place to teach and learn. With that in mind, below are five factors that are key to building a happy school.


My last article was about the importance of building positive relationships at school and that’s because they are the absolute bedrock of a happy school. Happy schools make connections between colleagues, students and parents an absolute necessity. The happiest schools are the ones that make everyone feel like they belong to a community where they feel welcomed, where they are safe and where they can be themselves. Schools where humour and light-heartedness are part of the culture are happier places to learn and work because laughter helps build rapport and reduces some of the inevitable stress and tension that comes with teaching.

Be fair

Being treated with fairness and respect are fundamentals for a happier school. This is partly about having rules and expectations, with rewards and sanctions, that are clear, fair and not too punitive. When everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, and everyone knows what’s expected of them, life feels that bit sweeter. Fairness is also about being flexible and realistic in your expectations of people. For example, it might mean cutting a student some slack when you know they’re having a nightmare at home, or creating policies that make workload meaningful and manageable for staff. When schools treat the members of their community fairly, they reap dividends in the future.


Schools that trust their teachers, by affording them the autonomy and agency to complete their work as they see fit, often have the happiest staff. When teachers feel able to use their strengths to do a good job, more often than not, they rise to the challenge. But remember, this isn’t just about teachers. Students need to be trusted to use their judgement and take on responsibilities and show what they are capable of. When students and teachers feel empowered to do their best work, step out of the way and watch them fly!


Learning new things is a key facet of a happy life and one of the 5 Ways To Wellbeing. When we’re engaged and interested in our work, we feel and do better because we’re more likely to experience flow. If our work is not challenging enough, we get bored, but if it’s too challenging we get overwhelmed. So, when teaching, aim for that elusive Goldilocks sweet-spot of stretching your students to just beyond what they can currently do. And happy schools invest well in staff CPD, so that it’s not just the students who are being challenged!


Doing work that we feel is genuinely worthwhile can be really motivating and can sustain us through difficult times.  The happiest schools often have a very clear sense of purpose – the teaching staff know why they turn up to work everyday and the students know what they’re there to do. When the whole school community has a shared sense of purpose, even seemingly unsurmountable barriers can be overcome. Happiness expert, Prof. Richard Layard, says that, “A society cannot flourish without some sense of shared purpose.” It means that happy schools set their sails in an agreed direction and then it’s all hands-on-deck to steer the ship towards the horizon and over the choppy seas.

Adrian Bethune is a primary teacher, founder of www.teachappy.co.uk and the author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. He tweets @AdrianBethune

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