By Jon Franklin, Chief Economist at PBE

In our last blog, we explored how the risk factors for school exclusion identified in the Timpson Review interact with one another and found that by focusing on young people with multiple risk factors, we could concentrate on a far narrower group of young people with a disproportionately higher risk of exclusion. In this blog, we explore how levels of wellbeing vary according to these different levels of risk. 

Using data gathered by the Evidence Based Practice Unit, at the Anna Freud Centre and UCL, for the national evaluation of the HeadStart programme, we can look at how levels of wellbeing, as measured by the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWS), vary by the number of strong risk factors for school exclusion associated with a child. Set up in 2016, HeadStart was a six-year, £67.4 million programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It aimed to explore and test new ways to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 10–16 and prevent serious mental health issues from developing. The six HeadStart partnerships were based in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham, and Wolverhampton. As a test and learn programme, the HeadStart programme ended in July 2022, with many of the approaches having been sustained and embedded locally. The Evidence Based Practice Unit is leading the final national evaluation that will be completed in mid-2023. 

The HeadStart learning team has provided descriptive summary statistics from more than 10,000 Year 9 pupils to explore how their levels of wellbeing vary according to whether a pupil has zero, one, two or three risks, including: special educational needs, social care support, or persistent absence.  

We find that as the number of risk factors for permanent exclusion increases, levels of wellbeing decline. As Figure 1 shows, the average wellbeing score declines from 23.5 (from a maximum of 35) for those with no strong exclusion risks, to 21.4 for those with three strong risk factors. In addition, the proportion of children scoring low levels of wellbeing increases noticeably as the number of risk factors increase, from 17.3% of young people with no risk factors, to 23.5% of those with three risk factors. 

To put this into context, if we convert these changes into Wellbeing Adjusted Life Years (WELLBYs) and apply HM Treasury values then the difference in wellbeing between those with no risk factors and those with three risk factors would be worth the equivalent of nearly £7,000 per year for each young person affected.  

We believe this wellbeing gap presents an opportunity for building a stronger economic case for interventions to support young people at risk of exclusion. While traditional economic evaluation has tended to focus on the costs of public services in the education, social care and criminal justice sectors, we hope that by incorporating the value of wellbeing improvements too, it could further strengthen the economic case for these interventions. 

We will be working in collaboration with Porticus Foundation, as part of Integrated, and the #BeeWell programme in 2023 to explore the potential for using wellbeing valuation techniques to evaluate the impact of interventions targeted at children at risk of exclusion. We will be looking for organisations in the education and social sectors to collaborate with and pilot schemes, and will be in touch in the new year with more information.