Parents want wellbeing prioritised in schools as pandemic hits home

New research shows parents have seen a decline in their children's wellbeing.

As pupils return to school, 64% of parents believe that the wellbeing of their children is more important than their academic attainment.

The research, commissioned by children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust and supported by the Gregson Family Foundation, was conducted by YouGov, It highlights parents’ desire for wellbeing to be measured and tracked, with 76% of parents agreeing that “we need to measure young people’s wellbeing if we are going to improve it,” something supported by the charity.

Two-thirds of parents say that the pandemic, lockdown and changes to schooling have worsened their children’s wellbeing. Parents also recognise the importance of physical education (PE) and school sport in helping support children’s wellbeing and 81% believe that cuts to PE, sport and break time in schools are likely to have a negative impact.

The Youth Sport Trust said that the findings highlight the need for children’s wellbeing to be central to recovery plans and that sport, PE and physical activity are a crucial part of that. The children’s charity has formed an alliance with Sport England, NGBs and other sport and physical activity providers to support schools to deliver an ‘Active Recovery’ term and summer schools, but believes a long-term strategy is needed from government to tackle young people’s physical wellbeing and happiness, underpinned by a national wellbeing measurement programme to inform and target action and monitor these key issues.

The research among UK parents of children aged 18 and under was carried out in February 2021 by YouGov. It found:

  • Pupil wellbeing is the top factor for parents when choosing a secondary school (65%) ahead of location (62%), culture and ethos of the staff (59%), facilities (57%), OFSTED rating (57%) and exam results (48%) and second only to location for primary school choice (63%). Pupil wellbeing was also the top factor for school choice in 2020.
  • 76% of parents agreed that “we need to measure young people’s wellbeing if we are going to improve it”.  Two in three parents (67%) would like to see more information about what schools are doing to support the mental wellbeing of pupils.
  • Over two-thirds of parents (67% of parents with children aged 4-10 and 70% of those with children aged 11-16) say that the pandemic, lockdown and changes to schooling have worsened their children’s wellbeing.  Only around a third of parents (35%) with children aged 4-10 and a quarter of parents aged 11-18 (25%) said that their children were satisfied with their life nowadays (rating between 8-10 out of 10).
  • Parents also recognise the importance of PE and school sport in helping support children’s wellbeing and 81% believe that cuts to PE, sport and break time in schools are likely to have a negative impact.

Youth Sport Trust Chief Executive Ali Oliver MBE said:

It is concerning that two-thirds of parents have seen a significant drop to their children’s wellbeing due to the pandemic and the message from parents is clear; wellbeing continues to be the most important issue at school and must now be prioritised.

The fact that 81% of parents believe that cuts to PE, sport and breaktime would have a detrimental effect on their children’s wellbeing reinforces for the need for a real focus on nurturing their enjoyment of playing sport and physical activity in the coming weeks and months.

To support schools and teachers, the Youth Sport Trust and partners including national governing bodies of sport, charities and activity providers have united behind the concept of an Active Recovery term, characterised by daily physical activity, time outdoors and a greater focus on physical education and sport. Together we are making ideas, content and resources which support engagement, learning and recovery, easy to access and free to use.

We are pleased to be working with Sport England to address the many challenges we know children and schools face and it has been encouraging to have recent engagement with the Secretaries of State for Education and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on this issue.

Longer term, we want to see a joined-up national strategy for young people to be the most active and happiest in the world. A key part of this should be a national wellbeing measurement programme.


David Gregson, Chair of the Gregson Family Foundation, said:

Even before COVID, adolescents in the UK were amongst the most dissatisfied in the world and our work has called for a national wellbeing assessment programme that can influence policy and improve the lives of the nation’s children.

This latest joint research with the Youth Sport Trust highlights parents’ continued concerns for the wellbeing of their children, something that must be prioritised in recovery plans.

Working with a wide coalition of partners, we intend to inspire significant improvement to the wellbeing of young people, through targeted action - both within schools and also in the community.

The Greater Manchester Young People Wellbeing Programme – led by the University of Manchester, the Anna Freud Centre and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority - was announced earlier this year. From Autumn 2021, the Greater Manchester Young People Wellbeing Programme will deliver a wellbeing assessment survey in up to 250 secondary schools across the city region. The programme is being supported by a coalition of partners, with the first group of partners announced earlier this week with more to follow. Two of these initial additional partners are the Gregson Family Foundation and Youth Sport Trust.



All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,109 parents with children aged 18 and under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 19th February 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB parents (aged 18+).


About the Gregson Family Foundation

The Gregson Family Foundation support causes they believe will make a difference across three key areas; the environment, young people in Britain and social justices. They currently support major national and international charities in these three areas. In addition, they undertake research on areas of interest to the Foundation.

The first two reports – on student wellbeing in the UK, and on physical activity levels in the UK, were published in August 2019 and led to the initiation of the Greater Manchester Young Persons Wellbeing Programme.

They have supported the YST in this latest research around parental attitudes towards wellbeing.


About the Greater Manchester Young People Wellbeing Programme

The project is being led by the Manchester Institute of Education at The University of Manchester, in partnership with the Anna Freud Centre, a world leading mental health charity for children and families. From Autumn 2021, young people in secondary schools across greater Manchester will be surveyed about their wellbeing and preparedness for life beyond school, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will provide valuable insights to stakeholders to provide appropriate support services and make immediate improvements.

The Programme is still completing its fundraising programme to ensure that it can be launched as planned later this year. The Programme announced its first partners earlier this week. These are:


The initial partners are:

Service delivery partners

42nd Street

BeeHeard Mental Health

City in the Community

Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the ten districts

Greater Manchester Youth Combined Authority

Manchester United Foundation


Teach First

The Children’s Society

The Difference

The Tutor Trust

Young Manchester

Youth Alliance GM

Youth Focus North West

Youth Sport Trust

Academic research and policy partners

Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families

Child Outcomes Research Consortium

Education Policy Institute

Institute for Fiscal Studies

Institute for Health Equity


Pro Bono Economics

University of Manchester

What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Business partners

North West Business Leadership Team (“NWBLT”)

Northern Powerhouse Partnership (“NPP”)

Timpson Group

Funding Partners

Gregson Family Foundation

Holroyd Foundation

University of Manchester

Published on 12 March 2021