One of Britain's biggest education authorities is to put happiness at the heart of the curriculum for its 180,000 school pupils. Birmingham City Council is to tell its 440 schools that they must give as much priority to children's emotional well-being as they do to literacy and numeracy.
The authority is believed to be the first in Britain to rewrite its children's development plan – now required by law – to give priority to pupils' happiness.
Children will attend "emotional barometer" sessions to encourage them to express their feelings and their worries. Nursery pupils will also be given coaching in how to prepare for primary school. The aim is to make sure they can communicate properly with other children and behave in the classroom. Similar help will be offered when they transfer to secondary school. This could include appointing older children as mentors.
Les Lawrence, the Conservative cabinet member responsible for children's services in Birmingham, said: "It's not just about happiness for the sake of it. We all perform better when we're smiling. We support our young people in making a positive contribution to society and the economy and prepare them for the world of work, but that would count for nothing if almost half the population are stressed and anxious."
In a paralleldevelopment, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers is to debate a call to set up a Royal Commission to find out why so many children are unhappy at school. Union members will tell the association's conference in Torquay that they are worried that so many children – particularly those of primary school age – are displaying signs of anxiety because of the pressures of too much testing.
The idea of "happiness" lessons was introduced by Dr Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College, the leading independent school.