The concept of wellbeing has continuity right through New Zealand education. It is evident from the principles and strands of Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum,through the values and key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) for schools, to the tertiary and employment key competencies.
The NZC guides the design and implementation of each school’s curriculum in response to local strengths and aspirations. Schools are expected to base their curriculum on the NZC’s principles, encourage and model the values, and develop the key competencies.
Background In April 2012, Prime Minister John Key, launched the Youth Mental Health Project, with initiatives across a number of education and health agencies. The project aims to improve outcomes for young people aged 12-19 years with, or at risk of developing, mild to moderate mental health issues. Part of the Education Review Office (ERO)’s contribution is an evaluation project to help schools promote and respond to student wellbeing. The evaluation is in three stages:
All New Zealand students, regardless of where they are situated, should experience a rich and balanced education that embraces the intent of the national curriculum. The principles should underpin and guide the design, practice, and evaluation of curriculum at every stage. The values, key competencies, and learning areas provide the basis for teaching and learning across schools and within schools. This learning will contribute to the realisation of a vision of young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.3
The NZC acknowledges that every curriculum decision and every interaction that takes place in schools should reflect both the individual’s (students, parents and teachers) values and the collective school values.
Every school has a set of values. They are expressed in its philosophy, in the way it is organised, and in interpersonal relationships at every level... Schools need to consider how they can make the values an integral part of their curriculum and how they will monitor the effectiveness of the approach taken. 4
The concept of wellbeing is also described in documents that guide teacher actions. The National Administration Guidelines 5 states that each board of trustees is required to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students; promote healthy food and nutrition for all students; and comply in full with any legislation currently in force or that may be developed to ensure the safety of students and employees. The Code of Conduct 6 for registered New Zealand teachers states that they will “promote the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing of learners”. The Registered Teacher Criteria 7 state that fully registered teachers:
Wellbeing is a concept that covers a range of diverse outcomes. All definitions of ‘wellbeing for success’ assume that young people are active participants in their learning and in developing healthy lifestyles. In developing the Wellbeing for Success: Draft Evaluation Indicators for Student Wellbeing 2013 9, ERO consulted with health professionals, young people, tangata whenua, school leaders and the wider education sector. The definition adopted represented these perspectives, and was central to Wellbeing for Success.
A student’s level of wellbeing at school is indicated by their satisfaction with life at school, their engagement with learning and their social-emotional behaviour. It is enhanced when evidence-informed practices are adopted by schools in partnership with families and community. Optimal student wellbeing is a sustainable state, characterised by predominantly positive feelings and attitude, positive relationships at school, resilience, self-optimism and a high level of satisfaction with learning experiences.10
On the basis of current research, ERO identified nine key ideas that demonstrated the desired outcomes for student wellbeing 11. These are described in Figure 1. Schools, through their own consulting processes, may have their own set of desired outcomes that reflect similar ideas.
Figure 1: Desired outcomes for student wellbeing
Students have a sense of belonging and connection to school, to whānau, to friends and the community
Students experience achievement and success
Students are resilient, have the capacity to bounce back
Students are socially and emotionally competent, are socially aware, have good relationship skills, are self-confident, are able to lead, self manage and are responsible decision-makers
Students are physically active and lead healthy lifestyles
Students are nurtured and cared for by teachers at school, have adults to turn to who grow their potential, celebrate their successes, discuss options and work through problems
Students feel safe and secure at school, relationships are valued and expectations are clear
Students are included, involved, engaged, invited to participate and make positive contributions
Students understand their place in the world, are confident in their identity and are optimistic about the future.
A focus on young people’s wellbeing has increased nationally 12 and internationally 13. Although there is not a single measure for student wellbeing, the factors that contribute are interrelated and interdependent. For example, a student’s sense of achievement and success is enhanced by a sense of feeling safe and secure at school and affects their resilience. By summarising findings from New Zealand and international papers 14, we know that many:
ERO’s evaluation was undertaken to identify ways primary schools promote and respond to student wellbeing. By understanding and improving this, it is hoped that all young people will experience a higher level of wellbeing during the adolescent years.