Wellbeing is vital for student success and is strongly linked to learning. 1, 2 Wellbeing is at the heart of curriculum and student educational experiences.

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:

  1. Developing a set of evaluation indicators for student wellbeing for schools to use – Wellbeing for Success: Draft evaluation indicators for student wellbeing 2013 – in collaboration with health and wellbeing experts and the education sector.
  2. Carrying out national evaluations of how well primary and secondary schools promote student wellbeing. The evaluation findings are presented in this report and in the Wellbeing for Young People’s Success at Secondary School report.
  3. Publishing a national good practice report. ERO will publish the evaluation indicators taking account of the good practice identified in schools. Another education initiative is the Ministry of Education’s Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) for schools, teachers and parents.

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:

  • establish and maintain effective professional relationships focused on the learning and wellbeing of all ākonga 8
  • demonstrate commitment to promoting the wellbeing of all ākonga.

What are the desired outcomes for student wellbeing?

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.

A star image revolving around Student Wellbeing.  The components encompassing this are belonging and connectedness, achievement and success, resilient, physically active, socially and emotionally included and competent, safe and secure, nurtured and cared for and confident in their identity.

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.

Why a focus on student wellbeing?

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:

  • school factors influence student success
  • primary school-aged children do not experience a high level of wellbeing.

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.