All young people want the same things. Things like being included, learning, taking risks and experiencing success, having friends who value and accept them, and feeling competent and confident. They want teachers to be interested in them, to care for them and be trustworthy.
Likewise, parents want similar things for their children. To be happy at school, to feel safe, to be understood, to be well cared for by other adults, to relate well to others and become independent, and to experience success. They want to know that, if something goes wrong for their children at home or school, teachers will help them develop strategies to make things right again.
The Education Review Office captured these ideas in Wellbeing for Success: Draft evaluation indicators for student wellbeing (draft) 2013. 1 The indicators describe the values, curriculum and systems that help students experience a high level of wellbeing.
ERO evaluated how well schools promoted and responded to student wellbeing in 159 schools with Years 1 to 8 students reviewed in Term 1, 2014. ERO also evaluated student wellbeing in secondary schools and the findings for schools with Years 9 to 13 students will be presented in the Wellbeing for Young People's Success at Secondary School2 report.
ERO found nearly half of the primary schools promoted and responded reasonably well to student wellbeing. Another eighteen percent had a slightly better approach as they promoted student wellbeing through the curriculum. A small proportion of schools had an extensive approach, with wellbeing woven through all actions.
In these schools with an extensive approach, an agreed set of goals that emphasised student wellbeing guided all actions, reviews and improvements. Students found school deeply rewarding. The school curriculum promoted wellbeing and reflected the intent of The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) to use local contexts to encourage and model its values and to develop its key competencies.
A cohesive approach was critical, as achievement was linked to the other school goals. Leaders, with teachers, actively monitored student wellbeing and reviewed the effectiveness of the approaches taken.
Students’ ability to make and take accountability for their own choices was another key factor in the extensive approach taken by these schools. Students had opportunities to develop leadership, self efficacy, and resourcefulness while participating with others within a high‑trust culture and through a stimulating curriculum.
Most other schools relied on their positive school culture and respectful relationships to promote wellbeing. Students and teachers understood the values and expected ways of working. There were very few examples of teachers deliberately promoting wellbeing in curriculum or exploring the relationship between values, achievement and wellbeing. This meant wellbeing was more implicit than explicit. It would be of value for leaders with teachers, students, and their parents, families and whānau, to develop a set of school goals based on the shared values. These goals could then be used for identifying and reviewing possible curriculum opportunities to promote student wellbeing.
Some schools did not have shared values. There were examples of teachers’ inconsistent responses to playground behaviour and student learning. These schools had a narrow view of student wellbeing and would benefit from working with students, parents and whānau to explore what wellbeing means and how they can support it. Some schools may need external support for this.
Leadership capability to respond to a particular event determined whether a school was on a trajectory of rapid improvement or rapid decline in the way they promoted or responded to student wellbeing. Leaders that were guiding a rapid improvement returned the focus to learning. At the same time they focused on building relationships with students, parents, families and whānau; building teacher practice through whole school professional learning and development (PLD); and ensuring that the approach aligned the board and school leadership practices.
ERO identified the need for primary schools’ promotion of and response to wellbeing needs of Years 7 and 8 students to reflect the greater risks students this age and older may face. These students’ outcomes, such as more Year 7 and 8 students not achieving at or above National Standards, more suspended or stood down than Years 1 to 6 and some no longer physically active, are the cumulative effect of progress, achievement and wellbeing needs not being met in the earlier years.
Self review of wellbeing approaches often included ‘student voice’. Its meaning varied from school to school. In some schools it meant gathering student views through surveys while in other schools it meant setting up structures for students to participate in school decision making. The difference depended on how well the school promoted student leadership and students being in charge of their learning. Most schools would benefit from exploring what they mean by ‘student voice’.
Improved practices of many teachers and leaders of primary aged young people about wellbeing would support more students to be better prepared for adolescence and be “confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners 3” during their school years and beyond.