Principals in schools that were well-placed to promote and respond to student wellbeing had systems to ensure school values, curriculum and responses to wellbeing issues were designed in consultation with the school community. They also made sure that these systems were adequately resourced to be a key part of day-to-day practice and were regularly reviewed to monitor their effectiveness. These leaders understood that students needed opportunities to:

  • develop relationships with peers and adults that were based on mutual respect
  • learn and take risks in a safe environment
  • develop goals and experience success
  • develop leadership skills and a sense of their own ability
  • be “confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners”.1

Students at these schools said they felt supported by teachers and that they valued being treated as resourceful young adults.

Even with this care, the key finding from this evaluation was that students in all schools were experiencing a very assessment driven curriculum and assessment anxiety. Achieving academic success is a part of wellbeing but is not the only factor. Very few schools were responding to this overload by reviewing and changing their curriculum and assessment practices. Schools need to explore the intent of NCEA and The New Zealand Curriculum (with the senior secondary guidelines) and develop a curriculum that is underpinned by the vision and principles of these documents.

Schools need to be assured that all students have opportunities to explore wellbeing issues. For most students, the health curriculum is only up to Year 10 and is no more than two hours a week. Schools need to map how wellbeing themes are taught across learning areas and year levels to determine whether all groups of students, because of the subject choices they make, have opportunities to explore wellbeing themes outlined in The New Zealand Curriculum.

Most schools, with their community, have developed a set of desired outcomes for students. By monitoring all of these outcomes , and not just achievement, schools would be better prepared to respond to the wellbeing needs of individual students and groups of students.

In many secondary schools the only people who understood the school curriculum and care, and competing demands on them, were the students. Secondary students would benefit from their school leaders and teachers:

  • involving students in reviewing and making decisions about the quality of their school experiences
  • reviewing their curriculum using The New Zealand Curriculum, in particular the key competencies and the health and physical education learning area, and senior secondary guidelines
  • reviewing their NCEA assessment programme
  • connecting learning areas with sport, culture and leadership opportunities
  • deliberately mapping and reviewing the opportunities for students to explore wellbeing issues, and develop and use key competencies and leadership skills
  • engaging parents, family and whānau in decisions that affect the wellbeing of their young people
  • finding solutions within the school community
  • reviewing the effectiveness of actions by looking for patterns and trends.

ERO has made specific recommendations to the Ministry of Education, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and to school leaders aimed at improving how well secondary schools promote and respond to wellbeing. These are outlined in Next steps of this report.