Adolescents want to test boundaries by exploring relationships with others to determine who they fit in with. They want to successfully navigate the risks that come with increased freedom and independence to determine which risks they are comfortable with, which cause harm and which lead to greater opportunities. They want their friends, family, teachers and other important adults to value and accept them, care for them and be trustworthy. They do this with much humour, creativity and panache.

Adolescents today have access to far more information, money and resources than any previous generation. Because of the internet and social networking, friends, bullies and marketers can influence young people’s thinking and actions far more than they could in the past. At the same time, New Zealand adolescents are becoming increasingly culturally eclectic as they borrow traditions from a range of cultural backgrounds. The boundaries of acceptable behaviour are not as clear as they were in the past and many parents feel they have less influence and wisdom to help their children navigate the complex issues they face.



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. The project has many initiatives. Over time, this project is expected to contribute to improvements in youth:

  • mental health
  • resilience and psychosocial wellbeing
  • access to youth-friendly Health Care Services
  • use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

ERO’s contribution is an evaluation project to help schools promote and respond to student wellbeing. The evaluation is in four stages:

  1. Developing a set of evaluation indicators for student wellbeing for schools to use - Wellbeing for Success: Draft evaluation indicators for student wellbeing (draft) 2013 – in collaboration with health and wellbeing exerts and the education sector.
  2. Carrying out an evaluation of the provision of guidance and counselling in secondary schools.
  3. Carrying out a national evaluation of how well primary and secondary schools promote student wellbeing. The evaluation findings are presented in this report and in the Wellbeing for Children's Success at Primary School report.
  4. Publishing a national good practice report.

ERO will then amend the draft evaluation indicators to take account of the good practice identified in schools.

Why a focus on student wellbeing?

The passage from childhood to adulthood is complex. It is a phase that is getting longer, with puberty starting earlier and full adult roles taken on in the mid-twenties or later. Most adolescents are resilient and thrive during this life phase. However, at least 20 percent of young New Zealanders exhibit behaviours or emotions or have experiences during this phase that can lead to long-term negative consequences.1

A focus on young people’s wellbeing has increased nationally2 and internationally 3. The Youth Mental Health Project4 was developed because of these concerns. 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 increased by a sense of feeling safe and secure at school and, in turn, affects their resilience. By summarising findings from New Zealand5 and international papers, we know that:

  • school factors influence student success
  • many secondary-aged young people do not experience a high level of wellbeing.

ERO evaluated how well secondary 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 their adolescent years.

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(draft) 2013,6  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 related to 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 the community. Optimal student wellbeing is a sustainable state, characterised by predominantly positive feelings and attitudes, positive relationships at school, resilience, self-optimism and a high level of satisfaction with learning experiences.7


On the basis of current research, ERO identified nine key ideas that demonstrated the Desired outcomes for student wellbeing.9 These are described in Figure 1.

Schools, through their own consulting processes, may have their own desired outcomes that reflect similar ideas.

Figure 1: Desired outcomes for student wellbeing

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.

  • Students have a sense of belonging and connection to school, whānau, friends and the community.
  • Students experience achievement and success.
  • Students are resilient and 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.

The role of secondary schools

Secondary schools are important institutions for young people during adolescence. They provide guidance and role models for young people – as do other institutions, such as families and whānau, church groups and community groups.

Secondary schools provide young people with a complex framework for navigating choices that affect their lives, during and after their school years – such as what and how to learn, who to interact with, and how. These choices are made in the context of academic, co-curricular, leadership, qualifications, and vocational opportunities. During these opportunities students interact with teachers and their peers in a variety of ways – face-to-face or through electronic means, as an individual and as part of a group.

How secondary schools address student wellbeing can be understood by using a ‘promoting and responding triangle’,8 that describes the provision of support for all students (see Figure 2).

The quality of these interactions determines whether each student feels there is at least one adult who cares for them and values them, who listens, who they can trust and who will support them through the decisions they make.

Responsibility for student wellbeing is described in documents that guide teacher actions. The Ministry of Education’s National Administration Guidelines 9 state 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 New Zealand Teachers Council’s Code of Conduct10 for registered New Zealand teachers states that they will “promote the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing of learners”. Their Registered Teacher Criteria11 state that fully registered teachers must “establish and maintain effective professional relationships focused on the learning and wellbeing of all ākonga”12 and “demonstrate commitment to promoting the wellbeing of all ākonga”.