Most young people in New Zealand are creative and resilient and thrive during their adolescent years – but 20 percent exhibit behaviours or emotions or have experiences that put their wellbeing at risk. The Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project 1  was established because of these concerns.

Part of ERO’s involvement in this project was the Wellbeing for Success: Draft evaluation indicators for student wellbeing (draft) 2013.2 The indicators describe the school values, curriculum and systems that help students experience a high level of wellbeing during their school years.

ERO evaluated how well schools promoted and responded to student wellbeing in 68 secondary schools (Years 9 to 13) in Term 1, 2014. ERO also evaluated this topic in primary schools – the findings for schools with Years 1 to 8 students are presented in Wellbeing for Children's Success at Primary School. 3

ERO found that support for wellbeing varied across the schools sampled. In general, secondary schools promoted wellbeing through the school values and curriculum. Wellbeing issues were responded to at an individual or group level and there was often specialist support for students with particular needs.

Eleven of the 68 schools sampled were well-placed to promote and respond to student wellbeing. They had cohesive systems aligned with their school’s values. Most students experienced high levels of wellbeing and found school rewarding. Another 39 schools had elements of good practice that could be built on. Eighteen secondary schools sampled had a range of major challenges that affected the way they promoted and responded to student wellbeing. Some of these schools were overwhelmed by their issues and unable to adequately promote student wellbeing.

Students in well-placed schools experienced respectful relationships with their peers and with adults that were based on shared values. Students were seen as inherently capable and expected to contribute to, and be accountable for, the experiences of others. Schools’ responses to anti-social behaviour, student truancy or lateness were consistent and aimed to build and restore respectful relationships.4 Good care systems ensured any wellbeing issues were minimised, so that the ability of students to learn was not compromised. These schools understood the benefit of connecting care information with academic information when identifying and responding to wellbeing issues. Students had easy access to high quality counselling and health professionals. Approaches to wellbeing were reviewed using consultation and in a timely way. The schools were focused on making improvements.

In general, students would benefit from more teachers and leaders asking them about their experiences and involving them in decisions about the quality of their school life. Even though schools use ‘student voice’, its meaning varied from school to school. In some schools it meant only gathering student views through surveys or focus groups 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.

Students would also benefit from schools being more deliberate in promoting wellbeing in the curriculum. In many schools the only people who understood the overall curriculum and the competing demands on them, were the students. What they experienced was very assessment driven and caused anxiety for many students. For example, schools could be more deliberate in their use of:

  • the health and physical education learning area5
  • key competencies 6
  • learning contexts in all learning areas
  • leadership opportunities
  • co-curricular activities – out-of-class activities that complement what students are learning in school.

An aligned and deliberate approach to wellbeing by secondary schools with a foundation of respectful relationships would support more adolescents to be “confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners”.7