There has been a burgeoning interest, policy debate, policy making, academic research and program development around the concepts of wellbeing and schools in many countries.

McLaughlin  identifies three key drivers of the current focus on wellbeing:

  • sociological arguments that the place of emotions in our society and our cultural relationship to emotions have changed and that this influences expectations of emotional wellbeing
  • social and economic concerns as part of policy landscape
  • a shift from focusing on disease to health promotion
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Early intervention

In recent years there has been a focus and shift in government policy towards early intervention and prevention in recognition that prevention is socially and economically more effective in the long term than later intervention.

In response to changed understandings, mental health promotion is one of the seven national health priority areas for Australia.

In response to changed understandings, mental health promotion is one of the seven national health priority areas for Australia.

Public health campaigns aim to increase knowledge (mental health literacy) and diminish stigma and disadvantage. They take a focus on health promotion as well as prevention, early intervention and provision of treatment.

The Commonwealth Government continues to fund the development of resources and websites to support and promote mental health literacy amongst teachers and their students.

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Ecological approach

Since 1996, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)  has been monitoring the health, development and wellbeing of Australia’s children and young people, producing comprehensive reports in this area.

Recent reports from the AIHW on Australia’s children represent a shift from primarily health focused reporting, to a more ecological approach, where the importance of parents, families and the physical and social environment are well recognised (AIHW 2004, 2005).

These reports highlight wider social, community and economic contexts as having a significant influence on the health, development and wellbeing of Australian children.

Factors having an impact on wellbeing of young people include:

  • rapid social and cultural change
  • poor physical wellbeing influencing mental health
  • more dynamic families and family structures
  • pressure to achieve in work and education
  • developments in digital technology
  • an affluent culture focused on materialistic and individualistic values
  • economic changes
  • rural and isolated locations
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Safe schools

Education systems and leaders are expected to take every available measure to ensure the safety of students, and the broader school community, and to protect and support them. The National Safe Schools Framework (NSSF)  outlines how all Australian schools need to be safe, supportive and respectful teaching and learning communities that promote student wellbeing.

Schools are effective locations for addressing student wellbeing because of the increased opportunities they provide for promotion, prevention and intervention and their accessibility and familiarity to students and families.

A school focus on wellbeing prioritises strong family connections and looks at ways to support parents in enhancing children’s wellbeing and resilience.

International research literature and Australian research, both document the importance of early childhood exposures, such as family environment, social interaction and education, in shaping children’s wellbeing, in the short term and later in life.


Social emotional learning

Shifts in society and social concerns have increased our attentiveness to feelings and mean that emotions are more visible and accepted as part of our culture. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) develops the fundamental skills for life effectiveness, explicitly teaching the skills we all need to regulate ourselves, handle our relationships and our work, effectively and ethically.

Schools are recognised as a key environment in which students learn and develop social and emotional literacy. Fostering social emotional competency not only helps develop skills needed for academic success, it also assists students to become more caring, responsible and concerned citizens.