Review shows best paths to school wellbeing and academic outcomes

Review shows best paths to school wellbeing and academic outcomes

A major review of different wellbeing approaches over the past decade has revealed the most effective ways for educators support student wellbeing in schools.

The Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW), the representative body for almost 500 non-government schools, recently commissioned the Telethon Kids Institute in WA to review a decade’s worth of wellbeing literature – the first review of its kind – to identify the evidence-based approaches that best supported whole-school wellbeing.

“It demonstrates for the first time what effective whole-school wellbeing looks like and how schools can implement evidence-based strategies to support their students’ wellbeing and academic achievement,” AISNSW Chief Executive, Dr Geoff Newcombe, said.

“Student wellbeing is about a sense of belonging and connectedness, and the skills to make positive and healthy choices to support learning and achievement, delivered in a safe and accepting school climate.

“It’s important that schools promote wellbeing, safety and positive relationships because these are essential for students to reach their social and emotional capabilities, wellbeing and academic outcomes.”

The review’s purpose was to assist schools to identify and implement evidence-based, whole-school proactive wellbeing approaches that foster safe, supportive and respectful environments. It highlighted six key factors which support student wellbeing:

  1. Adopting a whole-school approach
  2. Focusing on interventions with evidence of effectiveness
  3. Establishing a dedicated team to drive implementation
  4. Preparing the school for implementation
  5. Providing meaningful engagement and support with families
  6. Creating meaningful opportunities for student voice and engagement.

“These factors align with AISNSW’s recommended whole-school wellbeing approaches which use research and evidence-based planning tools, take a strengths-based approach, embed social and emotional learning pedagogy, link to curriculum and strengthen family partnerships,” Dr Newcombe said.

“It was clear from the review that wellbeing among students was enhanced when schools explicitly taught social and emotional skills. It also highlighted how integral the school executive and wellbeing leadership teams are to effective wellbeing interventions and approaches”.

Led by the Institute’s Development and Education Program Head, Professor Donna Cross, the reviewers asked two questions:

  1. How effective are whole-school student wellbeing approaches in improving student wellbeing outcomes and academic performance?
  2. What are the implementable elements and/or characteristics of effective whole-school approaches to student wellbeing?

“The review affirms the support AISNSW has been providing the independent sector for many years and will continue to inform and support our whole-school wellbeing approaches into the future,” Dr Newcombe said, adding the findings will be made publicly available, nationally and internationally, to assist all schools. 

Jo McLean is the Head of Professional Services at AISNSW. She said the Wellbeing Literature Review affirms the whole-school wellbeing approaches that the Association's Wellbeing team have been supporting its member schools to introduce for many years; in particular, using research and evidence-based planning tools, taking a strengths-based approach and embedding social and emotional learning pedagogy through wellbeing and curriculum.

McLean said the review also highlighted the importance of schools engaging families on wellbeing and giving students a voice.

“Meaningful engagement with families is essential” Jo said Families are critical partners in student wellbeing," McLean told The Educator.

"Another point made clear by the review was that schools which explicitly taught social and emotional skills achieved a higher level of overall wellbeing among students".

McLean highlighted that “social and emotional learning is embedded in the NSW curriculum through Key Learning Areas via personal and social capabilities and the NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus”.

"Importantly, the review highlighted the integral role of leadership teams to implementing effective wellbeing interventions and approaches," she said.

"Wellbeing strategies need time and a whole-school focus to succeed, making it essential to invest in building staff capacity".

In conclusion, McLean said that “establishing effective wellbeing leadership teams and engaging staff in rigorous professional learning particularly for whole-school interventions, is key to whole-school wellbeing success”.

"Attention to the unique context and needs of each individual school is paramount. Adapting wellbeing interventions to the local context will provide the greatest opportunity for success".