Over the last several years, researchers have discovered some troubling trends regarding wellbeing in primary schools and secondary schools. These trends exist among both adults and young people.
The most recent State of the Nation Children and Young People's Wellbeing report shows that the rates of probable mental health disorders among children in 2021 were significantly higher than they were just 5 years prior.
The 2021 Teacher Wellbeing Index also revealed that many teachers are struggling. For example, 38 per cent of teachers and education staff experienced mental health and wellbeing issues in the past academic year (that’s a 7 per cent increase from 2020).
For those who are concerned about wellbeing in schools, this guide offers some valuable insights. It breaks down the most important things everyone — parents, teachers, senior leadership teams, etc. — needs to know.
Wellbeing (sometimes spelt as “well-being” or “well being”) is defined as one’s experience of health and happiness. Mental health and wellbeing are intrinsically linked and are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact independent concepts.
Mental health refers to our state of being mentally, mental health can be affected by illness, but is also impacted by our general wellbeing.
Wellbeing refers to our sense of self, the ability to lead a life that is fulfilling and one in which we can achieve and do the things we want to, whilst maintaining and developing strong relationships.
Wellbeing may look and feel different depending on a person’s age or life stage. For example, children will experience a sense of good health and wellbeing differently than their parents, teachers, or headteachers.
That being said, wellbeing in schools typically includes these elements:
There are 5 different types of wellbeing that factor into a person’s experience at school. They are as follows:
This refers to one’s ability to effectively manage their emotions and produce positive moods, thoughts and feelings. It centres a lot around the ability to be resilient with emotions so people are able to adapt and overcome when confronted with stressful situations and unpleasant feelings.
When we talk about physical wellbeing, this encompasses the ability for people to maintain a healthy quality of life by implementing positive lifestyle choices relating to sleep, physical activity, diet, sleep and hygiene.
This references a person’s ability to communicate with others, develop meaningful relationships, and create an emotional support network, so individuals can foster meaningful relationships and provide them with a sense of belonging.
Financial wellbeing refers to a person’s ability to feel secure and in control of their finances. It generally means that people can afford the lifestyle they are leading and are equipped with the knowledge on how to be ‘comfortable’ financially.
This refers to the impact that technology, digital services, and social media have on people's mental, physical and emotional health. Practising good digital wellbeing could include limiting screen time, blocking harmful sites and being knowledgeable on how your data is stored and used online.
For a person to experience a good sense of overall wellbeing, all of these different elements need to be addressed.
When it comes to educational institutions, wellbeing is important irrelevant of the setting or the person in question. In other words, it applies to schoolchildren of all ages and abilities whether that be primary (junior / infant) or secondary (high school) level whether that be comprehensive, grammar or private. It also applies to all employees: leaders to classroom assistants, and all other supporting staff members.
Several key pillars of school wellbeing must be taken into account to help pupils, teachers, administrators, and others to help them develop a stronger sense of overall wellbeing.
The following are some of the most important pillars that can promote better outcomes for the whole school — this means improved pupil, staff, and teacher wellbeing:
Strong social connections help to increase people’s sense of social and societal wellbeing.
In the case of children and young people, they can experience better wellbeing in school if they feel that they have friendships and positive relationships with their fellow pupils, as well as their teachers and other staff members.
Teachers and administrators also need social connections with their fellow professionals so they can feel part of the school community and experience a more positive workplace culture.
For the last few years, stress levels have been high among pupils, teachers, and other education professionals.
With this information in mind, it’s important to take stress management into account when considering mental wellbeing. Stress management contributes to better emotional health and, to an extent, physical wellbeing.
Everyone in education - young people, as well as adults, deserves to feel included and represented. If there is a lack of diversity and inclusion in the classroom or among the school’s staff, there may be deficits when it comes to people’s sense of social, societal, and emotional health.
The more resilient students, teachers, administrators and others are in the face of stress and adversity, the better their overall sense of wellbeing will be. When resilience increases, social, emotional, and workplace wellbeing can all increase as well.
The ability to pursue one’s own interests and act in accordance with their values and beliefs is a crucial component of workplace wellbeing for teachers and other staff members.
This pillar also applies to pupils, though. They should be allowed to learn at their own pace and in a way that makes sense for their personality and preferred learning style.
A sense of purpose is important for pupils, teachers, and other staff members.
A sense of purpose contributes to societal, social, and workplace wellbeing. If everyone is united and working toward a common goal, they will feel more engaged in their work — or school work — and will experience more motivation and long-term commitment.
A sense of security and safety is important for good school wellbeing, too. This includes physical safety, protection from bullying or harassment, and — in the case of teachers and staff — financial security.
Pupils, teachers, and other school staff members deserve to feel safe at school or work. This contributes to their sense of physical, social, and workplace wellbeing.
Holistic wellbeing focuses on all elements of a person — the mind, body, and spirit.
Many people associate the word “holistic” with energy healers and nutritionists. It’s just as important in education settings, though.
Because it factors in all aspects of a person, holistic wellbeing also encapsulates all of the different types of school wellbeing, from physica, mental and emotional to social and societal. It incorporates all of the pillars of wellbeing and sets everyone — from pupils to staff members — up for long-term success.
Some educational staff members such as administrators, senior leaders, and classroom teachers place too much of an emphasis on academic performance and don’t take wellbeing into account. They may think they’re taking a whole school approach, but this is unlikely if they’re neglecting the holistic approach.
When educators make holistic wellbeing a priority and focus on mental health, physical health, and even issues outside of the classroom, they can see much better outcomes. This includes better performance (for pupils), more job satisfaction (for teachers), and more.
Wellbeing in schools is important for several reasons. When it’s a priority, everyone benefits, from students to headteachers.
These include better social integration, improved behaviour, and increased resilience.
These include increased job satisfaction, reduced employee turnover, better relationships and better learning outcomes.
And whilst it should not be the primary motivator, academic achievement is often a welcome by-product when you support pupils and staff with their wellbeing.
A variety of factors can affect wellbeing in educational settings, both positively and negatively. The following are some of the most noteworthy ones to keep in mind:
Health and wellbeing are intrinsically linked. It’s difficult for young people in both primary and secondary schools to experience a good sense of wellbeing when their physical health is suffering.
If a person does not have access to healthy food, if they do not get regular exercise, or if they have underlying health conditions that are not being treated, they will have a harder time being engaged at school or in their job as a teacher or staff member.
Poor mental health can also take away from a person’s sense of wellbeing in school. If they are struggling with a condition like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), this will also take away from their ability to be engaged or do their best work at school or while teaching.
Trouble at home can interfere with a person’s sense of wellbeing in school.
For example, if a young person is living in poverty, has issues with their parents, or is experiencing abuse at home, the obstacles that these situations present will likely bleed into their school performance. The child may have a harder time focusing, be less inclined to complete or turn in assignments, or be less inclined to connect with their peers.
Access to in-school support can affect a student, teacher, or other staff member’s wellbeing, too. If they have access to mental and physical wellness resources, for example, they may have an easier time completing tasks, performing well on assignments, and — in the case of teachers — handling various aspects of their job.
Tracking wellbeing is essential for those who want to improve students’, teachers’, and other staff members' sense of wellbeing. Early intervention, potentially in conjunction with families, other professionals and outside agencies, is key when it comes to helping with someone with mental wellbeing issues.
If you want to know whether or not you’re making progress, you first need to know where your students and staff currently stand.
Surveys are an effective tool for tracking wellbeing and gathering data over time. Satchel Pulse features a helpful School Wellbeing Tracker.
The tracking tool allows you to automatically send wellbeing surveys to students, school staff, and parents to collect honest feedback, monitor trends, and identify areas that need improvement.
By understanding any weaknesses in its current support structure, educational institutions can then promote wellbeing in a highly-targeted manner.
A good practice schools can follow to support children and young people with their wellbeing is to encourage them to make healthy choices when it comes to lifestyle by providing them with information relating to food choices, physical activity, mindfulness and self-care. As well as this, schools could offer signposting and referrals (where necessary) to counselling services for students and provide opportunities for staff training around wellbeing.
Ultimately, generating a culture of support via whole school or college approach is essential when it comes to the health and wellbeing of staff and students.