The first global standards for anchoring health and wellbeing in the education system were created amid the rise in mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers from the Center for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) led the two-year project at the invitation of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO). The two reports, due to be published this week in Geneva, provide a benchmarking framework to support the implementation of âhealth promoting schoolsâ that aim to promote health and learning equally in all areas of school life.
MCRI Professor Susan Sawyer said the effects of COVID-19 on school closings have shown deep links between children’s health, well-being and learning.
In addition to the disruptive effects on student engagement, learning outcomes and educational transitions, there is growing evidence around the world of the effects of school closings on the emotional distress and mental health of children and adolescents.. “
Susan Sawyer, Professor, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute
âThere are concerns that students with severe mental disorders are at greater risk of dropping out of education permanently. While they negatively impact their future career prospects, early school leaving becomes a risk factor for poor health in adulthood.
“Never before has the value of schools been so valued as places for academic and social learning, but also as places that can improve the health and well-being of students.”
Dr. MCRI’s Monika Raniti said that “health promoting schools” are about empowering the education system to be a health environment for learning and working.
“This school-wide approach has been shown to be beneficial for several aspects of learning, health and wellbeing,” she said. However, there are large gaps between the ideal of a health-promoting school and current practice. Too often schools lack sufficient resources or rely on the efforts of a small number of motivated staff who are already busy. “
The researchers developed eight standards for âhealth promoting schoolsâ to guide government and school management efforts.
Dr. Ruth Aston of the University of Melbourne said the guidelines recognize the value of quality teaching and leadership that extends the vision for schools beyond its traditional focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.
Professor Sawyer said the health and education sectors need to work closely to implement these guidelines.
âThis is arguably the biggest challenge facing health promoting schools, as the health and education sectors have historically been built from different DNAs. Investments in new workers that can span both sectors are urgently needed, âshe said.
The standards include both school and government policies and resources, school governance, leadership and community partnerships, a curriculum that supports health and wellbeing such as nutrition and safety, a socio-emotional environment that promotes equal opportunity and diversity, and provides school-based health services.