What is the issue?
The statistics are shocking. Rosie Clarke, the editor of School News, quoted some scary numbers in a recent article. Seventy per cent of mental illness and suicidal behaviours begin between the ages of 12 and 25 in Australia and this year two young people per week ended their lives. Henrietta Cook has also reported in The Age that children in the primary years are facing increases in anxiety due to highly aspirational parents and excessive online experiences. One Victorian primary school principal, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “I have seen self-harming in children as young as Prep (NSW Kindy age), grade one and two.” The Commonwealth and state governments are well aware of these issues and even the most recent federal budget has aligned more funding for 30 addition Headspace services.
What can be done?
In October last year, the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Education, launched the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework. The Wellbeing Framework is a foundational document that provides Australian schools with a vision and a set of guiding principles to support school communities to build positive learning environments, and to consider reviewing their current safety and wellbeing policies and support requirements. The Wellbeing Framework includes suggested school targets on leadership, inclusion, student voice, partnerships and support.
The “on the ground” action needs to be practical. Schools that are making inroads with these wellbeing issues have the following key characteristics:
- Strong Leadership around making wellbeing a central theme in your school
- Have a pastoral care program that incorporates positive education and mindfulness principles e.g. Rock and Water and Restorative Justice training to provide practical student strategies to deal with issues
- Have strong student involvement e.g. student mentoring, buddy programs and student leadership programs to provide a strong student voice
- Have extensive experiential outdoor education programs e.g. 5-day journey based camps with opportunities for rites of passage development to build resilience and pride in performance
- Have traditions within the school that recognise and affirm strong human connections e.g. service programs and multi-age teaching and learning programs
- Have strong partnerships with wellbeing services both internally and externally e.g. school psychologists, school counsellors, school chaplains, GPs, mental health professionals
- Have an open door policy for student support e.g. drop-in centre in schools or wellbeing hubs.
Take some time to speak to your school about what they are doing in this space. The principles of wellbeing need to be in the front row of your school’s planning and practice. All children need support and it is the doctrine of “it takes a village to raise a child” that is the take-home message here. Well researched programs with specific and targeted plans together with positive and regular communication are the key to supporting student wellbeing.
Cook, H. (2019). Principals sound the alarm on mental illness in primary school kids. The Age. [online] Available at https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/principals-sound-the-alarm-on-mental-illness-in-primary-school-kids-20190402-p51a25.html [Accessed 4 Apr. 2019].
Clarke, R. (2019). What do I Say?. SchoolNews, (11), p.10.
Student Wellbeing Hub. (2019). The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework. [online] Available at: https://www.studentwellbeinghub.edu.au/docs/default-source/aswf_booklet-pdf.pdf [Accessed 4 Apr. 2019].