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Mental and physical wellbeing

Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. Schools play a vital role in promoting physical activity, providing advice about nutritious foods, fostering social inclusion and providing targeted support for students and families. Creating opportunities to enhance protective factors and reduce risk factors related to aspects of mental and physical health leads to enhanced wellbeing and learning outcomes.

Understanding the links between mind and body allows schools to develop supportive strategies.

Develop whole-school approaches to create a positive and healthy learning environment.

  • Explicitly teach and embed social and emotional skills related to personal safety, resilience and help-seeking to enhance protective factors for students

  • Teach and model effective practices to promote healthy exercise and nutrition

  • Create opportunities for students to practise decision-making skills to make informed choices around tobacco, alcohol and drugs

  • Respond to individual needs of students and families with support strategies

Since well-being has many facets, improving students’ well-being in schools requires a whole-school approach, involving both teachers and parents.

Schools should provide lessons focused on the responsible use of the Internet, the need to adopt a healthy lifestyle and how to prevent or cope with health problems, in collaboration with those involved, including health and social services, local authorities and civil society organisations.

What is well-being?

Well-being is the experience of health and happiness. It includes mental and physical health, physical and emotional safety, and a feeling of belonging, sense of purpose, achievement and success.

Well-being is a broad concept and covers a range of psychological and physical abilities. Five major types of well-being are said to be:

  • Emotional well-being – the ability to be resilient, manage one’s emotions and generate emotions that lead to good feelings

  • Physical well-being – the ability to improve the functioning of one’s body through healthy eating and good exercise habits

  • Social well-being – the ability to communicate, develop meaningful relationships with others and create one’s own emotional support network

  • Workplace well-being – the ability to pursue one’s own interests, beliefs and values in order to gain meaning and happiness in life and professional enrichment

  • Societal well-being – the ability to participate in an active community or culture.

Overall well-being depends on all these types of functioning to an extent.

Why is well-being important at school?

Well-being is important at school because schools have an essential role to play in supporting students to make healthy lifestyle choices and understand the effects of their choices on their health and well-being. Childhood and adolescence is a critical period in the development of long-term attitudes towards personal well-being and lifestyle choices. The social and emotional skills, knowledge and behaviours that young people learn in the classroom help them build resilience and set the pattern for how they will manage their physical and mental health throughout their lives.

Schools are able to provide students with reliable information and deepen their understanding of the choices they face. They are also able to provide students with the intellectual skills required to reflect critically on these choices and on the influences that society brings to bear on them, including through peer pressure, advertising, social media and family and cultural values.

There is a direct link between well-being and academic achievement and vice versa, i.e. well-being is a crucial prerequisite for achievement and achievement is essential for well-being. Physical activity is associated with improved learning and the ability to concentrate. Strong, supportive relationships provide students with the emotional resources to step out of their intellectual ‘comfort zone’ and explore new ideas and ways of thinking, which is fundamental to educational achievement.

Well-being is also important for developing important democratic competences. Positive emotions are associated with the development of flexibility and adaptability, openness to other cultures and beliefs, self-efficacy and tolerance of ambiguity, all of which lie at the heart of the Council of Europe Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture.


How can schools get active?

Addressing student well-being at school begins with helping students feel they are each known and valued as an individual in her or his own right, and that school life has a meaning and purpose for them. This can be achieved in a variety of small ways, the cumulative effect of which can have a very powerful influence on students’ sense of well-being. These include:

  • providing opportunities for all members of the school community to participate in meaningful decision-making in school, e.g. through consultations, opinion surveys, referenda, electing class representatives, student parliaments, focus groups, in-class feedback on learning activities, and an element of student choice in relation to topics taught and teaching methods used;

  • developing a welcoming environment where everyone at school can feel supported and safe through access to meaningful activities, e.g. clubs, societies, interest groups and associations dealing with issues of concern to young people, including health;

  • taking steps to reduce the anxiety students feel about examinations and testing through the introduction of less stressful forms of assessment, e.g. formative assessment, peer assessment and involving students in the identification of their own assessment needs;

  • using teaching methods that contribute to a positive classroom climate and well-being, e.g. cooperative learning, student-centred methods, self-organised time, outdoor activities;

  • finding curriculum opportunities to talk about well-being issues with students, e.g. healthy eating, exercise, substance abuse, positive relationships;

  • integrating democratic citizenship and education for intercultural understanding into different school subjects and extra-curricular activities, e.g. openness to other cultures in Religious Education, knowledge and critical understanding of human rights in Social Science, empathy in Literature;

  • introducing student-led forms of conflict management and approaches to bullying and harassment, e.g. peer mediation, restorative justice;

  • improving the physical environment of the school to make it more student-friendly, e.g. new furniture and fittings, carpeted areas, appropriate colour schemes, safe toilet areas, recreational areas;

  • encouraging healthier eating by providing healthy options in the school canteen, e.g. avoiding high amounts of sugar, saturated fats and salt;

  • working with parents to enhance students’ achievement and sense of purpose in school, e.g. on healthy food, safe internet use and home-school communications.

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