Supporting student wellbeing in schools located in areas of social disadvantage

Year: 2019

Author: Farrelly, Cathleen, Mooney, Amanda, Swabey, Karen, Emery, Sherridan, Edwards, Marie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the carriage of education for a socially-just world, context matters. For schools located in socially disadvantaged areas, where entrenched poverty, unemployment and systemic disadvantage feature in community profiles, student cohorts are increasingly diverse, including in terms of wellbeing. While the term ‘wellbeing’ is ambiguous, researchers often position this construct as having ‘constitutive dimensions’ requiring a ‘components approach’ (Atkinson, 2013, p. 138). By contrast, viewing wellbeing through a lens of ‘flourishing’, it can be understood as ‘always and necessarily situated and relational’ (Atkinson, 2013, p. 138). From this perspective, wellbeing is conceptualized as a process rather than outcome, emergent through situated and relational effects, that are operationalised and embedded in school contexts and practices. While widely acknowledged that schools play a role in supporting student wellbeing, relatively less is known about the embedded ways this occurs in low-SES schools.

Given variability in shared understandings of social/cultural norms in low-SES schools, wellbeing programs are often intended to address students’ citizenship skills, social and emotional capacities, learner engagement and behaviour, to enable higher academic achievement and post-school success. Further, a proliferation of ‘add on’, sometimes commercialised, programs have been adopted with variable success. As such, and viewed through the Health Promoting Schools Framework (HPSF), embedded approaches to addressing student wellbeing can target institutional cultures (ethos and environment), classroom practices (curriculum, teaching and learning) or engagement with external partners (partnerships and services).

In this paper we draw on the HPSF to interrogate three case studies of embedded approaches to supporting student wellbeing from three participant schools in Bendigo, Geelong and Launceston. Each case study critiques an approach to student wellbeing including school-wide attempts to change school culture, specific curricula involving explicit teaching of wellbeing, and the development of partnerships with external services. The case studies were drawn from data collected as part of a larger ARC-funded study (2017-2019) that addressed learning and wellbeing in low-SES schools and compiled from interviews (teachers, students, school leaders and external partners), classroom observations and document analyses. Findings report on how these approaches were mobilised, taken-up and resisted by various members of the school community, and consider the implications for supporting student wellbeing in situated and relational ways – the spatial dynamics of such effects (Franz, 2019).