If you want to explore student wellbeing, ask the experts ... the students themselves.
Capturing student voice is central to the work of the Australian Child Wellbeing Project (ACWP). Indeed, one of four key messages in its final report is that young people are the experts in their lives and, as such, should be the 'key informants on policies affecting them.'
The child-centered research project was carried out by a team from Flinders University, the University of New South Wales and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). It included a national survey of 5400 Australian students in Years 4, 6 and 8 (aged eight to 14) and a series of in-depth interviews.
So, what did the students have to say? Giving a snapshot of the report findings in Research Developments, ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Petra Lietz says 'four in five students considered their life to be close to or the ‘best possible' life for them'. However, wellbeing varies by background.
'Most young people are satisfied with their lives and report positive school experiences, but older and marginalised children also tend to report lower levels of school satisfaction, teacher support, and parental interest in school, among other aspects of their school experience.'
In the case of the ACWP study, marginalisation referred to participants who reported: living with disability; experiencing material disadvantage; being from a culturally and linguistically diverse background; being from rural and remote areas; or, living in out-of-home care. In the survey, 25 to 30 per cent of students identified as being in one or more of these groups.
Lietz says the report found school wellbeing also varied according to year level. 'While most young people enjoy going to school, and feel safe at school, positive school wellbeing in general tends to decline with student age, with Year 8 students in general reporting lower levels of wellbeing related to school experiences than young people in Years 4 and 6.
'For example, students' perceptions of their own school success declines over the middle years – with Year 8 students reporting that they are doing less well in school compared to their peers, than those in Years 4 and 6.'
Older participants also felt their teachers were less supportive. The ACWP report suggests this may be down to differences in primary and secondary school environments where: ' teachers tend to teach larger numbers of students, and students have to deal with larger numbers of teachers.'
The survey explored six main domains - family, friends, school, community/neighbourhood, health, and money/material wellbeing.
'... young people in the ACWP survey consistently considered family to be the most important factor for having a good life, and neighbourhood and money/things to be the least important for having a good life,' Lietz says. 'The ACWP findings indicate that wellbeing in one domain, such as school, is often associated with wellbeing in other domains, such as health or family.'
In the health domain, for students in all year levels difficulty sleeping was the most frequent health complaint - reported as occurring 'every day' or 'almost every day' by 16 per cent of participants in Year 4, 14 per cent of participants in Year 6 and 12 per cent of participants in Year 8.
The ACWP was funded by the Australian Research Council and Commonwealth government partners. The national survey was carried out in Term 3 of 2014 at 180 schools across the country.
Stay tuned: Teacher will be chatting to the ACWP's lead researcher, Associate Professor Gerry Redmond, about the study and the importance of student voice in the next episode of our monthly podcast series The Research Files. To make sure you don't miss it, subscribe for free on iTunes or Soundcloud.
Redmond, G., Skattebol, J. et al (2016). Are the kids alright? Young Australians in their middle years: Final report of the Australian Child Wellbeing Project. Flinders University, University of New South Wales and Australian Council for Educational Research.
- The Research Files Episode 18: A child-centered approach to student wellbeing
- Social and emotional learning in schools
To find out more about the Australian Child Wellbeing Project click on the link.