The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework: Safe, Supported, Included and Connected

Safe Schools

On 19 October 2018, the Federal Minister for Education launched the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework (Wellbeing Framework). Education Services Australia was engaged by the Federal Government in 2016 to lead a project in 2017 to review and update the National Safe Schools Framework (NSSF) to ensure alignment with contemporary issues facing Australian school communities.

Background to the NSSF

The NSSF, first developed in 2003, was the central national reference point on student safety and wellbeing for all state and territory governments, non-government education authorities and the Federal Government. The NSSF supported these stakeholders to work together to develop strategies to provide a safe, supportive and respectful learning environment for all Australian school students.

The NSSF’s successive reviews and revisions since its launch have responded to the changing nature of Australian society, particularly in relation to the educational environment and the need to support school communities to address major issues that affect them. The most recent review in 2010, released and endorsed in 2011, extended the NSSF to reflect the newly emerging challenges for school communities in relation to online safety, cyberbullying and issues related to violence and anti-social behaviours.

In 2017, Education Services Australia engaged researchers from the University of South Australia to conduct an extensive review of the NSSF with the aim of ensuring that the NSSF aligned with contemporary issues facing Australian school communities. Specifically, the project aimed to review:

  • the currency and coverage of the nine elements in the NSSF
  • any changes in best practice teaching methodology that may have an impact on the NSSF
  • contemporary issues that should be considered for inclusion in a revised NSSF
  • any updates required to align the Wellbeing Framework to national, state and territory initiatives and policies currently in place to support students’ safety and wellbeing.

The University of South Australia research team also developed a set of guiding questions and these formed the basis for the structure and design of the planned consultation with key stakeholders, including:

  • What is the awareness, knowledge, and use of the NSSF?
  • What do key stakeholders think about the NSSF, specifically in relation to the usability, relevancy, currency, scope, language/ terminology and outcomes?
  • How well does the NSSF align with contemporary issues facing Australian school communities? What are the key social, technological and cultural issues facing school communities?
  • What do stakeholders recommend should be considered, addressed and incorporated in the next iteration of the NSSF?
  • What stakeholder needs should be addressed in the next iteration of the NSSF, to help ensure relevancy and a sustained and long-term impact?

Throughout the review of the NSSF, some key themes emerged including:

  • wellbeing and safety
  • impact of technology on wellbeing
  • social and school connectedness
  • relationships and respect
  • help-seeking behaviour and schools
  • positive school climate
  • a tiered approach to behavioural support
  • use of best practice teaching methodologies.

The final recommendations from the review of the NSSF included:

  • Expand the currency and coverage of the NSSF to include greater links with the school curriculum and greater school awareness.
  • Revise the NSSF to include ways that schools could best address issues around safety and wellbeing through explicit teaching and learning approaches, including continuing professional development for teachers.
  • New contemporary issues should be addressed including diversity and inclusion, especially in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the diversity of their settings and needs, student voice and the impact of technology.
  • The new NSSF should be better aligned with current state and territory initiatives for student safety and wellbeing.

These recommendations resulted in the introduction of the Wellbeing Framework on 19 October 2018.  The Wellbeing Framework replaced the NSSF as the foundational document that will provide 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

The Wellbeing Framework provides a structure for all Australian schools to respond to student safety and wellbeing. The Wellbeing Framework is voluntary, and provides school communities with best-practice advice on developing and implementing policies and support mechanisms to help all students from the first year of school to year 12. According to the Department of Education Media Release, the five key elements of the Wellbeing Framework are:

  • Leadership: Principals and school leaders play an active role in building a positive learning environment where the whole school community feels included connected, safe and respected.
  • Inclusion: All members of the school community are active participants in building a welcoming school culture that values diversity and fosters positive, respectful relationships.
  • Student Voice: Students are active participants in their own leaning and wellbeing, feel connected and use their social and emotional skills to be respectful, resilient and safe.
  • Partnerships: Families and communities collaborate as partners with the school to support student learning, safety and wellbeing.
  • Support: School staff, students and families share and cultivate an understanding of wellbeing and support for positive behaviour and how this supports effective teaching and learning.

Each of these five elements is supported by a Principle and a set of Effective Practices to assist schools to engage with, and implement, the Wellbeing Framework in their individual school contexts. The interconnecting elements highlight the relationship of all five elements for contributing to student and whole-school community wellbeing. According to The Guardian, about 495 schools currently take part in the program and parents and caregivers are consulted before the program starts in schools.

The new Wellbeing Framework changes include:

  • greater focus on valuing diversity and promoting inclusion
  • emphasis on the role of students as active participants in their own learning and as collaborators in building safe, respectful school communities
  • acknowledgement of the role and impact of technology on student safety and wellbeing
  • renewed focus on the need for targeted professional learning to build teacher capacity to regularly monitor, review and evaluate approaches to issues of safety and wellbeing and to use evidence-informed practice to improve learning outcomes for all students
  • enhanced focus on creating and sustaining positive and culturally respectful relationships with families and communities to support identified need and enhanced wellbeing.

What Schools Can Do Now

There has been much debate about the reform and implementation of the Wellbeing Framework with key issues based around the Wellbeing Framework’s ability to address the safety of sexually diverse and gender diverse students, and its restriction to secondary schools around Australia. It is clear that it is a school’s duty to ensure the safety and welfare of its students. What is less clear is whether the Wellbeing Framework, which actively promotes safety, acceptance and inclusion, should be the benchmark when evaluating whether a school has discharged its duty of care towards their students. Non-government schools may be affiliated with religious bodies which have specific teachings, which can also complicate the process of creating policies and procedures that adequately satisfy a school’s duty of care, and the safety and wellbeing of their students.

About the Author

Lauren Osbich is a Legal Research Consultant and School Governance reporter. She can be contacted here.

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