Improving Wellbeing through Student Participation at School

(ARC Linkage Project LP 140100540)

Supporting the wellbeing of children and young people at school remains a considerable focus of policy, program and pedagogical efforts in education.

While existing research suggests that student wellbeing is likely influenced by the nature and extent of their participation at school, little is known about which elements of participation are most strongly associated with wellbeing.

This study addresses this knowledge gap. The key findings are now being explicitly reflected in policy, programs and professional learning in NSW government and non-government schools.

Details about the research can be found here. This page includes: background to the research along with reports, summaries of findings and academic journal articles. You will also find extensive resources for schools, including Professional Learning Workshops (introduction workshop and clip) Participation Guides, and a survey tool for measuring student participation in schools.

Research Background

Research Team

Investigators: Prof Anne Graham (Southern Cross University), Prof Sharon Bessell (Australian National University), Prof Judy Cashmore (University of Sydney), Prof Patrick Thomas (University of Central Lancashire, UK), Dr Catharine Simmons (Project Officer, SCU), Dr Donnah Anderson, (Project Officer, Charles Sturt University), Julia Truscott (Project Officer, CYRA Service).

Research Partners: Dr Lyn Gardon (NSW Department of Education), Mr Andrew Johnson (NSW Advocate for Children and Young People), Dr Paul Thornton (Catholic Schools Office, Lismore), Mr Paul Milgate (Catholic Schools Office, Lismore).

Advisory Group: The research team was supported by an advisory group of 14 individuals comprising representatives from the partner organisations, Year 7-10 students, school principals, and teachers.

Research Design:

The study adopted a mixed method approach, incorporating Axel Honneth’s recognition theory and was conducted in four phases:

Phase 1: An extensive policy analysis to identify what current New South Wales (NSW) educational policy and guidelines say about student participation.

Phase 2: Focus groups with students from Years 7-10 (n=177) in a range of government and Catholic schools across NSW, as well as interviews with teachers and Principals (n=32) and education policymakers (n=9).

Phase 3: Development of an on-line survey using the information gathered in Phase 2. This was administered in two rounds with students in 4 NSW government and 3 NSW Catholic high schools, involving one class of students from each of Years 7-10 at each school (n=536 participants in total).

Phase 4: Administering the validated survey to students in Years 7-10 across 16 NSW schools (9 x Catholic, 7 x government) (n=1435 participants in total). The survey tested the links between elements of student participation, wellbeing and recognition.

Research Impact

Here’s what the NSW Education Minister and an Expert Panel said about the value of the research at the initial report launch in 2018:

Wellbeing Report - Highlights (3:07)

Here’s what secondary and primary students from Northern NSW schools say about their experiences and the importance of student participation at school:

ARC Wellbeing in Schools - A Case Study (5:55)

Project Outputs

PARC reports front covers

Full reports

Research summaries

Academic Publications to Date

Anderson, D., Graham, A., Simmons, C, & Thomas, N.P. (2022). Positive links between student participation, recognition and wellbeing at school. International Journal of Educational Research.

Graham, A., Bessell, S., Adamson, E., Truscott, J., Simmons, C., Thomas, N., Gardon, L. & Johnson, A. (2019). Navigating the ambiguous policy landscape of student participation. Journal of Educational Policy. 34 (6), 798-811. doi: 10.1080/02680939.2018.1527945

Anderson, D. L., Graham, A. P., & Thomas, N. P. (2019). Assessing student participation at school: Developing a multidimensional scale. International Journal of Student Voice, 5(1).

Graham, A., Truscott, J., Simmons, C., Anderson, D. and Thomas, N. (2018). Exploring student participation across different arenas of school life. British Educational Research Journal, 44(6), 1029-1046. doi:10.1002/berj.3477

Resources for Schools 

Professional Learning workshops

Download the Participation and wellbeing in schools professional learning workshops flyer

Introducing the Professional Learning on Participation and Wellbeing at Your School:

Professional learning workshop introduction video (3:35mins)

Participation Guides and Survey Tool