Improving Wellbeing through Student Participation at School
Children’s participation has been on the policy agenda in Australia since 1989 when the United Nations’ General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Since then, the realisation that children can, and indeed have the right to, express their views on matters affecting them has influenced public discourse and policy globally. Nevertheless, schools and school systems in Australia (where children spend much of their childhoods) have been slow in giving serious attention to participation in policy and practice, beyond passing reference to ‘student voice’ and initiatives such as Student Representative Councils – which are often seen as unrepresentative, tokenistic and adult/teacher-led. At the same time, the wellbeing of children and young people has become an urgent concern in Australia with schools increasingly being seen as appropriate sites for intervention.
Prior to this work there had been no large-scale studies in Australia or internationally that have examined how student participation is viewed and approached in schools nor whether there is a positive association between student participation and their wellbeing. A previous Australian Research Council funded study (LP110200656 2011-14), also by Graham and colleagues at SCU, examined the links between relationships and wellbeing at school, with a key finding being the central importance students place on being recognised (cared for, respected and valued). Considerable interest in the findings by both non-government and government school systems led to the NSW Department of Education, the Lismore Catholic Schools Office and the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People partnering on further ARC research ($575,000) (LP140100540 2014-18) to investigate the links between participation, recognition and wellbeing at school with the intent of informing policy directions in education in NSW.