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Supporting student wellbeing in South Australia

Research 4 minute read

The South Australian Government has launched a directory of effective student wellbeing programs, developed with support from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Launched on 23 February 2023, it is the first dedicated directory for South Australian public schools focusing on wellbeing programs that are tried-and-tested in similar learning communities. School leaders can now select programs from a single source, knowing they are effective and suitable.

Developing the directory

In late 2022, South Australia’s Department for Education engaged ACER to conduct an environmental scan of wellbeing programs across Australia. A team led by ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Katherine Dix identified almost 350 school wellbeing programs.

After removing programs that were no longer operating and refining the criteria, the researchers conducted an open procurement process involving assessment by education and wellbeing program experts in South Australia. This resulted in the inclusion of 46 quality programs on the new directory. A key selection consideration was a focus on at least one of the domains in the South Australia department’s Wellbeing Engagement Collection annual school survey.

Simplifying choices for schools

Dr Dix said governments around Australia were prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in preschools and schools to help them flourish socially, emotionally and academically.

Typically, schools are encouraged to select wellbeing programs that best align with the needs of their students. ACER’s research shows schools are faced with an increasingly overwhelming choice of programs, many of which have little or no evidence of effectiveness.

However, lacking evidence does not mean the program is ineffective. Quality independent evaluations require funding and take years. The national Be You Wellbeing Programs Directory preferences programs that have had their evaluation published, meaning the directory relies on the availability of evidence that may be years old.

ACER’s approach to developing the South Australian directory identified 26 additional programs not listed on the Be You directory, despite it containing more programs overall. Similar state-level directories are also now available in New South Wales and Victoria – each using a different list-development approach. Dr Dix said offering an alternative to a national directory was an important step towards addressing the over-representation of young people in mental health statistics and ensuring they learned successfully.

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