Supporting student wellbeing

There is evidence that the mental health and wellbeing of many students have suffered as a result of remote learning and isolation from peer interaction during COVID-19 lockdowns. AHISA welcomes the Australian Government’s funding for student access to psychologists and counsellors through services such as headspace. There are also actions the Government can take to strengthen schools’ capacity to support students.

The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework serves as a useful guide to schools on the elements, principles and effective practices that should appear in a whole-of-school wellbeing framework. Education Services Australia (ESA) already offers resources for students, teachers and parents on its Student Wellbeing Hub. Given the diversity in Australian school communities, it would be helpful if schools were also able to access ‘illustrations of practice’ or other online resources to help guide implementation of the Framework and to prompt evaluation of current practices or the formation of new approaches. Such resources could help to deeply embed the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework in school cultures.

Teachers have adopted and developed new skills to observe, monitor and respond to the mental health of students during COVID-19 lockdowns and in response to the contribution of the pandemic more generally to rising levels of anxiety in children. To consolidate and refine these skills, the Australian Government could commission ESA or Child Family Communities Australia (a division of the Australian Institute of Family Studies) to develop short, credentialled online professional learning courses for teachers that are tailored to the classroom experience.

AHISA commends the National Code on Boarding School Students developed in 2021 under the auspices of the Australian Government to support the travel needs of boarding school students – especially those crossing state or territory borders – during COVID-19 lockdowns. The re-opening of schools in 2022 has again exposed the challenges that boarding schools, boarding students and their families face in the management of isolation of boarders in the case of COVID-19 infection and arrangements for boarders who are deemed close contacts. Recent reports of individual cases indicate that the mental health of students and their families is being affected by a lack of consistency in approaches by jurisdictions or delays in and even refusals of exemptions to COVID-19 restrictions. As Australia continues to manage COVID-19 as pandemic and epidemic, AHISA calls on the federal government to maintain pressure for a national approach to support families whose children attend boarding schools.