Wellbeing a new focus in Irish Second Level Schools – Mary O’Sullivan

As part of the new Junior Cycle, students will be experiencing a new learning area called Wellbeing.  This builds on the work schools are doing in supporting students’ wellbeing and is now a fundamental principle of junior cycle education.  The recent policy perspective advocates that students have a right to feel cared for in schools and that developing positive relationship with peers and staff and a sense of confidence about their own position in school is critical to student’s learning.  The view is that when students feel included, respected, and listened to, they are more likely to learn and be successful in their learning.  All those working in schools are encouraged to attend to the collective wellbeing of both students and staff and not just the narrower academic achievements of the high stakes testing of Junior Cycle and Leaving Cert examinations.wk17 MOS 1

The Wellbeing Guidelines for Junior Cycle (NCCA 2017) note “student wellbeing is present when students realise their abilities, take care of their physical wellbeing, can cope with the normal stresses of life, and have a sense of purpose and belonging to a wider community”.  This definition of wellbeing is quite broad and includes social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and environmental aspects.

Wellbeing in this sense is a journey or process not a destination. Six indicators of wellbeing now allow persons to talk about student wellbeing.  These indicators of wellbeing can be discussed relative to the following questions.

  1. How active is the student and how confident and skilled is he/she as a participant in physical activity?
  2. How responsible is the student in making healthy choices (eating, sleeping, staying safe)?
  3. How connected does the student feel to school, friends, and significant others?
  4. How resilient is the student in coping with normal challenges of life and know how to seek help if needed?
  5. How respected does the student feel in terms of being valued, cared for and listened to?
  6. How aware is the student of their own feelings, values and what helps them learn?

While all teachers in all subjects can support student learning about and for wellbeing, there is a strong emphasis on the role of teachers of Physical Education (PE), Civic, Social, and Political Education (CSPE), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and Guidance in supporting learning ABOUT wellbeing. These four pillars will support students to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to enable them to protect and promote their own and that of others’ wellbeing.  Starting in 2017, 300 hours of timetabled learning about Wellbeing is allocated over three years and this will increase up to 400 hours by 2020.   Physical Education’s role is to provide all students with enjoyable and meaningful learning experiences where they develop a range of physical activities.  The learning designed in Physical Education ensures students appreciate the importance of participation in regular moderate physical activity not just for their physical wellbeing but also for their social and psychological wellbeing.

PEPAYS Ireland (hosted by PESS in June 2017) focussed its annual research forum on the implications for Physical Education Teachers Education of this policy change and a wellbeing focus. It is indeed an exciting time for Physical Education as the subject now plays a central role in supporting a fundamental principle of Junior Cycle Education: the wellbeing of the students.  The expectation is that each school principal will create a Wellbeing Committee and the Physical Education Teacher should be a key leader on that team.  In the PESS department, we have adjusted our undergraduate curriculum to ensure all newly graduating teachers of Physical Education are aware of the policy changes and can be of direct assistance to schools in preparing exciting, creative and meaningful learning experiences around Physical Education and Wellbeing.  The PESS Sport Pedagogy Research team are also researching teachers’ knowledge of and reactions to the new curricular changes and working with the Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT) team (i.e. Government staff who provide Professional Development for teachers) in understanding how to best support teachers in this curricular change.  Upcoming blogs will provide more attention to this research agenda.

For Further Information:


Mary O’Sullivan is a Professor in Physical Education and Youth Sport here at the University of Limerick. View her profile here!

Mary’s Email: Mary.OSullivan@ul.ie


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