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Health promotion in schools – reality or pipe dream?

December 8, 2016

Australian schools have had pressure to solve a raft of societal and health issues. While this is unrealistic, schools can and do play a role in improving and/or protecting the health of all school users. A health promoting school attempts to balance the health curriculum and classroom teaching with supportive changes in the school environment, reinforcing health lessons with policy and practices. For example, while a one-off lesson on sun protection may improve students’ knowledge in the short term, without complementary practices such as adequate provision of shade throughout the school, sun protective uniform items, role modelling from school staff and a sun protection policy, there is little reinforcement or long term behaviour change.

The health promoting schools model recognises that healthy students learn better. While health education is important, evidence suggests that multifaceted approaches are more effective than classroom only or single intervention approaches (St Leger, Young, Blanchard & Perry, 2010). The Health Promoting Schools Framework is one which considers the broad health needs of all school community members. These health needs are addressed collaboratively using a combination of strategies linked to the three interrelated components of:

  1. The curriculum considers the formal content of teaching and learning approaches, key issues, the developmental and sequential nature of the program, professional development and resources.
  2. The school ethos and environment considers the school policy and philosophical support for the health curriculum, approaches to health and wellbeing, policies and procedures, school community relationships and the school’s physical environment e.g. school grounds, canteen amenities.
  3. School partnerships include family consultation and involvement, community based programs and the development of strong community links to the school. It includes connections with students, families, staff, professionals, agencies, community and services.

The three interrelated components make up the Health Promoting Schools Framework and emphasises the need to act upon all three levels in order to successfully influence health. Health education, through the formal curriculum, remains an important part of the HPS approach, with students needing accurate information about health issues in order to make informed choices (Langford et al, 2014).


Getting started as a Health Promoting School

Schools have different needs, starting points and resources. Some schools live and breathe the Health Promoting Schools framework (such as Comet Bay Primary School in Western Australia), others have received support and funding (see these case studies), and others have started small and persisted to implement change.

Whether a school has identified needs or if there is not a certain focus area and would like to create one, here are a few tips to consider when establishing a Health Promoting School.

  • Raise the issue;
  • Advocate, create a need for comprehensive health education;
  • Talk to interested staff and parents to gain their support;
  • Gain the full support and commitment of the Principal and senior management team;
  • Have a health committee and nominated focus areas identified on the school development plan. Nominate a health committee coordinator. The health committee helps to raise the profile and to enlist help and support. The committee should include teachers, non-teaching staff, students, parents and community members;
  • Conduct an audit of current health promoting actions. What is the school currently doing regarding healthy school policies, the school’s physical environment, the school’s social environment, individual health skills, community links and health services? The purpose of the audit is to determine what your school is currently doing well and if there are any gaps or areas of development that need to be addressed in the area you have identified as a need;
  • Share the results of the audit with the school community to determine what gaps need to be addressed;
  • Plan outcomes and actions. Consider what outcomes you wish to achieve;
  • Establish agreed goals and strategies to achieve them;
  • Implement change;
  • Monitor the progress of the changes;
  • Review;
  • Report on outcomes achieved and celebrate milestones (Gillies, Dimitrijevich & Lambert, 2011).

There are many organisations that are available within the community that can support the Health Promoting School community. For a comprehensive list of organisations that may be able to assist in developing a Health Promoting School in WA, consider the WA Health Promoting Schools Association Inc. member agencies at


Gillies, S., Dimitrijevich, S., & Lambert, M. (2011). What is a health promoting school?Western Australian Health Promoting Schools Association Inc (WAHPSA).

Langford, R., Bonell, C.P., Jones, H.E., Pouliou, T., Murphy, S.M., Waters, E., Komro, K.A., Gibbs, L.F., Magnus, D., Campbell, R. (2014). The WHO Health Promoting School framework for improving the health and well-being of students and their academic achievement. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 4.

St Leger, L., Young, I., Blanchard, C., & Perry, M. (2010). Promoting health in schools. From evidence to action. France: International Union for Health Promotion and Education.



by Sally Blane, WA Health Promoting Schools Association (WAHPSA)

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