The School Health Research Network (SHRN) brings together secondary schools and academic researchers, policy-makers and practitioners from health, education and social care to improve young people’s health and wellbeing in the school setting. It is a partnership between Welsh Government, Public Health Wales, Cancer Research UK and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods. It is led by the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer) at Cardiff University.
SHRN works by:
- Providing robust health and wellbeing data for school, regional and national stakeholders;
- Working with policy-makers and practitioners from health, education and social care to co-produce high quality, school based health and wellbeing research for Wales;
- Facilitating the translation of school health and wellbeing research evidence into practice;
- Building capacity for evidence-informed practice within the school health community.
Network schools complete a bilingual electronic Student Health and Wellbeing Survey every two years. The survey is based on the World Health Organization’s collaborative Health Behaviour of School-aged Children (HBSC) Survey to allow integration of the two surveys every four years and is accompanied by a School Environment Questionnaire, which allows relationships between school policies and practices and student health to be investigated. Questions are developed in consultation with key stakeholders in schools, Public Health Wales and Welsh Government. The surveys provide a flexible and responsive infrastructure to collect data on school practice, emerging and policy-relevant issues and provide a cost effective infrastructure to conduct school-based surveys, research studies and natural experiments of new policies.
SHRN was launched with 69 schools in 2013 with funding from the Medical Research Council and support for recruitment from the HBSC Survey. In 2015/16, with funding from Health and Care Research Wales, 50% of all schools joined (n=115) and all local authority areas were represented. The sampling strategy involved schools volunteering to join the network, rather than the researchers identifying a random sample of schools. Nevertheless, comparisons with 2013 HBSC data indicated that the sample was representative in terms of key demographic variables. Likewise, comparisons with administrative data on educational performance, school size and free school meal entitlement indicated that averages for schools within the network were similar to national averages
A growing portfolio of research studies, including front line innovation studies co-produced with stakeholders, PhDs and intervention development and evaluation studies, have also been adopted by SHRN. These studies benefit from a “research ready” school infrastructure with existing baseline and context data, enhanced recruitment and retention and engaged schools to promote evidence to practice. This represents a unique national infrastructure for Wales to conduct cost effective, rigorous evaluation studies, support growth in the quantity and quality of school health research, and develop a future generation of school health researchers. Integration with HBSC Wales also allows for international comparisons.