The School Health Research Network – An Update

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By Joan Roberts, Network Manager

My last blog was at the end of 2014 so there is a lot to share about the further development of the Network. It was originally funded by the Medical Research Council as a feasibility and scoping study, between 2013 and 2015. This allowed us to set up a network of 69 secondary schools in Wales with researchers and our partners (who include the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales) to support young people’s health. We are now scaling up with funding from Health and Care Research Wales. This is a brief overview of all that we have achieved.

Recruitment

We opened up recruitment in the summer term of 2015. The Network is now comprised of 115 Secondary schools – over half of the secondary schools in Wales. Here are a few characteristics of these schools:

  • All 22 local authorities in Wales are represented, with between 1 and 13 schools in each.
  • 5 authorities have all of their secondary schools, and 2 authorities have all but 1.
  • Schools range in size from 260 to 2008 students, with free school meal entitlement levels of between 3% and 45%

 

Student Health and Wellbeing Reports  

A core feature of the School Health Research Network is that we survey students in schools on a range of health and wellbeing topics, and feedback this data in an individualised report to schools. Our first round of reports were based on the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey conducted in 2013/14. Schools explained that they would value a report every two years, so in the autumn term of 2015 over 38,000 students in Wales completed an electronic survey based on HBSC questions. The resulting Student Health and Wellbeing Reports will be with schools shortly in readiness to be included in schools’ 2016/17 Development Plans.

At our event for member schools in the summer, we investigated how schools are using, or plan to use, their reports. This is a taster of what they told us:

Self-assessment of wellbeing

The clearly presented data in the report allows all sectors of the school community (staff, students, governors and parents) to take an active role in the self-assessment of wellbeing.

In an Estyn inspection the data was deemed to be an invaluable tool to answer Key Question 1.2: Wellbeing and Key Question 2.3: Care, support and guidance. You can read the experience of one of our schools in their most recent inspection visit in our latest newsletter.

 

Planning the curriculum
  • Personal and Social Education

Our Student Health and Wellbeing Report data makes it clear which health areas are of concern to which year groups. One school organised a training day where groups of staff used the reports to plan a year group-specific PSE curriculum.

  • Literacy and Numeracy

The data in the reports will be particularly useful to support numeracy activities across the curriculum. Literacy activities could be developed by students reporting on the data and reporting back about on an action plan to members of the school community

 

Healthy Schools work

The data helps schools to focus when they are considering a Healthy School action area so that valuable time and resources are spent on issues of most importance. An example given by one school ensured that energy drinks and breakfast consumption were included when looking at the action area of Food and Fitness.

 

Working closely with the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes

All schools in Wales are part of the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes (WNHSS) and stakeholders from across health and education have recognised the strong links between the WNHSS and our Network.  Any action that a school takes as a result of their student data could be a Healthy School action. Consequently, support required by a school is best obtained by approaching the local Heathy School team. In recognition of this, additional funding has been secured to begin a programme of training for WNHSS teams around integrating research into practice to ensure that our Student Health and Wellbeing Reports are put to good use.

Communication with Network Schools

The value of communicating regularly with school and Healthy School staff is vital in building our network, so in discussion we have developed an annual programme of newsletters, events and webinars. Our research focused webinars are broadcast each term are based on topics of interest within secondary school student health. Titles to date include: ‘Health priorities for schools: what can we learn from current research?’ and ‘How might schools influence students’ self-harm and suicidal behaviours?’

The next webinar is entitled ‘Good breakfast, good grades’ and is considering DECIPHer research on the value of the Welsh Government Free Breakfast in Primary Schools scheme and discussing the learning for secondary schools.

Research

A central aim of the School Health Research Network is to ensure that research meets the needs and priorities of schools and policy makers in Wales. Research adopted by the Network includes two studies that are considering approaches that will further shape our work: one on the utilization of student health data by Network schools and another around the use of evidence based practice in the school health community. Other studies are investigating health issues of concern to schools; substance use, sexual health and physical activity and mental health support and training for secondary school staff.

 

To find out more about the School Health Research Network, visit SHRN.org.uk or contact the author and Manager, Joan Roberts, on 02920 879609, or via email at RobertsJ41@cardiff.ac.uk.

You can also follow Network activities on Twitter @SHRNWales.

 

Image courtesy of John Hall, Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/qmh/4121538203/ 

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