Institute for Positive Psychology & Education

PROSPER: Wellbeing in Primary Schools through Positive Education

Young boy and girl sitting amongst play equipmentThe aim of this pilot is to identify and validate what leads to success in promoting student, teacher and parent well-being, and to identify the most important elements for best practice in positive education. The ultimate aim of the pilot is to improve the mental health and well-being of primary school children in six schools in the Upper Hunter region of NSW. The major partner in this initiative is Where There’s A Will (WTAW) charity established by Pauline Carrigan, the mother of Will Carrigan who sadly committed suicide on Christmas Day 2015. The Hunter New England region showed the highest number of suicides in NSW in 2013. Also, self-harm hospitalisations by females 15–24 years showed a significant increase in 2013–14 (700 in 100,000 population) compared to previous 10 years (430 in 100,000 in 2001/2) and incidents are far more prevalent in the teen years than in any other age group.

The vision of Where There’s A Will is to help children and young people learn the skills of wellbeing and resilience from the first years of schooling. WTAW has established a positive education consortium with Australian Schools Plus and Positive Education Schools Association (PESA). Acting on the premise that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, the community-based charity WTAW believes that by involving their whole community, they are increasing the benefits of positive education for all their children and young people. The significance of the PROSPER project is that it is a unique grassroots initiative that is being funded by the local community for the benefit of their own children. It has the potential to be the largest community-initiated mental health intervention ever attempted in Australia.

This research aims to explore the individual school, school system, community and program factors that contribute to an increase in student mental health and well-being through the implementation of Bounce Back, a K-6 social-emotional learning program in six Upper Hunter primary schools. Studies in the US and in Australia (KidsMatter) have demonstrated significant positive effects of these kinds of programs. The impact was especially apparent for students who were rated as having higher levels of mental health difficulties at the start of the program. Academic benefits as well as social-emotional (SEL) health and well-being were found for students in schools when the whole school was involved in the sustained implementation of SEL programs.

However, how the critical evidence-based elements of well-being – Positivity, Relationships, Outcomes, Strengths, Purpose, Engagement, and Resilience (collectively known as PROSPER) – benefit from the school-based intervention need to be clearly identified with empirical evidence. The findings of this project are expected to have significant practical implications for successfully rolling out the intervention in various educational settings and to have significant theoretical implications for well-being and positive psychology research. This pilot project would serve as the basis of a larger ARC Linkage grant application, funding that will enable the evidence-based intervention to be scaled up to more schools in this community.

Researchers: Professor Alex Yeung, Dr Toni Noble (IPPE Adjunct), Rose Pennington (PhD student)

Start Date: 7 March 2017

End Date: 6 March 2018

Funding Body: ACU Faculty of Health Sciences in partnership with Upper Hunter Where There’s a Will Pty Ltd

Fact Sheet – Prosper (PDF, 167kB)