Wellbeing and Mental Health in the Northern Ireland Curriculum
Wellbeing describes a state of feeling healthy, happy, and that life is going well. Good mental health is a state of wellbeing in which we realise our own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life and work productively, and are able to contribute to our community.
Wellbeing and mental health are central to the aim and objectives of the curriculum. Distinct Areas of Learning address wellbeing and mental health explicitly and specify the teaching of social and emotional skills, as well as physical health and safety:
- Personal Development and Mutual Understanding (PDMU) at primary; and
- Personal Development within Learning for Life and Work (LLW) at post-primary.
There are also opportunities to promote wellbeing across the curriculum. This hub provides links to many of our resources that support skills development, and preventative strategies where needed, in the five key skill areas listed below.
Social and Emotional Learning
Teaching social and emotional skills in the classroom can improve both academic performance and wellbeing, helping children and young people lead happy and healthy lives, now and in the future.
There are five key areas of competency and skill in social and emotional learning:
- Social Awareness
- Relationship Skills
- Responsible Decision-Making.
It’s important for schools to teach social and emotional skills, both explicitly in the dedicated time for PDMU and LLW and in other Areas of Learning across the curriculum. The five strands of the Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities framework (Managing Information; Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making; Being Creative; Working with Others; and Self-Management) are also closely linked to the development of these social and emotional skills.
By making meaningful connections across the curriculum and including links to relevant external support, teachers can ensure that pupils are able to understand and manage emotions. They’ll also be able to set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. See What is SEL? by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning for more information.
See also the Education Endowment Foundation’s guidance report Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools for recommendations for supporting pupils’ social and emotional development.
Active and participatory learning approaches are most effective for delivery of wellbeing education. By encouraging pupils to investigate issues for themselves, suggest solutions and make decisions based on what they have learned, teachers will foster their self-confidence, self-discipline and self-control. See our Active Learning and Teaching Methods resources below for more information about these approaches.
Pupils’ wellbeing is supported and they learn better when they’re in an environment with people who care about them and who they can trust. Your school must foster an environment in which pupils feel safe, fairly treated, and part of the school family.
Each member of school staff has a role to play in developing relationships with pupils. Staff can convey care and support by:
- listening to pupils;
- validating their feelings;
- demonstrating kindness; and
- showing them compassion and respect.
We have developed curriculum themes for PDMU and LLW that support progressive teaching in the areas of Self-Awareness; Feelings and Emotions; Learning to Learn; Health, Growth and Change; Safety; Relationships; Rules, Rights and Responsibilities; Managing Conflict; Similarities and Differences; and Learning to Live as Members of the Community.
These themes address all the core skills of social and emotional learning. See the relevant pages on this hub and our guidance booklet Personal Development and Mutual Understanding for Key Stages 1 and 2 for further details.
Self-Assessment Audit Tool
The Department of Education has created a self-assessment audit tool to support school development planning for emotional health and wellbeing. School leaders can use this tool to evaluate both their provision for wellbeing and the quality of teaching and learning of social and emotional skills. See Self-Assessment Audit Tool – Information and Questionnaires on the Department of Education website for more information.
Curricular Guidance and Resources
Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education
This guidance provides direction for practitioners on the development of young children’s emotional wellbeing. The pre-school curriculum includes an Area of Learning called Personal, Social and Emotional Development. While the curriculum is non-statutory at this stage, this is an extremely important area that develops skills which give young children the best opportunity to develop positive dispositions to learning and life.
PDMU Guidance Booklet
This guidance discusses suitable teaching, learning and assessment strategies for PDMU at Key Stages 1 and 2. It also includes details about the knowledge, understanding and skills that pupils should be developing for each curriculum theme across the key stages.
PDMU Progression Grids
These grids provide further details about progression in the curriculum themes across the key stages. They also include sample learning activities, information about the Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities pupils are developing, and suggested resources.
Active Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stages 1 and 2
Active Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stage 3
Featuring practical advice on a range of learning and teaching methods, these resources aim to help teachers actively engage pupils in their learning to make it a more relevant, enjoyable and motivational experience.
Key Stage 3 Non-Statutory Guidance for Personal Development
This guidance shows how Personal Development and its three key concepts (self-awareness, personal health and relationships) are consistent with the aim and objectives of the curriculum and help pupils acquire key skills, attitudes and values.
Key Stage 4 Learning for Life and Work Guidance
These guidance documents show how teachers can develop good practice in the three strands of LLW, including specific guidance for Personal Development at this key stage.
Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities
Featuring classroom strategies and progress maps, these guidance documents show how developing pupils’ Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities can help them interact effectively with others and regulate and enhance their own learning.
UNCRC Resource Hub
Created to provide resources that will help inform children and young people about their rights, as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), this hub also includes webinars about wellbeing and digital safety.
Special Educational Needs: Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties
Guidance on Identifying and Supporting Learners with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties
Our main guidance for teachers focuses on learners aged 8 to 15 in mainstream schools. We also provide additional materials that focus both on young learners and on those who have severe learning difficulties.