A healthy learning community and healthy students are in everyone’s interest – student welfare work at educational institutes belongs to everyone

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2020-10-01 Saara Mustalahti, school social worker

Educational institutes from preschools to basic education and secondary education, which I will call schools in this blog post, are such a wonderful system in Finland; as a rule, all children and young people are studying. Our comprehensive school system, which strives for equal starting points and also achieves world-class learning outcomes, is admired globally. Our curriculum is based on a friendly view of human beings: equality is the starting point for teaching and education, and every child is precious. A large number of children and young people study in Espoo’s schools. The schools aim to take into account the strengths and needs of all these children and young people. This is why student welfare work in schools is an important supplement to teaching and education: all students should feel good and safe in our schools in Espoo. In some contexts, student welfare work is spoken about as school welfare work, so its content may be more easily understood. The student welfare work package is based on the Student Welfare Act, which was passed in 2013.

Student welfare work in schools is divided into community-oriented work and student welfare services received by individual students. It is important that schools employ not only education and teaching professionals but also health and welfare professionals. Student welfare services include services provided by school nurses and doctors, school psychologists and school social workers. The purpose of these services and our professionals is to promote the health, safety, well-being and learning of all children in schools. The aim of student welfare services is to provide children and young people with low-threshold support, focus on their own perspective on their issues, prevent problems, promote learning, tackle problems at school in particular and, if necessary, direct the children and young people to other services in the system. Student welfare services cooperate extensively with school professionals and parents as well as the rest of the service system. If necessary, a negotiation meeting can be held at school to support the child or young person, called a multidisciplinary expert group in the Student Welfare Act. The purpose of the negotiation meeting is to promote the person’s well-being in a multi-professional manner, and participants vary according to the support required by the child or young person. Compared internationally, Finnish student welfare services are impressive, and I argue that they also have an impact on learning outcomes: a child who feels well is able to focus on studying.

Communal student welfare work that affects the entire school is planned and promoted by the communal student welfare teams of schools. Communal student welfare work is about shaping the operating culture and structures of schools in such a way that each child and young person feels good at school. Welfare work in schools is essential, because the learning of children and young people and their experiences of school may shape their lives long into the future. Multi-professional, communal student welfare teams and student welfare plans are of great importance in schools: how, for example, can the bullying of children and young people be systematically and purposefully prevented, intervened in and processed afterwards? And how will this work be assessed? Or how do schools take into account the equality and non-discrimination of all children? These are not trivial questions and, therefore, the Student Welfare Act recognises the importance of communal work as the primary promoter of well-being in schools. Student welfare work in schools could be compared to adults’ occupational health and safety at the workplace and occupational health services: the occupational health and safety structures of workplaces ensure that everyone feels comfortable coming to work – taking health, safety and well-being into account – and, if necessary, the occupational health services provide individual employees with support. In schools, it is good to see the link between the student welfare services received by individual students and the communal work promoting well-being for the whole school. The Student Welfare Act emphasises the prevention of problems at school structure level, meaning that welfare work must be carried out systematically even before problems occur – and, on the other hand, if problems do occur, students must receive support for them not only from pedagogical support but also from student welfare services.

According to the Student Welfare Act, communal student welfare work belongs to everyone who works in schools: teachers, principals, school assistants, student welfare services and so on. For example, student welfare work in schools includes providing children and young people with emotional and social growth lessons to promote their mental health and good spirit as well as enhancing the group formation of new classes in the autumn. School trips are significant in terms of promoting a good team spirit in addition to learning. Gender education promotes understanding of everyone’s dignity, and bullying and other inappropriate behaviour must be addressed and, if necessary, support arranged. The health and well-being of children are monitored at group and school level in the communal student welfare group, and well-being policies are planned on the basis of well-being information. Educational institutes must also organise opportunities for children to participate and influence their own affairs in schools. Examples include welfare surveys for children and young people, children’s participation in communal student welfare teams in schools, support student activities and student associations.

I believe that everyone’s contribution is crucial so that children and young people can feel important, be heard and be involved in their own affairs. Every child or young person can also contribute to their fellow students’ school day. Every parent can be interested in their child’s school day. Every teacher can influence how a child or young person feels at school. When planning school activities, every principal can strive to take into account the promotion of well-being and equality as well as the creation of a common operating culture to promote the well-being of students. The staff of student welfare services can actively provide information about their services so that children and young people can easily access them and are offered support as early as possible. In this way, together, we can all promote the well-being of today’s children and young people – and tomorrow’s adults.

Saara Mustalahti, school social worker

For more information:

Communal pupil welfare

Individual pupil welfare

School health care

School social officer

Psychologist

Student Welfare Act (2013/1287)