The relationship between school climate and mental and emotional wellbeing over the transition from primary to secondary school
Place of Publication
Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Medical and Health Sciences
Background: School climate has often been described as the “quality and character of school life”, including both social and physical aspects of the school, that can positively promote behaviour, school achievement, and the social and emotional development of students. Methods: The current study examined the relationship between students’ mental and emotional wellbeing and factors pertaining to school climate, focussing on the domains of safety, social relationships and school connectedness, during the last year of their primary schooling (age 11–12 years) and their first 2 years of secondary school. Data was collected using a self-completion questionnaire, four times over 3 years from 1800 students’ aged 11–14 years. Multilevel modelling was used to determine the strongest school climate predictor of students’ mental and emotional wellbeing at each time point. Results: In the last year of primary school, peer support was the strongest protective predictor of wellbeing, while feeling less connected and less safe at school predicted mental wellbeing. Feeling safe at school was the strongest protective factor for student wellbeing in the first year of secondary school. In the second year of secondary school, peer support was the strongest protective factor for mental wellbeing, while feeling safe at school, feeling connected to school and having support from peers were predictive of emotional wellbeing. Conclusions: School climate factors of feeling safe at school, feeling connected to school, and peer support are all protective of mental and emotional wellbeing over the transition period while connectedness to teachers is protective of emotional wellbeing. Primary school appears to be an important time to establish quality connections to peers who have a powerful role in providing support for one another before the transition to secondary school. However, school policies and practices promoting safety and encouraging and enabling connectedness are important during the first years of secondary school. Recommendations for effective school policy and practice in both primary and sec- ondary schools to help enhance the mental and emotional wellbeing of adolescents are discussed.