All children need to feel that school is a safe place where people will care about them, where their needs for support, respect and friendship will be met, and where they will be able to get help to work out problems. Having these needs met helps children develop a sense of belonging at school and supports mental health.
Children who feel they belong at school are happier, more relaxed and have fewer behaviour problems than others. They also learn better, are more motivated and more successful with schoolwork. Research into children’s mental health has found that a sense of belonging at school helps to protect children against mental health problems and improves their learning.
Promoting inclusion and belonging
A positive school community promotes inclusion and belonging by building connections with, and between, staff, students, families and the community. Research shows that children’s sense of belonging and connection at school are key protective factors that promote mental health and wellbeing, as well as academic achievement. Students who have a sense of belonging and connectedness to the school have been found to be more resilient and less likely to develop mental health problems. Conversely, students who experience isolation and alienation at school are at greater risk of a range of mental health and behavioural problems.
A positive school community is also essential for the wellbeing of school staff. When staff feel supported and connected they are more able to effectively provide for their students’ academic, social and emotional needs.
Family-friendly school environments
Making school environments family-friendly can help to overcome anxieties and signal to families that the school is a place for them as well as for their children, where support for a range of issues concerning their children can be found.
A positive sense of community is enhanced when all community members are encouraged to feel ‘ownership’ towards the school through opportunities to become involved in school activities, share their views and influence school decisions.