Pupils emotional health and wellbeing

The steps taken to improve pupils' emotional health and wellbeing including developing an understanding and definition of pupils' health and well being and tools for auditing and ensuring best practice in schools.


Pupils' Emotional Health and Wellbeing (PEHAW) Programme

Emotional wellbeing is critical in developing a healthy successful school community , including developing a pupil's social, emotional and behavioural skills.  The Emotional Health and Wellbeing of pupils has been identified as a priority for action at Ministerial level and additional funding has been made available since the start of the 2008/09 financial year to focus on the issue.

In September 2007, the Department began work in partnership with all key statutory and voluntary and community sector stakeholders and interested parties to develop a 'Pupils' Emotional Health and Wellbeing (PEHAW) Programme'. The programme focuses on positive prevention by building coping skills in children and young people and complements the personal development strand of the curriculum.

The Programme will contribute to the building of resilient emotional health and well being of pupils. It is intended to be a vehicle for providing the "glue" to integrate individual policies/services such as all non-academic and curriculum activities affecting pupils such as counselling, pastoral care systems, suicide prevention, anti-bullying, discipline process and the healthy schools initiative in a consistent and coherent way.

Working groups

At the outset of the programme, a Project Board was established to oversee the work of five Working Groups; each populated by a wide range of stakeholders from the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, with the following remits:

1. Self assessment for schools

To develop a basis for a shared understanding of what ‘pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing’ means and to devise a tool(s) to help schools assess how they promote pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing and how this might be improved.

2. Training and support for teachers and others

To identify the immediate training and assistance requirements of schools and to prepare a commissioning brief for any identified training or materials for teachers and other school staff.

3. Good practice identification and dissemination

To identify evidence-based best practice, both in Northern Ireland and in other jurisdictions, and prepare a plan as to how this might be shared with schools.

4. Mapping available resources

To catalogue existing services and sources of support accessible by schools and pupils with the purpose of creating a web-based directory.

5. Critical incidents response

To commission an update of the current guidance for schools on suicide and self-harm and to develop proposals for a regional approach to the management of critical incidents.

Definition of pupils' emotional health and wellbeing

Working Group One has developed the following definition of pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing in consultation with health and education professionals, teachers, parents and pupils. The definition was recommended to the Pupils’ Emotional Health and Wellbeing Project Board and accepted by them in January 2009:

Being mentally and emotionally healthy means that we believe in ourselves and know our own worth. We set ourselves goals that we can achieve and can find support to do this.

We are aware of our emotions and what we are feeling and can understand why. We can cope with our changing emotions and we can speak about and manage our feelings.

We understand what others may be feeling and know how to deal with their feelings. We also understand when to let go and not overreact. We know how to make friendships and relationships and how to cope with changes in them.

We understand that everyone can be anxious, worried or sad sometimes. We know how to cope with, and bounce back from, changes or problems and can talk about them to someone we trust.

Audit tools and good practice

Working Groups one and three agreed to amalgamate to work together on joint research on existing audit tools and existing good practice.  

The Department commissioned research on behalf of the Working groups to conduct two, inter-related pieces of work:

  • a review of existing good practice that promotes pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing within our schools, the key drivers to obtaining successful outcomes and integration of emotional health and wellbeing programmes throughout a school community
  • a review of existing audit tools that schools can use to self-evaluate their whole-school practice with regard to promoting pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing and to recommend those or elements therein, that could be applied in the context of Northern Ireland

Report on good practice and audit tools

Following a public tender exercise, Queen’s University Belfast was commissioned to undertake the research and their report was published in May 2011:

The report presents the findings of an independent review of current practice in relation to promoting pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing in post-primary schools in Northern Ireland and a review of existing audit tools that schools can use to self-evaluate their whole-school practice in relation to this area.


There is considerable national and international research about the benefits of supporting emotional health and wellbeing in children and young people in school and the resulting positive impact on performance, attainment and behaviours.

In recognition of this and as a further development under the Department’s I-Matter Programme, Guidance (Circular 2018/07) has recently issued to schools announcing the launch of a new self-assessment audit tool to support school development planning in the area of emotional health and well-being.

The audit tool will support schools in assessing how their current processes support the development, implementation and on-going refinement of a whole school approach to the promotion of emotional health and wellbeing.

The main aim of the audit tool is to assist schools to:

• audit their practice across the full range of activities within the school;

• evaluate their practice and identify how they might improve and what further practice could/should be introduced;

• prepare a plan, as part of school development planning which sets out   how pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing will be promoted and how the effectiveness of the plan will be evaluated; and

• consider the progress they are making to implement their plan.

Circular 2018/07 which provides full information about the audit tool and its use by schools can be viewed at:







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