Information Bulletin Number 17


Western Australian Child Health Survey - Education Health and Competence - February 1997.


This report, the third in the series, focused on education and discussed many findings of interest to educators, a sample of which is listed below.


Competence at School


1 in 5 below age level in academic competence.

Number of schools attended not correlated to academic performance

Students with birth dates in last 1/4 of calendar year had lower rates of overall academic competence (up to year 4)

"overall demand for services to students at educational risk far exceeds the supply of these educational services" p26

Educational level of parents affects the level of academic risk of their children "future generations stand to benefit through the setting of policies aimed at increasing school retention rates".

The education and employment status of the caregiver is of more significance to the academic competence of the student than

I) the structure of the family

ii) the level of family income


Mental health and academic competence


two mental health problems were particularly associated with low academic competence i) social problems

ii) attentional problems

almost 21 % of students had a mental health problem

negative school experiences comprise critical paths or turning points for later adult outcomes


Attentional Problems and Academic Competence


affects about 5-8% of students

best approach to treat children is multi-modal and collaborative case management research on use of medication indicates good short term results

non-drug approaches include parent training in child management, teacher counselling about ADHD, teacher training in classroom management, parent support groups

schools potentially have a role in assessing individual levels of student risk in the areas of 1) mental health

2) speech and language

3) cognitive abilities

and should be supported with funding to carry these out.

where academic outcomes are studied teacher effects are a major influence on these outcomes and the effect of the school and its context on academic outcome is negligible.


Self esteem and self efficacy


Girls tended to have lower self esteem than boys

Little evidence that improvements in self esteem resulted in better educational outcomes. Instead these studies generally support the achievement model of self esteem i.e. self esteem is more an outcome than a cause of academic success.


School Alienation


One in five adolescents disliked school

School alienation was associated with both academic competence and mental health problems.

Adolescent stress

8% of adolescents report feeling extreme stress. One in five males reported feeling no stress at all.

High parental expectations did not appear to be related to higher levels of academic stress. High parental expectations usually operated to encourage and facilitate academic competence

Adolescents need to learn adaptive ways of dealing with stress

School violence

Violent behaviour among students often has its influences outside the school and solutions to it are unlikely to be found in isolation from those causes




Teacher/parent reports indicate 11 % of students were victims of bullying during the previous 6 months. Boys were bullied more than girls. The incidence of bullying was highest among 10-14 year olds.


Exposure to bullying was associated with a high incidence of adverse academic and psychological outcomes

About 5% of students displayed characteristics of bullies

Bullies had a higher incidence of mental health problems.

Adolescent suicidal behaviour

About 8% of adolescents reported suicide or self harm attempts. Best approach is to develop skills and competences of people to whom troubled youth turn rather than direct curriculum-based approaches.


Students at Educational Risk


Risk of low academic competence is increased when there exists: I) low verbal and non verbal ability

ii) Difficulties with speech and language iii) mental health problems

School are faced with the responsibility of managing these children

Two mental health syndromes were associated with low academic competence - attention problems

- Social problems

School retention and school attendance lower the risk of low academic competence


School attendance


Less than 1% of all students attending WA schools are absent without explanation


Health and well being in schools


Schools' primary focus is education but this is being affected by the health and emotional well-being of students. There is a perception that these problems are increasing in frequency.

Two possible reasons are suspected of underpinning this trend:

I) the context in which families are raising children has changed

ii) The normal processes of adolescent development have been complicated by the emergence of new stresses and challenges.

A major report recently identified youth suicide, health-damaging behaviors, and alienation of young people as public health problems confronting Australia.

mental health education needs to have a greater focus on prevention

It is not dealt with widely in schools because most teachers are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the issues and there is resistance to the addition to an already crowded curriculum.


Improving Prospects for Health and Well Being in Schools


Several prerequisite conditions enable schools to consider the uptake of intervention and prevention initiatives

- Leadership support in the school

- Participation of teaching staff in PD activities

- Extent to which a teacher's personal goals agree with the goal of the school is among the key influences on the quality of teaching within the school.

There remain significant barriers to the development of more comprehensive and integrated educational support for students - particularly those at risk


I) Government department boundaries

ii) Industrial agreements - more flexibility for use of personnel and skills within schools.


Future direction to assist at risk students


I) more flexible delivery of needed skills and services within schools.

ii) Greater financial support for this educational enterprise through other government sectors.

iii) Proposed interventions within schools must be able to demonstrate benefits to the school's mission in addition to benefits to students.

iv) Professional development of school's leadership teams in health promotion and practice.

v) Set targets to increase education support staff in proportion to the population

vi) Devolution needs to be accompanied by leadership at all levels to

i) develop data systems for collaborative needs analysis

ii) establish cross agency contact and service agreements.

iii) create joint funding strategies.


A copy of the survey is available at your school




Zuhrick S R, Silburn S R, Gurrin L, Tech H, Shepherd C, Carlton, Lawrence D.

Western Australian Child Health Survey. Education Health and Competence. Perth, Western Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics and the TVW Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, 1997. (ISBN 0 642 17239 0)