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Curriculum for Excellence and Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) Approach

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The World Health Organization (1948) defines Health “as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This meaning suggests that the health of an individual incorporates much more than just the absence of an illness and includes several aspects of a person’s wellbeing. The World Health Organization (2004) describes the state of wellbeing, to be when an individual knows their own abilities, manages the general stresses of life, and can work efficiently to be an effective contributor to their society. This interpretation is supported by Austin (2016) who refers to wellbeing as living responsibly in good health in the social world, and Deighton et al., (2016) who portray wellbeing in children as a sense of confidence: “feeling good, feeling that their life is going well, and feeling able to get on with their daily lives”.

These perceptions are reinforced by the definition provided by the Collins English Dictionary (2020) as the condition of being contented, healthy and successful. In conjunction with the positive characterisation of the key components included in being in a state of health and wellbeing in life, it is understandable why the Scottish Government have placed the promotion of health and wellbeing at the forefront of the Curriculum for Excellence in contemporary Scottish education. Curriculum for Excellence aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the knowledge, skills and attributes necessary, to enable them to flourish in life. It strives to instill four capacities in all young people, to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors (Scottish Executive, 2004). These four capacities are embedded within the varying definitions of health and wellbeing provided.

The key educational policy, Curriculum for Excellence and Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) approach were introduced to Scottish education, to support children and young people’s health and wellbeing, at the very core (Scottish Government, 2016a). The GIRFEC approach focuses on supporting children and young people to feel safe, loved and respected, to ensure they can reach their full potential. The concept is based on eight wellbeing indicators, which are: safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included. These are used to measure a child’s development and identify if they are requiring any additional support or help within a particular aspect of their life (Children in Scotland, 2019). Through the increased focus on health and wellbeing, school staff and teachers have a responsibility to raise any concerns relating to these wellbeing indicators with partner agencies.

As a result of the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007, Curriculum for Excellence has placed a high priority to Health and Wellbeing and endorsed it alongside Literacy and Numeracy. These three core subjects should be developed and supported across all features of the curriculum and are established as ‘The Responsibility of All’ teachers (Scottish Government, 2016a). Unlike literacy and numeracy, which can be assessed through attainment, extra emphasis has been placed on health and wellbeing as a curricular area, but also as part of the wider school experience, including ethos, relationships, rights and responsibilities (Spratt, 2018).

Currently within Scottish Education, there is a commitment towards a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. McLaughlin (2015) believes that rather than there being a focus on an attainment driven curriculum of wellbeing, there is also much more consideration towards the “whole child”. Focus is not solely on what each pupil learns academically, but on their overall personal development and attribution of skills and knowledge to help them succeed in life. Horrell et al., (2012) also believe that Wellbeing encompasses more than just the health of a child. It is vital to ensure their mental, emotional, social and physical development needs are met. The Scottish Government strive to address health and wellbeing within 6 key areas:

  1. Mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing;
  2. Planning for choices and changes;
  3. Physical education, physical activity and sport;
  4. Food and health;
  5. Substance misuse;
  6. Relationships, sexual health and parenthood.

These six areas are interdependent and essential, to equip children and young people with the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to make informed decisions and succeed in life (Education Scotland, 2014). Furthermore, Payler and Scanlon (2018) maintain that incorporating these dimensions within the classroom, is the responsibility of all teachers, to promote the best possible educational experience. Spratt (2018) echoes this belief and describes health and wellbeing as the vital foundation to which all learning can build on.

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Mental, Emotional, Social and Physical Wellbeing

Through addressing mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing, pupils will become more resilient, have greater self-esteem, a better understanding and management of themselves and a higher level of interpersonal skills (Scottish Government, 2016). Harden et al., (2001) acknowledge the importance of mental health throughout life but highlight the significance during school years – particularly in relation to attainment and lifelong learning. As well as increased attainment, Catalano et al., (2002) state that good mental health leads to less involvement with the criminal justice system, lower cost to public services, greater potential and resilience for life. Edwards (2003) implies that poor mental health, greatly depreciates educational attainment, and Graham and Power (2003) indicate that this can then lead to poor career and life opportunities, involvement in crime and substance misuse. These outcomes demonstrate the importance of teachers fostering a positive learning environment and promoting the wellbeing of all pupils (Kyriacou, 1998), with the Scottish Government tackling mental health by placing emotional and social wellbeing of pupils at the heart of education (Weare, 2010). Robinson (2018) strengthens this view, in that establishing positive pupil and teacher relationships, this will instill a sense of security for pupils. Pye (1988) refers to teachers utilising the skills of ‘solicitous tenderness’ to provide pupils with warmth, reassurance and kindness. These techniques will ensure that teachers fulfill their role in creating a happy, supportive and inclusive environment to assist pupils’ learning and development.

Planning for Choices and Changes

Education Scotland (2020) suggest that for pupils’ health and wellbeing to be promoted, children and young people should be provided with opportunities to actively learn about choices, managing expectations and making decisions within real life contexts. James and Prout (1997) emphasise the importance of children being involved in the construction of their social lives, as well as the lives of others, and the society in which they live. Cohen et al., (2004) supports this idea in the educational context, in that when a teacher undertakes their duty of care, they must enable students the opportunity of choice: to explore, take responsibility for their actions, learn to demonstrate creativity and independence. This concept is further backed by Watson et al., (2012) who believe health and wellbeing in schools, is about the development of a pupil’s responsibility and higher order thinking skills. Weare (2010) enhances this viewpoint, in that positive health and wellbeing helps to create concerned citizens, who understand themselves, can empathise with their peers, care about their wider community, and make informed choices. This can only be achieved through empowering children and young people through exercising their choice, self-exploration and learning (Butcher, 2010). The introduction of a ‘Change Challenge’ initiative within the classroom, would provide pupils with the choice to adopt either a physical activity or replacing an unhealthy food option with a healthier item over the course of a week. Pupils would then reflect on the positive impact this change has made.

Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport

Physical education, physical activity and sport has prospered through the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence. With the curriculum being identified as a site for health promotion, to reduce expenditure on health care, physical education is being used as a vehicle to adopt a more active and healthier lifestyle (Horrell et al., 2012). Since 2009, The Scottish Government introduced the need for a minimum of 2 hours of quality physical education in schools per week. Active Schools was introduced in 2000, becoming a focal point within Primary Schools in Scotland. Their aim continues to be the promotion of physical activity and participation in sport before, during and after school (Scottish Government, 2009). Brooks and Magnusson (2006) indicate the positive impact an active lifestyle can have on the development of children and young people’s health and mental, emotional and social wellbeing. Whitehead (2004) supports this concept that physical education is much more than the learning of sport- related skills for children. It also develops their higher order thinking skills. Lawrence (2018) conveys that competing in sport and physical activity provides opportunities for children and young people to build their character and that sport helps to embed values, such as fairness, respect and sportsmanship. Finally, Eime et al., (2013) highlight that participation helps to tackle mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and suicide due to advantages such as forming relationships, teamwork and social skills. These benefits all accentuate the significance of physical education as part of promoting health and wellbeing within the contemporary Scottish education setting.

Food and Health

Health Promotion is a central purpose of schooling. The implementation of Curriculum for Excellence has provided children and young people with knowledge and skills to help them make the correct food choices and to understand the health benefits, if these are sustained (Scottish Government, 2014). Schools have been identified as a fundamental environment to positively influence children’s relationship with food. Not only providing information on the benefits, but also allowing children the opportunity to experiment and taste, which might not be afforded in less advantaged households due to concerns of waste and expense (Burns, 2014). Poor diet has been linked with poorer academic, social and emotional development of children and young people (White, 2017). Children living in economically deprived areas are also at greater risk of health concerns such as obesity and starvation, compared to those living in more affluent areas (Jotangia et al., 2016). In order to address the possible health and academic disadvantages for children and young people, depending on the areas they reside, the Scottish Government introduced the Scottish Attainment Challenge in 2015, which focusses on achieving equity in education and ensuring every child has the same opportunity to succeed (Scottish Government, 2016). Through this, the introduction of breakfast clubs, free school meals and free drinking water were implemented across many schools in Scotland, to improve pupil concentration and attainment in class (White, 2017). This corresponds with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in that if children’s basic physiological needs are not met, such as food, water etc., then they will not be able to reach their full potential within the classroom environment (Maslow, 1943). This further strengthens the significance of promoting health and wellbeing in the contemporary Scottish education setting.

Substance Misuse

Stead and Stradling (2010) acknowledge schools as having a significant role in a National Substance Misuse strategy. This is due to schools having a duty of care to protect and promote the health and wellbeing of children and young people, and the efficient way schools can reach most of the younger community. Brooks (2010) highlights that early onset substance misuse by children and young people can be a key indicator to future and long term usage, which in turn can lead to alcohol problems, illegal drug use, low educational attainment and involvement in crime throughout life (Viner and Taylor, 2007). Education programmes have been identified as a method in which schools can raise awareness of the potential physical, mental and social damage that alcohol and substance misuse can have on their lives, and the lives of others (Mistral and Templeton, 2010). It is anticipated that these education programmes will positively influence pupils’ opinions, through awareness of the devastating effects that substance misuse can cause. Stead and Stradling (2010) support the idea that the teaching of this topic, can be done by the class teacher, peer to peer through investigation and presentation, but also the inclusion of external agencies, such as health professionals and the police. Therefore, an early introduction and education of the dangers surrounding substance misuse to children and young people, is highly significant in the contemporary Scottish education setting.

Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood

Cohen et al., (2004) accentuates the role of education in the early socialisation of children, with the transformation of socialisation in the home to the wider community. Through socialisation, children and young people can develop positive self-esteem, security in relationships, trust in others and learn how to behave and interact with others (Cohen et al., 2004). This perception of education developing the importance of relationships in children and young people’s Health and Wellbeing, is enhanced by Phillips and Soltis (2004) who infer that socialising students to become functioning members of society is part of a teacher’s responsibility. In viewing relationships in line with sexual health, the World Health Organization (2006) state that sexual health is a vital element of wellbeing, which includes the idea of a positive, pleasant and safe sexual relationship. Ingham and Hirst (2010) support this definition of sexual health, which portrays a more positive perception within the wider concept of relationships and wellbeing. The Scottish Government (2016b) also back this use and promotion of sexual health, and emphasise the importance of developing the knowledge, understanding and use of correct anatomical terminologies in children and young people. Education Scotland (2020) also highlight the importance of children and young people comprehending the role and responsibility involved in being a parent or carer. This also relates to the significance of schools developing positive relationships with parents as partners in children’s education, which will increase the prospect of co-operation, and parents being more likely to adopt similar positive approaches to health and wellbeing within the home environment (James, 2010).

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Curriculum for Excellence and Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) Approach. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
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