Experiences of post-primary school communities transitioning to a settings-base for mental health and wellbeing promotion: the impact of policy on context, competition and care
Slattery, Maryanne Lowney
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This multi-case case study explores the experiences of post-primary school communities as they transition to a mental health and wellbeing promotion model. The research study includes the voices of students, principals, teachers, career guidance counsellors and parents/guardians across a sample of eight post-primary schools in a region of Ireland operating under the aegis of an Education and Training Board. The research examines the impact of educational policy on the operational context of post-primary schooling. The study examines a range of educational policies using policy theories outlined by Ball (2008) and a variant of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological frame as a visual mapping tool. The study tracks policy trajectories from policy as text, to interpretation, to enactment and argues that the political economic and social context of our education system must be explored in order to fully appreciate how meaningful mental health and wellbeing promotion can be achieved. The study explores the consequences of class-based schooling in Ireland and the challenges this presents for schools, particularly DEIS designated schools, as they transition. The mixed methods research approach employed in this study allows for a triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data gathered using an amalgam of qualitative interviews, focus groups and quantitative surveys. Data analysis was conducted using grounded theory and the constant comparison methods of analysis which yielded major thematic trends for further analysis and exploration. This research study argues that contemporary capitalism and its impact on educational reform and governance, has greatly impacted the Irish system. This study finds that the marketisation of the education system, within a class-based schooling model, has developed an intense competition between many schools. This intense interschool competition stratifies the student cohort into those that are valued and less valued by the education system. The author argues that to view education and educational provision purely from the viewpoint of the market, and the citizen as a customer, loses sight of the social and emotional needs of a population and supports the Rational Economic Actor model of the citizen. This research study explores meso (policy as interpretation) and micro (policy as effects) level examples of the failure of neoliberal and new managerial market values to accommodate care in our post-primary schooling system. The author argues that the post-primary system which culminates in a product-orientated, competition-based assessment challenges a school’s ability to be a settings-base for meaningful mental health promotion. This research study contributes to existing knowledge by tracking the influence of the market model on the operational context of Irish post-primary schools in terms of stratification. The study demonstrates the challenge this creates for meaningful mental health promotion particularly in DEIS schools. The recent positive developments in terms of universal school supports for mental health promotion are recognised and the experiences, attitudes and opinions of stakeholders are explored. In terms of the Health Promoting School (HPS) Framework (1995), this study argues that supports for students at risk are inadequate and that the importance of care must supersede the importance of competition if we are to improve adolescent mental health and wellbeing outcomes in society.
Mental health and wellbeing promotion