New Global Perspectives report on international student wellbeing

Published on: 02 Mar 2018

Student wellbeing underpins all educational outcomes. From attendance and attainment to progress and employability skills, students who are supported to be mentally healthy and have a positive outlook towards education are more likely to succeed.

New Global Perspectives report on international student wellbeing

By Hannah Marr, Senior Publisher, GL Education

Student wellbeing underpins all educational outcomes. From attendance and attainment to progress and employability skills, students who are supported to be mentally healthy and have a positive outlook towards education are more likely to succeed. And while wellbeing and mental health are certainly not new issues, they have received increased global attention over the last few years.


In the UK, the Mental Health Green Paper plans to introduce Senior Leads for Mental Health in every school, working alongside Mental Health Support Teams. In Dubai, a partnership between the Knowledge and Human Development Authority and the Department for Education and Child Development in South Australia has introduced an emirate-wide student well-being census.


At GL Education, we have recently undertaken a large-scale study into students’ attitudes to school and themselves as learners, using PASS – our attitudinal survey. Students’ self-reported attitudes offer an important insight into their well-being, and low scores in one or more of the nine PASS factors could indicate a potential barrier to learning. One use of PASS is therefore as a wellbeing screener. As author David Gleason argues in the Global Perspectives report, “Essentially, students’ ‘attitudes’ are direct reflections of their own moods and overall mental health status”.


Analysing PASS data from over 95,000 students in international schools in the Middle East and South East Asia – the largest study of its kind – we were able to explore emerging patterns in wellbeing in international schools, and while every school and every student are of course different, some interesting findings came to light.


Scores across the nine PASS factors were generally high, but more than one in ten students were identified as having low scores that were likely to be barriers to learning. For example, 15% of students reported low or moderate satisfaction in their general work ethic and 13% had a similar negative response to self-regard as a learner. This is particularly relevant when we consider that international schools often have exceptionally high academic expectations for their students. If those students lack confidence around their work ethic and ability as a learner, combined with the pressure of high expectations, there is a strong risk of a negative impact to their wellbeing if appropriate support is not in place.


The study also compared international schools to UK schools and found that international schools scored slightly lower in several factors, including preparedness for learning. We can hypothesise that the transitory nature of many expat communities, as well as high levels of EAL students, may impact those students’ confidence as learners.


This is where the study, and PASS more generally, enables schools to use the data to ask the right questions for their individual context, and to take steps to implement policies and interventions to support and improve student wellbeing. For example, at the International Community School in Amman, Jordan, teachers take a #wellbeingfirst approach throughout school life, underpinned by rigorous use of the ‘data triangle’ of ability, attainment and attitudes to learning.


This initial study arguably raises more questions than it answers. For example, relatively few attitudinal differences were identified between schools in the Middle East and in South East Asia, which will probably surprise teachers who have worked in both regions. As we gather more data on student attitudes and wellbeing, alongside other information around ability, attainment and attendance, for example, we will be able to ask and start to answer more fine-grained questions; to reflect on current levels of student wellbeing in our schools regionally, nationally and internationally; and to use these insights to improve the mental health and wellbeing of our students.


You can read the full Global Perspectives Report here.