Mental health on the curriculum in Northern Ireland
The wellbeing of children and young people is a theme that runs throughout the curriculum in Northern Ireland.
There are three over-arching aims of the curriculum, which are to develop pupils as:
- an individual - to achieve personal fulfilment and individual well-being through living a successful life
- a contributor to society - to be concerned for the well-being of others as well as themselves, in their own society and beyond it
- a contributor to the economy and the environment - to appreciate how employment will impact on the economic choices they make and how they, in turn, impact individually and collectively on the environment.
In classrooms, mental health and wellbeing is taught as part of one area of the curriculum. In primary schools, this curriculum area is called Personal Development and Mutual Understanding (PD&MU). In secondary schools, it is called Learning for Life and Work (LLW).
Personal Development & Mutual Understanding
Personal Development and Mutual Understanding, or PD&MU, is split into two topics: Personal Understanding and Health, and Mutual Understanding and the Wider Community.
There are several different statements under these two topics, which primary school children should be ‘enabled to explore’.
PD&MU is taught to children in the Foundation Stage, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Depending on what key stage a child is in, the aims of the subject are slightly different.
For example, in the Foundation Stage, a child is expected to explore:
- their own and others’ feelings and emotions
When they move on to Key Stage 1, this is developed upon, and they are then expected to explore:
- their own and others’ feelings and emotions and how their actions affect others
In Key Stage 2, this is further built upon, with children now being taught about:
- their management of a range of feelings and emotions and the feelings and emotions of others.
Learning for Life and Work
Learning for Life and Work, or LLW, builds on what children learn through PD&MU at primary school. Pupils are taught it from age 11 to age 16, and it covers four topic areas: employability, local and global citizenship, personal development, and home economics. Home economics is taught as part of LLW at Key Stage 3 only.
The area of LLW that focuses most on wellbeing is personal development. As with PD&MU at primary level, what a young person learns will be built upon as they move through the school.
For example, at Key Stage 3, the statutory guidance states that students should be enabled to:
- explore and express a sense of self, for example, temperament, feelings and emotions, personal responsibility, personal needs, aspirations, etc
At Key Stage 4, the guidance states that students should be enabled to:
- reflect on, and respond to, their developing concept of self, including managing emotions and reactions to on-going life experiences