How can we increase student leisure time?

Social Association VdK Hamburg

This is how health in schools improves

Performance stress, burnout, headaches or bullying: According to a long-term study, numerous students and teachers across Germany suffer from physical and mental health problems. Targeted and systematic health promotion can, however, noticeably improve the situation.

The school climate only improves if teachers and students keep up with them. | © DAK-Gesundheit / Fotolia

So-called focus schools in structurally weak regions can also become healthy schools. This is shown by the current final report of the initiative “Developing a healthy school together”, which the Leuphana University of Lüneburg carried out on behalf of the health insurance company DAK-Gesundheit. The report shows what effective health promotion looks like in schools.

Between 2007 and 2013, a total of 30 schools from seven federal states took part in the “Developing a healthy school together” project. Over 1,200 teachers, 6,000 schoolchildren and 3,600 parents took part in the surveys at the start of the project. They were questioned extensively about working and learning conditions, the school climate, stress and health problems. Conclusion: 60 percent of the participating institutions could be classified as “risk schools” in terms of health and only 7.4 percent as “good, healthy schools”. “Good healthy schools” provide a learning and working environment for students and teachers that promotes health and well-being while promoting performance and educational success.

Specifically, individual studies came to the following results:

  • Almost every third student complained of headaches, sleep problems, irritability or depression.
  • 43 percent of the students took part in so-called binge drinking at least once a month in their free time.
  • Every fifth student sat at least six hours a day at the computer or television. The intensive use of the media was often associated with school problems.
  • 20 percent of teachers were considering early retirement due to health problems.

Through targeted three-year funding and improvements in the learning and working environment, most of the participating schools were able to significantly increase their “health record”. The proportion of “risk schools” fell from 60 to 15 percent. At the same time, the proportion of “good, healthy schools” quintupled from 7.4 to 40 percent. "Almost 70 percent of the participating institutions have improved significantly in the direction of a healthy school," says Professor Lutz Schumacher, one of the project managers at Leuphana University Lüneburg. 40 percent of the schools could be classified as “good healthy schools” after the project is completed. The DAK initiative has thus achieved one of its central objectives.

“Focus schools” are also successful

The study also shows that so-called focus schools could also benefit from participating in the project. "Schools in structurally weak regions were able to develop into good, healthy schools at least as successfully as schools with more favorable socio-economic framework conditions", it says in the final report.

A key success factor of the “Developing a healthy school together” initiative was the involvement of students and teachers. "For example, in schools with greater student participation, the aggressiveness of boys and girls decreased significantly.", explains Hella Thomas from DAK-Gesundheit. In addition, the boys and girls' reluctance to go to school has decreased. Participation in the project reduced the teachers' personal experience of stress and at the same time improved the atmosphere in the teaching staff.

Six success criteria

The study by the Leuphana University of Lüneburg identified six success factors for the development of "healthy schools":

  • Teachers willing to change: The higher the proportion of motivated teachers who are willing to change, the more likely the strenuous and lengthy development process towards a healthy school will be successful.
  • High project value and recognition for active people: In successful schools, the project had a significantly higher value and those involved in the project received more recognition from the teaching staff and the school management for their work. The appreciation of their commitment is an important source of motivation for those involved in the project.
  • Broad participation and transparency: In particular, broad participation by teachers and the transparency of decision-making processes have a positive effect on the success of the project. This allows teachers and students to realize their ideas and the project becomes their project.
  • Individual advice: The DAK initiative identified five school types which, due to their specific strengths and weaknesses, had different needs for advice and support for their development process.
  • Further training: In order to be able to design the development process successfully, training courses on project management and the control of school development processes (change management) should be offered.
  • External support: The support in the development of measures to promote health and the design of the school development process by external professional support was a key success factor from the perspective of the schools.

Another decisive factor for the success of the initiative was that each school could decide for itself which health promotion measures should be implemented according to its framework conditions and problems. This enabled the schools to develop tailor-made solutions for themselves. One school, for example, held thematic student health days to impart knowledge and experiences about healthy eating to the students in a playful way. Another school set up an exercise room for romping around or offered teaching staff how to cope with stress.

At the end of the project, the 30 participating schools were able to achieve their self-set goals for teacher health, the health behavior of the students, the room situation or the school culture to an average of 66.7 percent. "The results show that those responsible rated the project's success as very high", emphasizes Professor Lutz Schumacher from the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. Overall, according to the study, the initiative to promote health in schools was “effective” and “particularly innovative” for several reasons. All legal requirements for prevention projects are met. "In addition, the link between school health promotion and quality development in schools is established", it says in the final conclusion. "This is a decisive innovation feature."

Not less - but more evenly

Clear rules for lessons, exams and homework School Senator Ties Rabe wants to provide upper limits for lessons, exams and homework to ensure a more even learning workload at Hamburg's high schools. In future, there should not be more than 34 lessons, two exams and five hours of homework per week. In grades 5 and 6, the upper limit is 30 or 31 lessons.

School Senator Ties Raven: “It is repeatedly complained that in certain weeks there is an accumulation of high learning requirements, exams and homework. Lessons often start slowly in the first few weeks; conversely, exams, homework and presentations always accumulate in the same weeks. This alternation between underchallenge and excessive demands is not sensible. " The aim is to ensure a more even distribution of the learning workload with clear rules. No less work should be done, the work should just be distributed better.

Rabe emphasized that the upper limits are already being adhered to in many schools and are essentially not new: “The regulation for the exams is already in the valid curriculum and should be adhered to anyway. If the teachers come to an agreement, it will easily be possible to adhere to the upper limit of two exams per week, even if no exams are written in the first few weeks after the holidays. In addition, such an arrangement enables children and parents to be given a reliable exam schedule at the beginning of the school year. "
The rules for homework have also already been tested in Hamburg. Crow: “Until 2007, there were clear upper time limits for daily homework for each grade level in Hamburg for over 30 years. We are building on this sensible tradition. " In future, homework should be coordinated so that no more than an hour a day and no more than five hours a week homework have to be done. How this is organized, regulate the school conference of the school.

One hour of homework a day

The upper limit for the number of lessons has also long been known as a guideline. In future, exceeding this limit will only be permitted if pupils voluntarily choose a third foreign language or attend an old-language grammar school. Ties raven: "34 lessons and five hours of homework per week are enough." The ordinance is to come into force at the beginning of the 2014/15 school year and be implemented in a binding manner by the beginning of the 2015/16 school year at the latest.

TagsSchool | Health | Lessons | Homework | Exams | regulate