In 2015, the NSW Department of Education introduced the Supported Students, Successful Students funding package. A key initiative within this package was the commitment of $51.5 million to Flexible Funding for Wellbeing Services for the period 2016 to 2018. This funding was distributed to 381 schools, averaging approximately $45,000 per school per calendar year. The funding allocation methodology took into consideration multiple indicators of need and the School Counselling Service allocation. Schools were instructed to use the funds to purchase wellbeing services specific to their school’s varying needs.
CESE’s evaluation included:
- two rounds of fieldwork (a survey and in-depth interviews) to gather information on schools’ 2017 and 2018 expenditure as well as perceived outcomes
- development of statistical models to measure the impact on mean (average) change over time in student wellbeing measures captured in the department’s Tell Them From Me student self-report survey.
Schools spent their Flexible Funding for Wellbeing Services on up to eight separate services or resources. The two most popular were whole of school wellbeing programs (40%) and employing a Student Support Officer (37%). Other popular options were targeted wellbeing programs/approaches for students who need additional support (35%), professional learning in wellbeing approaches (34%) and employing wellbeing executive/staff (32%). Schools used the funds for new services or resources, for topping up existing ones, or a mix of both.
Decisions on spending were guided by the student profile and the additional needs of specific sub-groups of students. Half of the schools changed the way they spent their funding from 2017 to 2018. These changes were most commonly to meet the changing or emerging needs of a specific sub-group of students, or to shift focus to whole school needs. Schools value this ability to adapt to changing needs over time.
Schools are typically very satisfied that the services they invested in met the wellbeing needs of students. They also believe that this funding, combined with other funding, allows them to provide appropriate wellbeing services and activities. The large majority perceived the services they had funded to have improved student wellbeing at a whole school level. Perceived improvements were generally greatest when a staff member had been employed. Schools reported even stronger positive impacts on the wellbeing of student sub-groups that were specifically targeted for particular types of support.
Contrary to feedback from schools, our outcome analyses found no meaningful differences between Flexible Funding and non-Flexible Funding schools in the average change over time in self-reported student wellbeing. However, we identify a number of limitations that make it difficult for an analysis to detect school-level differences between the two groups.