Health and wellbeing in schools

We want all children and young people to be able to learn about health and wellbeing to ensure they acquire skills to live healthy, happy lives.

Health and wellbeing isn't a single subject or class, but is organised into six areas:

  • mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing
  • planning for choices and changes
  • physical education
  • physical activity and sport
  • food and health
  • substance misuse
  • relationships, sexual health and parenthood

Health and wellbeing is also about ensuring that pupils are able to make the most of their educational opportunities regardless of their background or financial circumstances and through promotion of attendance at school.

We have provided a range of resources to ensure children feel happy, safe, included and respected in their learning environment. These resources cover bullying, attendance and school exclusions.

In addition, the latest Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research (2016) survey explored staff, pupils' and parents' experiences of relationships and behaviour in publicly-funded mainstream schools.

In response to this research the Scottish Advisory Group on Relationships and Behaviour in Schools (SAGRABIS) have agreed new policy guidance which identifies the next steps, outcomes and priority actions to further improve the ethos and culture, and relationships and behaviour in Scottish schools. See: Developing a positive whole school ethos and culture: relationships, learning and behaviour for more details.

School attendance and reduction of absence and exclusions

We publish a series of guidance on school attendance.

Included, engaged and involved part 1: promoting and managing school attendance (June 2019) draws together advice on good practice and establishes requirements regarding classifying and recording attendance and absence. It also provides guidance to schools and local authorities on how to promote engagement and motivation, including among those who may be at risk of poor attendance.

In addition, the Pupil Inclusion Network Scotland (PINS) has produced guidance to complement this new guidance, aimed at parents and carers

Included, engaged and involved part 2: managing school exclusions (June 2017), was revised to place more focus on other options that can be used instead of exclusion, based on the view that exclusion from school should only be used as a last resort and as an appropriate response where there is no alternative. This refreshed guidance provides the opportunity for schools to focus on alternative options to exclusion.

School attendance: a guide for parents details parental responsibility and support available when attendance is a problem.


Our anti-bullying guidance Respect for all: the national approach to anti-bullying for Scotland's children and young people is for everyone working with children and young people and provides a holistic approach to anti-bullying.

We set up the Recording and Monitoring Incidents of Bullying in Schools working group (RAMBIS), chaired by Ian Rivers, to develop a consistent and uniform approach to handling bullying and develop quality indicators to measure the effectiveness of the approach.

A number of resources have been published to complement 'Respect for All'. LGBT Youth Scotland’s Addressing inclusion: effectively challenging homophobia, biphobia and transphobia resource provides information and guidance to school staff on addressing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in Scottish schools.

Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) published a similar resource, Addressing inclusion: effectively challenging racism in schools, for school staff on addressing racist bullying.

LGBTI inclusive education

A working group was established in 2017 to examine how the education experience for LGBTI young people could be improved. The final report of the working group was published in 2018 and all the recommendations were accepted by Scottish ministers. Work is now underway to implement the 33 recommendations.  

Find out more: LGBTI inclusive education working group and Report from the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group

Mental health in schools

Our Mental Health Strategy (March 2017) sets out the vision to improve mental health in Scotland. Part of the Strategy deals with prevention and early intervention which outlines the ambition that every child and young person should have appropriate access to emotional and mental wellbeing support in school. The Strategy also included a specific action to review personal and social education delivery, including the role of pastoral guidance in local authority schools, and services for counselling for children and young people.

Access to counsellors in secondary schools

The 2018/19 Programme for Government included a commitment to invest in access to school counselling services across education. This commitment will ensure that every secondary school has access to counselling services, while improving the ability of local primary and special schools to access counselling.

In September 2019, Scottish Government and local authority leaders reached a joint agreement on the distribution of funding and a set of aims and principles for the delivery of access to counsellors through schools. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport wrote to local authorities on 6 September 2019 confirming the financial allocations. We produced guidance for local authorities (March 2020) to assist in the design and development of the access to counsellors in secondary schools programme. The guidance is intended to highlight some of the issues to consider as local authorities develop their plans, it is not intended to be prescriptive, rather to provide a useful resource for local authorities to draw upon as necessary.

Mental health education

School counselling will enhance the work that schools already do to support children and young people to learn about mental wellbeing as part of health and wellbeing in Curriculum for Excellence. Mental health education is usually delivered through Personal and Social Education (PSE) classes and delivery is informed by a set of Health and Wellbeing Experiences and Outcomes.

The Health and Wellbeing Experiences and Outcomes aim to ensure that children and young people understand the importance of mental wellbeing and that this can be fostered and strengthened through personal coping skills and positive relationships. Children and young people will learn that it is not always possible to enjoy good mental health and that if this happens there is support available.

A wide range of information and resources are available on Education Scotland’s National Improvement Hub which enhance support and professional learning materials for practitioners on mental wellbeing.

Mental health training for school staff

Teachers are currently supported through a range of materials provided by Education Scotland and through Scottish Mental Health First Aid (SMHFA) training programme. This training provides attendees with knowledge on mental health issues and the attitudes surrounding them, equalities, listening skills, the impact of alcohol and drugs on mental health and suicide intervention. More information is in the SMHFA annual reports:

Mental Health in Schools Working Group

A mental health in schools working group has been established to support the Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to supporting positive mental health in children and young people in school.  The group will develop resources and training as part of a ‘toolkit’ of support which is expected to be available to all school staff later in 2021.

Gender based violence

We are taking forward a range of actions aimed at developing mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships amongst children and young people.

A short life gender based violence working group has been established to develop a national framework to prevent and respond to harmful behaviour and gender based violence in schools. This work is expected to be completed in early 2021.

Personal and social education

As part of a 10 year mental health strategy, Scottish Ministers committed to undertaking a review of personal social education (PSE). This review included consideration of pastoral care and guidance as well as school counselling. The review was completed in January 2019. Find out more: Personal social education review

Relationships, sexual health and parenthood

Guidance for teachers on the Conduct of relationships, sexual health and parenthood education in schools clearly states how important it is that this education addresses diversity and reflects issues relating to LGBT young people or children with LGBT parents, such as same sex marriage and hate-crime reporting. We will update this teaching guidance during 2019.

Mobile phones

Safe and responsible use of mobile technology in schools: guidance provides advice for schools and local authorities on how to develop policies relating to mobile phones in school.

Physical education and activity and sport

We are committed to schools delivering at least two hours of PE for all pupils in primary school, and at least two periods of PE for all pupils between Secondary 1 and Secondary 4. 98% of all Scottish schools are currently meeting this target.

We also support initiatives like Active Schools and the Daily Mile.

Food and health

As part of health promotion, schools are required to provide food which meets strict nutritional standards, given the major benefits these have for pupils' current and future health. The standards call for a variety of dishes available so pupils learn about making healthy choices about what they eat.

We consulted on making school food healthier, following recommendations by an independent group in 2018. A majority of responses to this consultation agreed with the proposal set out in the independent working groups report and the new regulations on nutritional standards for food and drink in schools will come into effect in April 2021. Read the consultation report

Substance misuse

Children and young people will learn about a variety of substances including alcohol, medicines, drugs, tobacco and solvents as part of Curriculum for Excellence. They will explore the impact risk taking behaviour has on life choices and health. To support this we provide funding to the Choices for Life programme in partnership with the justice and health departments.

To ensure we have an understanding of young people's substance misuse we also support the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS).

Financial support for learning

Free school meals

We have been making free school meals available to all pupils in the first three years of primary school at all publicly funded schools in Scotland since January 2015. Find out more: free school meals

School clothing grants

School clothing grants are paid directly by local authorities to low income families to help with the cost of buying a school uniform. Find out more: school clothing grants on the site

Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs)

Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) provide financial support to young people from low income families to stay on in post-16 education, either in school or on a college course. Find out more: EMAs