The Norwegian government has decided to include the interdisciplinary topic "Health and life skills" (Folkehelse og livsmestring) in the curriculum for primary and secondary schools from the school year 2020/21. The main aim of this topic is to give the pupils competence to promote health and mastery, and to provide them with better skills for making responsible life choices. Previous studies of less comprehensive interventions in schools have found positive effects on both health and academic performance. However, this new school reform provides a unique opportunity to examine the effects of a politically determined, long-term and population-wide intervention to promote schoolchildren's mental health and quality of life with potentially far-reaching impact on children’s future and hence also the welfare state. We will investigate changes in, and relationships between, mental health and quality of life, the socioemotional school environment, school achievements and drop out, and how these changes are influenced by sociodemographic variations.
The reform is a natural experiment, similar to waiting list interventions, and gives a rare window of opportunity to investigate the effects of the possibly most comprehensive mental health promotion intervention for school-aged children for decades. We will both investigate changes over time (i.e., changes over time before and after the reform), and differences between cohorts who receive the changed curriculum in 2020 and cohorts with later implementation. We use information from existing registries and studies regarding health, socioeconomic status, socioemotional school environment, academic performance, drop out and how the reform is implemented.
Findings from the study may contribute to enhanced quality of future implementation, application, revision and continuation of the interdisciplinary subject in Norway. It may also influence the school oriented health promotion and prevention field internationally.
Half of chronic mental disorders start before the age of 14, and mental health problems in youth are increasing. Mental illness is the most expensive health problem in Norway. The Norwegian government is therefore implementing the interdisciplinary topic "Health and life skills" in primary and secondary schools. School-based interventions may improve mental health and academic performance and counteract social inequalities, but have previously been of limited scope and duration. The school reform provides a unique opportunity to examine the impact of politically determined, long-term and population-wide measures. Delayed implementation at some grade levels creates a natural experimental design.
The purpose of the study is to evaluate the effect of "Health and life skills" on pupils' mental health, quality of life, school environment, academic performance and drop-out. We will use data from existing registries and large surveys: Ungdata, Elevundersøkelsen, Skoleporten, Spørsmål til skole-Norge, KUHR, Prescription Database, Patient Register, SSB micro data and MoBa/MoBaUng. We have already conducted several of the data linkages. We will investigate changes from two years before and up to five years after implementation of the reform, comparing pupils with delayed implementation with pupils who receive the reform from 2020/21. We will investigate the moderating role of socioeconomics; implementation timing, scope and quality; gender and age; and the mediating role of mental health for school performance.
The study includes researchers with high competence in education, mental and public health, health promotion and illness prevention. The research group has broad experience in register-based studies and advanced multi-level methods and collaborates closely with stakeholders.
The evaluation may affect further implementation and practice in Norway and internationally, promote schoolchildren’s mental health and academic performance and thus also their future.