A health promoting school is a school that has a constant focus on providing children and young people with opportunities to live, learn and play.
The concept of ‘health promoting schools’ emerged in Europe in the early 1980s. It was further developed at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Promoting Schools Symposium in Scotland in 1986 and advanced a few years later in the publication entitled ‘The Healthy School’. In accordance with these developments and the main democratic principles, health promotion in schools is defined as a social process of individual and community empowerment.
The European Network of Health Promoting Schools (ENHPS) was officially established in 1991 by the WHO European office, the Council of Europe and the European Commission. The initiative drew on the five principles from the Ottawa Charter. Since 2017, the network has been named “Schools for Health in Europe Network Foundation” (SHE). It is organised as an independent Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) supported by the European Commission and working closely with the WHO European Office. The network consists of national and regional coordinators from thirty-two countries in the WHO European Region, with more countries in the process of taking up membership. The SHE core values continue to reflect the original ideas and strongly relate to equity, sustainability, inclusion, empowerment and democracy.
The whole school environment is viewed as an essential arena for action if a school is to called a health promoting school. This implies that the emphasis is not exclusively on learning and teaching but also on the whole school ethos and culture, that is, the interpersonal relationships, school management, curriculum, policies, practices and the school’s physical environment. It is considered vital that a health promoting school is a ‘learning’ and ‘growing’ community, where students develop their capabilities and attributes and improve their knowledge, skills and competences both in the classroom and in everyday school life. Staff development, health and wellbeing is also an important arena to address as a health promoting school.