A new theory of health promoting schools based on human functioning, school organisation and pedagogic practice

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Mar;56(6):1209-20. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00120-x.


This paper outlines a novel explanatory frame for understanding how schools may intervene in order to promote pupils' health. The new theory is synthesised from an Aristotelian interpretation of human functioning and a theory of cultural transmission. In keeping with recent influential theoretical developments, it is proposed that health has its roots in human functioning. It follows from this concept that the promotion of pupils' health is facilitated by the promotion of pupil functioning and the primary mechanisms through which schools promote pupil functioning and, hence, health, are through the influences of school organisation, curriculum development and pedagogic practice on pupil development. According to the new theory, good human functioning is dependent on the realisation of a number of identified essential human capacities and the meeting of identified fundamental human needs. Two essential capacities, the capacity for practical reasoning and the capacity for affiliation with other humans, plan and organise the other essential capacities. The realisation of these two capacities should, it is argued, be the primary focus of health promoting schools. Additionally, health promoting schools should ensure that fundamental human needs concerning non-useful pain and information about the body are met. A number of testable hypotheses are generated from the new theory. Comparisons with existing interpretations of health promoting schools indicate there are similarities in the actions schools should take to promote health. However, the new theory can, uniquely, be used to predict which pupils will enjoy the best health at school and in adulthood. Additionally, according to the new theory, schools do not need designated health education classes or teaching staff with specialist health education roles in order to be health promoting. It is concluded that the new theory may have a number of advantages over existing theories at both the policy and intervention levels.

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Curriculum
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • School Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Social Facilitation*
  • Social Values
  • Students / classification
  • Students / psychology*
  • Teaching
  • United Kingdom