Comprehensive School Health

Understanding Comprehensive School Health

Content adapted from the Joint Consortium for School Health and the Developing Healthy School Communities Handbook, published by the University of Alberta School of Public Health


A healthy school community embeds a culture of wellness for the entire school community using a comprehensive school health framework to create an inclusive, collaborative and connected environment.

A school community uses a comprehensive school health framework to develop a healthy school community, using a whole school approach.

Canada's Joint Consortium for School Health (JCSH) states that CSH is an internationally recognized framework for supporting improvements in students' educational outcomes while addressing school wellness in a planned, integrated and holistic way. It is not just about what happens in the classroom. Rather, it encompasses the whole school environment with actions addressing four distinct but inter-related pillars that provide a strong foundation for a healthy school community (JCSH, 2008).

Why do we need a Comprehensive School Health Framework?

A comprehensive school health framework develops healthy school communities. Research has shown that healthy students are better learners. One way to support the health of students is to implement a comprehensive school health framework in school settings.

In the classroom, a comprehensive school health approach helps to improve academic achievement and can increase positive behaviours (Deschesnes et al., 2003). In the broader school environment, it helps students develop the skills they need to be physically and emotionally healthy for life (WHO, 2007).

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the need for education and health to work together to develop a healthy school community.

Four Pillars of Comprehensive School Health

pillars of CSH

  • Social and physical environment
  • Teaching and learning
  • Healthy school policy
  • Partnerships and services

Definitions of Pillars

Social Environment

  • The culture within the school community
  • The quality of relationships among and between staff and students in the school community
  • The sense of belonging and connectedness within the school community
  • The emotional well-being of students and staff
  • Relationships with families and the wider community

Physical Environment

  • The buildings, grounds, play space, and equipment in and surrounding the school and school community
  • Available choices that affect health and wellness
  • Basic amenities such as sanitation and air cleanliness

Teaching and Learning

  • Resources, Informal practices, activities and provincial/territorial curriculum where students gain age-appropriate knowledge and experiences, helping to build the skills to improve their health and well-being.
  • Opportunities for staff to build knowledge and develop skills to support and influence change that improves the health and well-being of the school community

Healthy School Policy

  • Practices, decision-making processes, rules, procedures and regulations at all levels that promote health and well-being of members of the school community


  • The give-and-take relationships between the school, the students, their families and the wider community
  • Supportive working relationships within schools (between staff and students), between schools, and between schools and other community organizations and representative groups
  • Health, Education and other sectors working together to advance school community health


  • Community and school based programs offered to assist in the promotion of student, staff and community health and well-being
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