Over the last 20 year, there has been a considerable increase in the number of young people and professionals presenting with mental illness.

The ‘Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017’ report, published by NHS Digital in November 2018, found that one in eight (12.8%) children and young people aged between five and 19 had a mental disorder. According to the Mental Health Foundation, the UK also has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, with 400 in every 100,000 people harming themselves.

Teachers too are struggling with the pressures of today’s education system. According to a recent poll by the National Education Union (NEU), around one in five teachers (18%) expect to leave the classroom in less than two years; while two-fifths of teachers, school leaders and support staff want to quit in the next five years, blaming “out of control” workload pressures and “excessive” accountability.

As a result of this increase in those struggling with mental illness it is essential that we develop and improve the mental health support systems for students and staff across the education system.

In a positive move, from September 2020, all pupils will be taught about mental and physical well-being.

In 1989, some schools began to teach the national curriculum. In those last 30 years the world, and with it the educational system, has changed dramatically, and this rapid pace of change is set to continue. As such, it is vital that what we teach young people reflects the world they live in. What we want to do is produce happy, healthy, productive young adults who can make a positive contribution to their community. This is sometimes forgotten in the context of exam results. If we do not equip young people with the skills and coping strategies they need for life, both social and emotional, their lives can literally be ruined, no matter how able they are academically. This is certainly not something that should be breezed through in an hour of PSHE. It is too important for that.

What is more, academic performance and well-being are intrinsically linked. Early mental health intervention not only offers a decrease in levels of anxiety and depression, but an improvement in academic achievement, improvement in social and emotional skills, and a decrease in classroom misbehaviour. This makes sense when one breaks it down. We learn best when we pay attention to content we think is useful. You could have the best teacher in the world, the best lesson and even be sitting next to your best friend, but if you are struggling with depression or anxiety and your mind is elsewhere, you will not learn a thing.

Keeping staff happy is just as important. It is imperative we understand the stresses of working in education and ensure teachers do not appear hypocritical, coaching pupils to deal with stress if they are unable to do so themselves. Schools are generally good at dealing with staff in crisis, but what about preventative measures?

Despite many, including the government, recognising that there is an issue and that something needs to be done, support services are struggling to cope and schools are struggling to know what to do. So where do we start?

The Department for Education is now funding training for senior mental health leads in schools and colleges to ensure a ‘whole school’ approach to mental health and well-being. While it will not be mandatory, encouraging schools to employ a designated mental health lead is a great start. There needs to be someone to coordinate a school’s approach – and it needs to be someone that knows what is going on in the school, what is being taught, what the local mental health charities are, etc.

So, what are the key elements of an effective whole school approach?

  • Developing and nurturing a culture which promotes mental health and well-being
  • Ensuring that there is effective involvement of students in the development of the approach:  student voice. This may involve, for example, establishing mental health action groups
  • Leading staff training around mental health, as well as ensuring effective staff well-being programmes are in place
  • Leading and developing the school’s mental health strategy and/or policy
  • Putting structures in place to identify and support students and colleagues in need. This may involve targeting groups we know are more likely to suffer poor mental health
  • Liaising with and making appropriate referrals to external agencies. For example, working with NHS and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to help those with diagnosed mental health disorders
  • Working effectively with parents, carers and members of the wider community to ensure their support and involvement in the school’s approach, as well as providing them with key information and guidance
  • Coordinating, designing and implementing a preventative well-being curriculum
  • Putting in interventions, for example, during exam periods
  • Leading on auditing and assessing the school’s current provision in this field and developing an effective strategic plan for improvement
  • Preparing the school for inspection in this field

While this approach needs to come from the top – the leaders and managers – the bottom line is that tackling this issue needs more than one or a few involved. It is a huge list and a huge job for a senior leader to coordinate and therefore needs support. This is where the advantages of hiring an independent education consultant come into play. Working closely with the leadership team, we are able to set up a whole school mental health approach. By drawing our experiences, we are able to use practical strategies, knowledge of how schools work and understanding of financial pressures and speak directly to you, offering flexible and bespoke support.

If you are interested in discussing an in-school well-being review, get in touch today or head to B11’s new well-being service page to find out more.


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