Eight key principles to help boost pupils’ mental health

Schools that help their pupils to be mentally healthy give children and young people the opportunity to get the most out of their education and to prepare for adult life. It also means that they get off to a good start as they can better cope with the stresses and strains they might face in life

The Department for Education’s (DfE) guidance (2015) recognises that “in order to help their pupils succeed; schools have a role to play in supporting them to be resilient and mentally healthy”.

Social, emotional and mental health is also now included in the DfE’s special educational needs code of practice as one of four broad areas of need; it says that schools should be looking to identify pupils with possible mental health problems.

A whole school approach is a whole systems approach

There is good evidence of the link between pupil health and wellbeing, and attainment. Academic success has a strong positive impact on a young person’s subjective sense of how good they feel their life is, and is linked to higher levels of wellbeing in adulthood. In turn, a child or young person’s overall level of wellbeing will impact on their behaviour in school and their ability to acquire academic competence. There is evidence from research by Durlak and others that a well-implemented social and emotional learning programme can significantly improve pupils’ attainment by 11 percentage points.

A whole school approach is a whole systems approach, and goes beyond learning and teaching in the classroom to pervade all aspects of school life including, importantly, the school’s ethos and environment, and its partnerships with parents/carers and the wider community.

Such an approach has been included in NICE guidance, and in Future in Mind, a report by the Department of Health and NHS England, which sets out a blueprint for improving children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

A briefing document from Public Health England and the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition outlines eight key principles to promote children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing in schools and colleges. These are:

Leadership and management
Support from the senior leadership team is essential to ensure efforts to promote emotional health and wellbeing are accepted and embedded.

– School ethos and environment 

The environment in which staff and students spend a high proportion of every week day has been shown to affect their physical, emotional and mental health and wellbeing, as well as impacting on attainment.

– Curriculum, teaching and learning 

School-based programmes of social and emotional learning can help young people acquire the skills they need to make good academic progress as well as benefit pupil health and wellbeing.

– Student voice

Involving students in decisions that impact on them can help them to feel part of the school and wider community, and to have some control over their lives.

– Staff development, health and wellbeing

It is important for staff to access training to increase their knowledge of emotional wellbeing and to equip them to be able to identify mental health difficulties in their students. Promoting staff health and wellbeing is also an integral principle of the whole-school approach.

– Identifying need and monitoring impact

Education settings can use a variety of tools to understand and plan a response to pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing needs. Defining pupil need on a more formal basis can help to inform commissioning decisions at school level, across clusters or at a local authority level. It is also important to record and monitor the impact of any support that is put in place.

– Working with parents/carers

Families play a key role in influencing children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing.

– Targeted support

Some children and young people are at greater risk of experiencing poorer mental health and will need targeted support.

Download the briefing on the whole school approach from www.cypmhc.org.uk/schools_mental_health/

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