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Mental health: how School Mental Health Specialists can get pupils the support they need

Stop pupils from languishing on waiting lists by training a mental health specialist in your school team. Access grants to train an expert professional to provide early help.

Stop pupils from languishing on waiting lists by training a mental health specialist in your school team. Access grants to train an expert professional to provide early help.


The NSPCC found that one in three school referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are turned down and long waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services are often reported as a barrier to help-seeking. We need a practical solution to support the mental health needs of pupils, staff and parents, tailored to each school’s and college’s context.

‘If we can get to students before they hit the worst point we could make a massive difference’.

The award winning social enterprise Minds Ahead, has worked with school leaders and other experts since 2017 to research, develop and launch the first of its kind Masters Programme and new role within education – the School Mental Health Specialist.

Become a School Mental Health Specialist and revolutionise mental health support in your school

There is growing recognition that supporting students’ mental health is a core part of what schools are required to do. Despite not being health professionals, teachers and other education staff are well placed to provide support to pupils who are struggling, but not all feel that they have the time or skills. Schools and colleges benefit from having a mental health key practitioner who has some designated time each week to support students.

Emerging evidence suggests that supervision for education professionals can make a significant difference to staff wellbeing. If you think you could benefit from supervision and would like to consider rolling it out for colleagues too, the School Mental Health Specialist qualification could be for you.

What are the benefits of having a School Mental Health Specialist at your school or college?

  • A school-based mental health and wellbeing specialist available when pupils and staff need them. The School Mental Health Specialist will be focused on the promotion of mental health, the prevention of mental ill-health and support for those needing it.
  • Highly qualified postgraduate level support as part of the school team. A team member will be able to provide specialist support and guidance and assist other staff in their work on mental health.
  • In-depth mental health support with knowledge of the latest thinking on mental health in schools. Participants will gain a deep understanding of the main perspectives of mental health within education.

The role of School Mental Health Specialist is rooted in the school community and uniquely combines the capacity to deliver whole-school interventions as well as work one to one support with targeted children and families

The School Mental Health Specialist plays a key role in strengthening the school’s mental health strategy by training and supporting other colleagues so that increasing numbers of staff feel confident and empowered to support mental health. This will lead to greater resilience, collective action and problem-solving.

Does this sound like you: 

  • You’re doing invaluable pastoral work with limited recognition or formal training
  • You’re skilled at building rapport with pupils
  • You’re motivated by a holistic approach to education
  • You’re the person whom staff and students instinctively gravitate to if they need support and understanding.
  • You tend to handle higher numbers of mental health and other disclosures than other staff.

If so, the School Mental Health Specialist programme was designed for you.

School Mental Health Specialists are well placed to help reduce inequalities by providing early intervention and tailored support

Any young person can develop a mental health problem but disadvantage and adverse childhood experiences increase this risk.

  • 9 out of 10 young people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination.
  • 71% say stigma affects their confidence or self-esteem,
  • 41% lost friendships,
  • 18% dropped out of education.

School Mental Health Specialists provide early intervention and effective support for young people who are starting to experience mental health problems as well as mental health education to all pupils as part of a whole-school approach. Being a key member of the school team ensures access and key links with others in the school, as well as parents and carers.

School Mental Health Specialists support social inclusion by working across the whole school and wider community – with students, senior leaders, parents and community organisations – to promote mental health, identify specific needs and tailor appropriate evidence-based interventions.

School Mental Health Specialists on the 2021 cohort have already identified and begun implementing key areas of practice to reduce inequalities such as:

  1. Reviewing key data, such as absence, behaviour, referrals, to track for possible over-representation by ethnicity and other key cultural identities.
  2. Improving diversity and inclusion within the school council by adjusting the way it is run.
  3. Applying mental health risk assessment for pupils identified as vulnerable.

A part-time online higher education programme that fits with your schedule

The Schools Mental Health Specialist programme uses a blended learning approach of several timed live events alongside flexible online learning and offers students the chance to learn from another school in a structured study visit as well as regular peer and tutor supervision throughout.

Starting its second year in September, the School Mental Health Specialist programme is accredited by the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University as a Postgraduate Diploma or a full Master’s degree. It is also DfE approved, meaning that schools can access a grant to cover part of the fees. 

The School Mental Health Specialist programme is a two-year, part-time Masters level degree, exclusively for those working on mental health in educational settings. Taught entirely remotely, it fits in with the busy commitments of school colleagues. The programme structure has been designed by school leaders and provides a comprehensive insight into all aspects of supporting mental health within education.

The programme comprises six modules:

  • Promoting protective factors for good mental health and wellbeing.
  • Early identification of mental health support needs.
  • Supporting children and young people.
  • Parent/carer involvement and student participation.
  • Working with school staff and outside agencies.
  • Work-based project & sustaining and embedding positive mental health and wellbeing.

We have already seen schools create new job roles, or give promotions to School Mental Health Specialists.

Participants will also receive both expert and peer supervision throughout the programme enabling them to discuss their school’s specific needs, real life cases and benefit their own wellbeing.

It represents a significant personal and professional development opportunity for colleagues committed to mental health.

To find out more about the School Mental Health Specialist programme visit School Mental Health Specialist – DfE assured – Minds Ahead

The School Mental Health Specialist programme challenges school and college staff, recognises their contribution to the school and elevates the status of mental health among all members of the community

Thomas Young, Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator at Bay Education Trust is one of the first cohort of practitioners who are supporting their students to thrive by developing their mental health expertise. He shares his experience of studying the School Mental Health Specialist programme:

‘Naturally we have seen an increase in young people experiencing early signs of mental health concerns, the current module fits perfectly with this as we are exploring what early identification looks like and the factors that influence it. All of the content that I have seen so far has been relevant, informative and accessible which is exactly what I had hoped for before I started.

I feel that the team at Minds Ahead really want us to reach our potential and the support I have received so far has been brilliant. I would thoroughly recommend people to consider this qualification’.

Want to know more?

The School Mental Health Specialist is a Postgraduate Diploma or a Master’s Degree that is open to all those working in any type of school including those without previous degrees. You will need to have the support of the headteacher to undertake the programme and have time to complete the modules, apply the learning in your setting and complete the assignments. All students will have access to Leeds Beckett University extensive research and student support services.

If you work in or with a school or college for a significant part of the week, in a role which supports identified pupils with mental health needs, you could be eligible for this school-based qualification.

Minds Ahead are fully committed to equality of access and diversity within the programme and aim to recruit students from a wide range of backgrounds and communities. The programme covers resilience and anti-racism, stigma and discrimination impact on mental health, global perspectives to mental health.

To find out more about the course content, costs of the programme, payment plans and funding options, please download a free brochure here.

Will I have academic support throughout the School Mental Health Specialist programme?

As a School Mental Health Specialist, you will work with a work-based mentor/colleague (e.g. the Senior Lead for Mental Health at your school) and course tutors who will help with the academic aspects of the course. The course tutors will also provide support on school-based issues that are relevant to the School Mental Health Specialist course content and assessment tasks.

How to apply for the School Mental Health Specialist programme?

The next cohort of practitioners will start in September 2022. Click here to view the online application form.

The programme is DfE approved so state schools and colleges in England can use the 2022 DfE grant to part-fund the programme. As the programme starts in September, schools and colleges should apply in the round of grant funding to commence training in September 2022. DfE School Mental Health Lead training grants from round one or two cannot be used for training courses in September 2022. For more information visit Gov.uk.

MA students can apply for a government postgraduate loan through Gov.UK should they wish to.


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