A community focus on pupils' mental health

Amanda Allard, who co-ordinates the Partnership for Wellbeing and Mental Health in Schools, part of the National Children’s Bureau, asks whether the implementation of wellbeing and mental health policies in school cultures is moving quickly enough

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article published in Sec-Ed
Evidence is consistently clear about the negative impact that poor mental health has on children’s learning.
One review, in the US, summarised research on 207 social and emotional interventions and suggested that schools with effective wellbeing programmes showed an 11% improvement in achievement tests, a 25% improvement in social and emotional skills and a 10% decrease in classroom misbehaviour, anxiety and depression.
In response to the changing landscape of pupil wellbeing, Ofsted has recently launched its new education inspection framework (2019). Reducing the focus on exam performance has been broadly welcomed as something that should help to improve the mental health of children.
It is also true that schools which involve the whole school community in developing a culture of wellbeing see the greatest benefits for children, young people and staff. As such, it’s a shame that, despite recognising these benefits, Ofsted did not include or recommend a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing within its inspection framework, nor did it incentivise or recognise schools for implementing this way of working.
There is some hope that this was less a rejection of the benefits of the approach and more an implementation issue; Ofsted would be out-of-step with other developments if this was not part of their longer term plan.
The convergence of various initiatives – including the government’s green paper, upcoming RSE lessons and plans to train teachers to spot signs of mental health difficulties – provides both opportunities and challenges for schools on the frontline of this change agenda.
We need to get better at learning from other schools that are leading the way. Staff from the National Children’s Bureau were, recently, lucky enough to visit a London school that has gone from being in special measures to being judged ‘good’ – and ‘outstanding’ in some areas – within three years, largely thanks to a new focus on wellbeing.
The transformation involved implementing a full-time, fully-trained child counsellor to focus solely on pupils’ wellbeing, with no other teaching responsibilities.
To help schools learn from each other, the Partnership for Wellbeing and Mental Health in Schools has launched a national online Schools Forum, which provides a platform for schools and education providers to share practice and learning examples as they develop whole-school approaches to improving mental health and emotional wellbeing for pupils.
We think school leaders are best placed to support other leaders in implementing this vital change in how we support children and young people’s mental health. We hope others will join our growing community so that many more schools are ready when Ofsted catches up.
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