Is your school mentally healthy?

Is your school’s ethos informed by a thorough knowledge of mental health issues and trauma? If so, you could be eligible for an award that recognises your commitment to supporting both pupils and staff through troubled times. Here Dr Margot Sunderland, director of education and training at the Centre for Child Mental Health, a child psychotherapist with over thirty years experience working with children and families, explains the award criteria and their importance today

In 2019 schools have become frontline services, faced with rising numbers of children and young people who are experiencing mental/emotional health difficulties. As other public services have seen cuts to their budgets, schools are rising to the challenge and providing therapeutic interventions to support children with complex needs and adverse childhood experiences. Some schools have been able to do this exceptionally well, with the wellbeing of pupils with mild-to-moderate mental health issues improving thanks to the presence of emotionally available adults at their schools.
At the Centre for Child Mental Health (CCMH), and Trauma Informed Schools UK (TIS UK), we strongly endorse the statement in the 2017 government Green Paper Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision that, ‘There is evidence that appropriately-trained and supported staff such as teachers, school nurses, counsellors and teaching assistants can achieve results comparable to those achieved by trained therapists in delivering a number of interventions addressing mild-to-moderate mental health problems (such as anxiety, conduct disorder, substance use disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder)”.
I wanted to publicly applaud all of the schools and organisations that have embraced this new challenge by investing in appropriate training for key adults in schools to support children, young people and their families. In today’s culture of austerity, chronic underfunding and teacher shortages, I thought it was incredibly important to showcase these schools in order to inspire other establishments across the country and create a more hopeful atmosphere.
Sharing excellence and best practice
In 2020, CCMH and TIS UK will host our very first award ceremony – open to the public – in order for the winners to share their superb work as well as demonstrate best practice in terms of mental health support in schools. Many teachers and school staff can find the thought of further training daunting, but we’ve discovered that investing in the mental health of children actually saves both money and time in the longer term.
The award-winning schools recognise that their support and interventions are fundamental in enabling children and young people to, not only achieve the best possible learning outcomes, but also to grow into confident, resilient and emotionally healthy individuals. Therapeutic guidance from schools is especially crucial in light of the overwhelming evidence that failing to address painful life experiences in childhood has dire consequences for the individual’s long term mental and physical health.
We passionately believe that these schools and organisations deserve recognition. They have witnessed, first-hand, the limitations of other mental health services and willingly picked up the baton – fully understanding that schools are now places of, not just learning, but healing.
A rigorous process
Schools can apply by demonstrating that they have met a range of mental health and wellbeing-focused criteria. The implementation checklist focuses on four key values which underpin mentally-healthy relationships between school staff and pupils – protect, relate, regulate, reflect – and schools are marked on evidence, awareness, emerging practice and embedded practice in a range of measures under each section. The overall score determines whether the school is deemed ‘mentally healthy’.
All four of our awards involve rigorous assessment of the work carried out by the schools, with comprehensive assessment forms and on-site visits from educational consultants to observe a typical school day and speak to staff, parents and pupils. Following this visit, schools receive detailed reports highlighting their strengths as well as areas where there may be room for development.
We also evaluate how well schools recognise the importance of good emotional and mental wellbeing in staff, and what support systems they have in place to ensure adults feel valued whilst at school; after all, it’s too hard for a member of staff to nurture children if they feel overwhelmed, undervalued or burned out themselves. SLTs at awarded schools have shared how helpful they found the objective assessment of their work, as well as the constructive advice and creative ideas they receive from our educational consultants.
As senior assessor, Suzie Franklin – a headteacher herself for many years – says, “It is a real privilege to conduct these on-site visits where I have seen some outstanding school practice. Sensory-rich environments, warm and empathic relationships and the use of evidence-based interventions form the foundation of the work of these schools. However, the very best endorsement of schools comes from the children and young people who, without exception, talk about the care and compassion that they receive from the adults in their schools.”

To apply for a Mentally Healthy School Award or a Trauma and Mental Health Informed School Award, contact [email protected].
For more information on the awards, and how to apply, go to

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