Over the past few years, there has been a growing crisis within children’s and young people’s mental health. This has been amplified by the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns throughout 2020 and 2021. The most up to date national prevalence survey conducted last year suggests that 1 in 6 children or young people have a diagnosable mental health disorder. However, it is likely that mental health problems for children and young people are more likely to be much higher, some surveys suggest as many as 1 in 4 children are struggling with poor mental health.
The effects children and young people struggling with mental health problems are apparent in every classroom across the UK. The recent state of education report identifies that 79% of teachers in both primary and secondary schools reported seeing an increase in stress, anxiety and panic attacks in their pupils, along with as a rise in other mental health problems such as depression, self-harm and eating disorders.
How schools can help develop pupil wellbeing
To address the problems schools are facing in tackling mental health problems, a whole school approach is seen to be best practice. A ‘whole school approach’ to mental health and wellbeing is recommended by the Department for Education, Department of Health, Public Health England and a range of other think tanks and academics. Many of these organisations have developed key ideas into helpful frameworks and guidelines which provide useful information and evidence. However, we have found they lack practical and simple steps to help schools make a start developing their whole school approach to mental health.
At Worth-it we have been supporting over 170 schools with our range of early intervention and training programmes for staff. Contributing to their whole approaches to mental health and wellbeing at various stages of their journey. Through our work with them we have identified several top tips which help schools implement their whole school approach to mental health. We have developed 5 simple steps that are key starting points for consideration when initiating a whole school approach to wellbeing.
5 Ways to School Wellbeing
Number 1. Address the barriers and identify positive outcomes
Change is challenging and there will be resistance to any new initiative you introduce. It is important when developing wellbeing and improving mental health that it doesn’t become another thing you school feels obligated to do. This would be counterproductive to developing a whole school culture of wellbeing. Therefore it is important to address the barriers early on through providing an opportunity for school leaders and staff to discuss and identify the pros and cons before you get started. This helps address and overcome any barriers that could derail any wellbeing initiatives as the wellbeing strategy evolves in your school.
Working through this process also helps identify the possible positive outcomes and what these could be for your school. This is important for developing staff, pupil and parent buy-in. Identifying outcomes can also inform how you would like to evaluate the effectiveness of developing a whole school culture of wellbeing, for example through reviewing attitudes to learning, attendance or number of exclusions since developing a wellbeing culture.
Number 2. Develop a shared language and understanding
What are you going to call your strategy and how can you define it? There are many definitions and terms you could use, emotional health, emotional wellbeing, mental health, mentally healthy, positive mental health, character, grit and so on.
Through working with schools, we support them to develop a language and understanding of mental health that suits their school and communities understanding. This process can involve all staff through INSET days, working with SLT and asking pupils in the schools their opinions about mental health and wellbeing. Once you have your definition, it’s important that everyone understands it and that it becomes part of the fabric of your school.
Number 3. Map good practice and build on what you are doing well
Identify what you’re doing well and how you could do more of it. The benefits of this are two-fold. Firstly, the process builds wellbeing, secondly, through recognising your strengths as an organisation you are adding to effective practice building and growing what is working. This helps with staff and stakeholder buy-in and through the process builds the confidence and capacity of the school to support the development of wellbeing for everyone.
Number 4. Make wellbeing visible
Making wellbeing visible can mean different things in different schools, enabling schools to develop their own approach to wellbeing makes it more effective than any prescriptive resource or intervention. Schools we have worked with have come up with many creative ideas to making wellbeing visible, these include notice boards and displays, staff shout-out-boards, “positive-i-trees” for children, school or class assemblies as well as wider evidence-informed wellbeing curriculums and targeted early inventions that prevent mental health problems developing.
Visibility also means having names staff members, school leaders and governors with the responsibility of mental health. A visible wellbeing strategy involves creating policy and processes that support the development of positive mental health. Visibility also applies to pupils with innovations such as pupil led wellbeing ambassadors or champions in both primary and secondary schools, demonstrate highly effective approaches to developing peer to peer support in schools.
Number 5. Develop a whole school approach over time
School culture change takes time, while initial changes (see above) can be quick and relatively easy to do, developing whole school culture of wellbeing takes careful thought and application over time. This is important for ensuring wellbeing remains a priority and momentum is not lost as day to day school life takes over. It is important to take small steps forward, do them well, recognise how far you have come and reward success along the way on your journey to wellbeing.
Developing a totally embedded whole culture of wellbeing will take a school between three and five academic years. However, when developed effectively over time wellbeing becomes a sustainable approach that reaps rewards for staff and pupils for years to come.
Interested in having Wellbeing Ambassadors in your School/Setting?
Find out more about our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme