Author: Elizabeth Collin

11/02/2022 10:12:36

Elizabeth is a public relations officer and asssitant to the chief executive at NGA, she also governs at a primary school in the West Midlands. 

This week is #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek, led by children’s mental health charity, Place2Be. The theme of the week is ‘Growing Together’. They are encouraging children (and adults) to consider how they have grown, and how they can help others to grow.

Creating an environment that supports children and young people to grow, to achieve and to be healthy and happy is very much the remit of governors and trustees. We know that pupil mental health and wellbeing is a top priority for school and trust leaders. NGA’s 2021 annual governance survey established conclusively that it was the top strategic priority for governing boards for the year. 

 The challenges are also clear, from rising rates of mental health disorders among children and young people, the impact of the pandemic on wellbeing and in particular the difficulties accessing specialist mental health services. Recent reports into a ‘postcode lottery’ for children’s access to mental health services, and school staff witnessing increasing anxiety, low self-esteem and depression among pupils, reinforces what governing boards tells are telling us.  

So how can governing boards make a difference? Here are five steps your board can take to support pupil wellbeing in your organisation:

1. Champion a positive listening culture: Evidence tells us ‘whole trust or school approaches’ to wellbeing are most effective in protecting and promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing. Wellbeing should not be an add on, something spoken about in isolation, but something valued and threaded through the culture of your organisation. Governors and trustees can champion a culture which promotes inclusion, resilience and removes stigma around mental health. Think about how your pupils feel when they come into school, do they know where they can go for support, do they have trusted adults they feel comfortable to talk to? The value placed on wellbeing and positive mental health should be seen, heard and felt in interactions from a governing board meeting to the playground.  Read more about what makes an effective listening culture.                                                                                                                                                  

2. Get to know your community’s needs: 54% of respondents in NGA’s 2021 annual governance survey said their board regularly receives whole school data on pupil wellbeing. But this  means nearly half don’t get information needed and so they are at risk of being in the dark on whether the right strategies are in place to address areas of concern. There are multiple options schools and trusts can use to measure wellbeing, this toolkit from Anna Freud outlines some options of validated tools that can be used. But insight should not just come from data, you need to understand the unique experiences of pupils, and the current school/trust context – what is the biggest issues facing our pupils, are these connected to school-life? Are there other safeguarding concerns we should consider? Are certain pupil groups facing particular wellbeing challenges? What are our parents telling us?  Working closely with school leaders to identify what information you need as a board, and engaging with stakeholders to understand their experiences ensures boards can act in the best interests of all your pupils.                                                               

3. Embed wellbeing in the curriculum: The curriculum is one of the major vehicles to promote positive wellbeing for children and young people. Mental health and wellbeing is now a compulsory part of Relationships and sex education (RSE) and Health Education and is an important feature of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.  But beyond these subjects, consider how your broader curriculum supports and promotes  mental wellbeing and embeds positive mental health messages. Does your extra-curricular and wraparound provision support pupils physical, emotional, social and mental wellbeing of pupils?                                        

4. Ensure staff are equipped and supported:  Schools staff remain on the front line in promoting the wellbeing of pupils and supporting the growing mental health needs that pupils are exhibiting. Staff need access to appropriate training and continuing professional development to be confident to support wellbeing, to identify common symptoms of poor mental health, and to know when and how seek out addition support for pupils.   In order to do their roles well, staff also need to be supported with their own wellbeing - they need to know where they can go to for support. For more information check out our guidance on staff workload and wellbeing.                                         

5. Review your pastoral offer and services you can access: One of the biggest challenges schools and trusts face is additional support for pupils with specific mental health needs. With one in six children now with a probable mental health condition, pastoral support, and routes to additional services are a crucial part of a school’s wellbeing provision. In the 2021 annual governance survey 31% of respondents in the 2021 annual governance survey said their school/trust offered pastoral support for wellbeing or counselling, and 51% respondents told us their board were planning to spend ‘catch-up’ funding on mental health and wellbeing. Review what pastoral support your organisation offers – and while preparing to set budgets – consider what resources can be allocated, whether that is for in school counselling, or looking at what other local services you could access. Schools can now apply for grants to train a senior mental health lead in their setting, and some schools will be given access to Mental Health Support Teams in their area. Anna Freud are also looking for secondary schools to be part of their trial of school based mental health intervention.

Further resources and support:

  • Download our pupil mental wellbeing information sheet – with questions to ask school leaders to help review your current approach.
  • Watch our webinar on monitoring pupil wellbeing and implementing a whole trust or school approach. 
  • Find out more about Place2Be’s campaign and how you can encourage your school to get involved.
  • Sign up to the Well Schools community of educational professionals and stakeholders committed to improving wellbeing in schools - register for free to share resources, support each other and celebrate the impact of your Well School.

NGA has made pupil wellbeing one if its priority areas for 2022, reflecting what governors and trustees told us in the 2021 annual governance survey. Across the year we will be producing new resources and sharing good practice to support governing boards promote pupil wellbeing. We will also be working to amplify the voices of governors and trustees about the significant challenges schools continue to face meeting the growing mental health needs of pupils.

If you would like to share your experiences or good practice with us – please email me at Elizabeth.collin@nga.org.uk

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