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Develop and nurture an inclusive environment to support children's mental health


This week is #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek, led by children’s mental health charity, Place2Be. The theme of the week is ‘Find your Brave’ and encourages children and young people to think about what makes them feel confident in themselves. They have now released a report, in collaboration with NAHT, with new research on school mental health provisions. The research shows positive improvements in recognising children’s mental health, however repeats concerns that external provisions are not sufficient for more specialist cases.

In today’s society, children face a multitude of complex issues. And it is school that often ends up representing a safe place for them: for this reason it is imperative that provisions and measures are in place to support and promote the mental health and wellbeing of pupils.

It’s fair to say that the current mental health provisions in place come under pretty serious scrutiny for the lack of support given to schools, leaving them feeling ill-equipped and unprepared to prevent or intervene. The other main issues schools face is a lack of adequate knowledge/training for staff and in-school capacity to cope with increasing numbers of pupils coping with a spectrum of mental health issues. However, Place2Be’s report states that 66% of schools now provide support compared to 36% back in 2016. Nevertheless, this might be helpful for dealing with emotional wellbeing concerns, but for more serious health problems professional and specialist assistance is not always as readily available or accessible for pupils as it could be.  

Governors and trustees can play a crucial role in developing and nurturing an inclusive environment that endorses emotional wellbeing and space for pupils to feel adequately supported. The governing board can initiate this in the following ways:

  • Governors and trustees can work with senior leadership to develop a clear vision for mental health and wellbeing. In order to make this as coherent as possible, Mentally Healthy Schools suggests the support of a trained senior mental health lead.
  • Weaving positive and informative mental health and wellbeing messages into the curriculum. For example, this can be implemented through relationships and sex education by discussing healthy relationships or signposting where pupils can seek support.
  • Ensuring policies and procedures promote wellbeing. Currently, schools are not required to have a standalone mental health policy, schools should autonomously develop their own. According to a Root of It (2009) survey, only one third of the participating schools had a dedicated mental health and wellbeing policy.
  • Through developing and monitoring the success of these policies, governing boards will hopefully arrive at a set of measurable targets, which they can then use to review the impact as well as seeing it as a method for holding senior leaders to account. Wider policies, such as exclusion and isolation policies, should chime with the mental health and wellbeing policies to ensure they support one another. 
  • Building pupil confidence and resilience through a whole-school approach, such as encouraging a positive mentality around the school and promoting ethical mind frames.

A whole-school approach is key to successfully implementing an ethos and culture of accepting and supporting mental health disorders in schools. A whole-school approach means there is no segregation or differentiation between pupils that have been diagnosed with a disorder and those who are not, reducing prejudice and stigmatisation of pupils who are undergoing support.

Fortunately, the new Ofsted framework has been refocused on mental health and wellbeing through its measure of personal development, which takes into account the effects that exam pressures can have on pupils. The new framework promotes the curriculum beyond academia, it fosters pupils to ‘develop and discover’ their interests. This is a really positive move, as it allows schools to slightly take their foot of the pedal in terms of pushing for results, giving them a platform to increase their focus on other types of enrichment. There is an integral and researched relationship between both mental and physical health and educational success; promoting the wellbeing and health of pupils significantly improves outcomes for pupils, and so it is a win win for everyone.

The findings from the latest report by Place2Be and NAHT demonstrate significant improvements but staff require more support in order to deal with more complex wellbeing issues, this has led to a significant number of schools seeking and commissioning professional help. Place2Be’s awareness week wants to highlight that staff also need support in order to support their students.

For more information, read about Place2Be’s campaign and how you can encourage your school to get involved, and 10 top tips for school leaders, governors and trustees. NGA also provides guidance for pupil mental health and wellbeing.