Understanding the evidence

We want this website to give school staff high-quality information and practical resources to help you support your pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.

The content of the site has been built around core academic evidence. It has also been quality assured by clinical experts, together with feedback from a panel of teachers and school leaders.

The evidence

The academic evidence used includes references to the following sources:

Why evidence is important

We all make judgements about the effectiveness of various strategies, lesson plans, approaches and ‘tools’ that might make a difference to children and their education. Most of the time, these judgements work well, but sometimes we can put a lot of effort into using activities which, in the end, may waste time, resources and important opportunities  to improve children’s mental health and wellbeing. Research tells us that some things we think work well make no difference at all. A few can actually make things worse for some children.

So, having solid research evidence can give us the confidence that what we’re doing has the best chance of actually having a positive impact.

On this site, we’ve tried to provide a simple overview of the evidence underpinning the  resources we’ve included. Most whole-school programmes and targeted, small group work activities, for example, have been well researched. Some also have evidence of their long-term impact. This evidence  can also tell you, with some confidence, what type of changes they can promote.

Others (such as most lesson plans and PSHE modules) will not have been tested to the same level so we cannot be absolutely sure that  they actually result in the changes they aim to achieve. They may, however, be accredited or developed/funded/supported by government departments and agencies. If there is a lack of robust evidence to support the use of a programme, strategy or approach you want to use, you could carry out your own simple evaluation to provide reassurance  that what you’re doing is making a difference to your pupils. Tracking outcomes at this level could also be used to demonstrate the impact of things such as Pupil Premium spending or SEND support, as well as showcasing health and wellbeing activity for Ofsted.

Understanding levels of evidence

Level What it means
 

The lesson plan is probably a free resource and has been reviewed by the Mentally Healthy Schools clinical, academic and school advisers as being suitable for inclusion on the website.

It has not been accredited by an organisation such as the PSHE association or reviewed by the Early Intervention Foundation.

The plan or intervention is likely to be informed by evidence or have a broad theory of change.

Please note that the Early Intervention (EIF) does not have a rating of Level 1.  Programmes rated at Level 1 have not been assessed by EIF and these ratings are not endorsed by EIF.  These ratings have been assigned by Mentally Healthy Schools, using a process different to the EIF process.

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The lesson plan or intervention has been accredited by the PSHE Association.  It may also have carried out an independent evaluation.  This category of programme may include resources that have been well evaluated.  However, the standard of its evidence will not have been formally assessed by the UK Early Intervention Foundation.

Please note that the Early Intervention (EIF) does not have a rating of Level 1+.  Programmes rated at Level 1+ have not been assessed by EIF and these ratings are not endorsed by EIF.  These ratings have been assigned by Mentally Healthy Schools, using a process different to the EIF process.

 

Means that the theory of change has been tested with at least 20 children using good quality ‘before and after’ testing, and findings suggest that pupils’ progress and achievement has improved.  Over two thirds of the total sample have completed before and after testing.

Programmes rated as Level 2 on the Mentally Healthy Schools website have also been rated as Level 2 by EIF.  This rating is based on the EIF Standards, which are described in more detail here.

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Means that the theory of change has been tested by comparing the progress and achievements of pupils who have been exposed to these lessons/programmes to other pupils’ achievements who have not been exposed to these lessons/programmes.

These designs either use random assignment (as in randomised control trials, or RCTs), or various statistical methods to match children in the ‘control’ group and those in the ‘intervention’ group (as in quasi-experimental designs, or QEDs). 

These techniques, when conducted well, successfully generate groups that are similar with respect to important characteristics such as age, gender and ethnicity, as well as pupils’ progress/achievements before the lessons/programmes were delivered. This is important to make sure that you don’t end up comparing ‘apples’ with ‘pears’.

However, at this stage, the evidence is not sufficiently robust such that we can confidently conclude that participation in the programme has led to improvements in pupils’ progress and achievement. 

Programmes rated as Level 2+ on the Mentally Healthy Schools website have also been rated as Level 2+ by EIF.  This rating is based on the EIF Standards, which are described in more detail here.

 

Means that the theory of change has been tested in one high quality randomised control trial, or quasi-experimental design, showing that the lessons/programmes have resulted in improvements to pupils’ progress and achievement.   

At this stage the evidence is sufficiently robust such that we can confidently conclude that participation in the programme has led to improvements in pupils’ progress and achievement. 

Programmes rated as Level 3 on the Mentally Healthy Schools website have also been rated as Level 3 by EIF.  This rating is based on the EIF Standards, which are described in more detail here.

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Means that the theory of change has been tested in one high quality randomised control trial, or quasi-experimental design, showing that the lessons/programmes have resulted in improvements to pupils’ progress and achievement.   

In addition, the lessons/programmes will have been tested in another, second, randomised control trial, or quasi-experimental design.  However, this additional, second study is not yet at the level of quality where we can conclude that participation in the programme has caused improvements to pupils’ progress and achievement, due to problems such as high drop-out. 

Programmes rated as Level 3+ on the Mentally Healthy Schools website have also been rated as Level 3+ by EIF.  This rating is based on the EIF Standards, which are described in more detail here.

    

At this stage, the lesson plan/programme will have been tested in at least two robust research studies which make use of control groups, and will have repeated/constant positive results.

At this level, studies will also have followed children’s outcomes over time and established that some degree of change is maintained. These longer-term studies can then help evaluators make assessments of the cost effectiveness of programmes and who are the main beneficiaries of these savings.

Programmes rated as Level 4 on the Mentally Healthy Schools website have also been rated as Level 4 by EIF.  This rating is based on the EIF Standards, which are described in more detail here.

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At this stage, the lesson plan/programme will have been tested through a number of robust research studies which make use of control groups, and will have repeated/constant positive results.

As well as having followed children’s outcomes over time, at least one of the programme’s best studies has been conducted without involvement of the programme developer.  This is important because multiple studies have demonstrated that evaluations conducted with the involvement of the programme developer are consistently more positive in their appraisal of the effectiveness of the programme than those which aren’t, and so that independent studies are likely to be more reliable. 

Programmes rated as Level 4+ on the Mentally Healthy Schools website have also been rated as Level 4+ by EIF.  This rating is based on the EIF Standards, which are described in more detail here.

Further information