Whole-school approach

A mentally healthy school is one that adopts a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing.

A whole-school approach involves all parts of the school working together and being committed. It needs partnership working between senior leaders, teachers and all school staff, as well as parents, carers and the wider community.

In this section of Mentally Healthy Schools, you'll find information and guidance to help you implement a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing, split up by UK country.

What is a whole-school approach?

A whole-school approach is about developing a positive ethos and culture – where everyone feels that they belong. It involves working with families and making sure that the whole school community is welcoming, inclusive and respectful. It means maximising children’s learning through promoting good mental health and wellbeing across the school – through the curriculum, early support for pupils, staff-pupil relationships, leadership and a commitment from everybody.

Whole-school approaches involve a school leadership team (head teachers, senior managers and governors or parent councils) that:

  • understands the links between mental health and achievement
  • champions and supports mental health and wellbeing for children and staff, both strategically and practically as part of improvement planning.

It relies on a staff team committed to helping all children develop the essential social and emotional skills they need to cope effectively with setbacks and remain healthy, through:

  • Whole-school and targeted, small group curriculum activity and through strengthening broader protective factors which promote children’s resilience and reduce risk factors both in the family, at school and more broadly in the community. 
  • Day-to-day contact and building healthy and strong protective relationships with children and families.

Adopting a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing is a process, not a one-off activity. To describe a school as ‘mentally healthy’ involves both planning and ongoing evaluation:

  • Identifying and building on the strengths and good practice that already exist which contribute to good mental health in the school.
  • Identifying external support and understanding how you might best use, build relationships with, and influence what is available outside the school.
  • Consulting with children, staff, parents and carers so that everyone feels committed to positive school mental health and wellbeing.
  • Making sure that the mental health and wellbeing of senior leaders, teachers, all school staff and of parents/carers is as important as that of the pupils, and that staff model a positive approach to mental health and wellbeing.
  • Encouraging openness in talking about mental health and challenging negative attitudes.
  • Enhancing pupils’ and staff knowledge about how to maintain good mental health and wellbeing.
  • Playing a key part in identifying emerging mental health needs of pupils by making sure staff can recognise signs and symptoms of mental health needs and know what to do should they have a concern.
  • Referring pupils who need additional help onto health professionals for appropriate specialist support and treatment.
  • Having a clear process to follow where a concern is raised about a pupil’s mental health and developing links with specialist mental health services and other local and national support.
  • Making sure that children and adults are protected by policies, values and attitudes (including behaviour, bullying, safeguarding and additional needs) and feel safe in the school environment and in the wider community.
  • Ensuring that what is provided in school dovetails with the particular needs of your children and families.
  • Measuring the impact of what you do to promote and support children’s mental health in school.

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