A mentally healthy school is one that adopts a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. It is a school that helps children flourish, learn and succeed by providing opportunities for them, and the adults around them, to develop the strengths and coping skills that underpin resilience. A mentally healthy school sees positive mental health and wellbeing as fundamental to its values, mission and culture. It is a school where child, staff and parent/carer mental health and wellbeing is seen as ‘everybody’s business’.
A whole-school approach involves all parts of the school working together and being committed. It needs partnership working between governors, senior leaders, teachers and all school staff, as well as parents, carers and the wider community.
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 (governors, head teachers and senior managers) 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.
We are on the right path towards building a whole-school learning culture which has positive mental health as a thread which runs throughout everything we do.
– Headteacher, primary school
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, governors, 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 SEND) 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.
Find out more
- Leadership and improvement
- School and local commissioning
- Parent/carer engagement
- Child/parent voice
- Key guidance – government and Ofsted
- Showcasing activity for Ofsted
Whole-school approaches to mental health and wellbeing – guides, frameworks and reports
There are a number of excellent reports, guides and frameworks to help schools develop a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing, including:
- Katherine Weare and National Children’s Bureau: ‘What works in promoting social and emotional well-being and responding to mental health problems in schools: advice for schools and framework document’.
- National Children’s Bureau: A whole school framework for emotional well being and mental health: a self-assessment and improvement tool for school leaders. Outlines a four-stage approach, including first identifying what is already in place in the school.
- National Children’s Bureau: ‘A whole school framework for emotional well being and mental health: supporting resources for school leaders’.
- Public Health England: ‘Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing: a whole school and college approach’.
- DfE/NatCen Social Research/National Children’s Bureau: ‘Supporting mental health in schools and colleges’
- DfE: ‘Mental health and behaviour in schools: departmental advice for school staff (updated 2016)’. Looks at how schools can promote their pupils’ mental health (p.11) and identifies the interventions (p19) that should be available or developed.
- Oldham Council: ‘Supporting young minds through tough times: the whole school and college approach to emotional health and mental wellbeing in Oldham’. Includes a framework, self-assessment checklist and action plan template for supporting emotional health and mental wellbeing.
- Pooky Knightsmith: slide show webinar on how to promote a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing
- Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families: ‘Measuring and monitoring children and young people’s mental wellbeing’. Discusses what is meant by mental wellbeing, how schools can influence mental health, and why it’s important to measure it in schools. Three aspects of measurement are explored:
- Taking a snapshot, for example of pupil wellbeing (assessing).
- Identifying, for example pupils that might need more individual or specialised support.
- Evaluating the impact of early support and targeted interventions. A broad range of positive mental health and wellbeing instruments are introduced and discussed.
- EDEXEC: ‘A mental health model for schools’ Written by Charlotte Lowe and based on her experiences of developing a mental health model at Lostock Hall Academy in Lancashire. Although designed for secondary schools, some principles are applicable to primary settings.