Needs and progress

This section of the site focuses on measurement and screening tools.

These tools can help you measure whole-school mental health and wellbeing and children’s needs, help you clarify whether an individual child may be struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, and measure the impact of what you are doing.

Measuring whole-school mental health and wellbeing

Measuring the mental health and wellbeing of a whole-school population provides school leaders with an overall understanding of the levels of need across their school. This can be used to develop priorities, and plan and improve support for children, families and school staff.


Why do a needs assessment?

  • An overview of school wellbeing can often be a useful starting point in an audit, [link to audit and improvement] providing information about the status of all children’s mental health and wellbeing.
  • Data gathered will help identify specific needs, provide insight into strengths and weaknesses and enable schools to set relevant mental health and wellbeing promotion and prevention priorities unique to their needs.
  • Data gathered can be tracked over time.
  • Data gathered can provide important information about what local activities or services schools should access. Schools can also use this data to help alert commissioners about patterns of need and gaps in support locally.


Taking a temperature check

Mental health needs can change over time, so taking a regular ‘temperature check’ or snapshot of everyone in school is crucial. It helps school leaders to spot shifts early on, take swift action to address negative trends, track whether actions taken or new strategies have been successful and showcase progress where it occurs.

Snapshots can be taken as a one-off or can be repeated regularly. Repeating surveys annually or bi-annually means that you can track trends over a longer term. They should be repeated  at the same time of the year, to ensure consistency.

Schools can survey:

  • the entire pupil population,
  • or track a particular year group as they progress through the school,
  • or survey the same year group each year (e.g. repeat the survey with each year 3 group).

It can also be helpful to include a regular temperature check of staff wellbeing, which should sit within the context of a broader school ethos supporting staff mental health and wellbeing. There’s more information in our staff wellbeing section. 

Findings from the whole-school temperature check should become part of the school’s self-evaluation process and feed into school improvement and planning; see this report on school self-evaluation for school improvement.  

Results from any whole-school survey could helpfully be informed by consultation with parents/carers, as well as children and school staff. This will help to interpret and understand the survey findings and inform the improvement planning process.


Choosing the right tool to assess whole school child mental health and wellbeing is important.

It should be a framework or scale that is relatively easy to use and that measures things a school can change or influence.

There are a range of tools to help carry out a regular temperature check.

  • The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is a good example of one type of tool that can be used and is appropriate for children and young people aged 4 to 17 years. At primary school stage, parents and teachers complete the tool. It measures the total number and type of strengths and difficulties experienced by children, allows schools to log and track over time an average overall strength and difficulty rating and provides an overview of how children compare with national norms.
  • On the other hand, the Stirling Children’s Wellbeing Scale assesses a child’s mental wellbeing. It can be used with children aged 8–15 and must be completed by them. It requires children to reflect on their own experiences and how they feel about themselves.

In order to use these types of tools successfully, schools will need to invest additional time to prepare children to respond. For example, to participate, children will need to have a good level of understanding of the concepts explored  and school staff will need to think about how they can help younger children or children with SEND needs respond to questions effectively.

This toolkit (from the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families) contains many other possible tools and indicates with what age group they have been successfully tested. 

Understanding and cross-referencing with local needs

The needs of children and families can vary considerably from area to area and even within local authority or borough boundaries.

Public Health England has produced a children and young people’s mental health ‘fingertip tool’ pulling together local data to help stakeholders understand the risk factors affecting children’s mental health and wellbeing at a local level and how these compare with national averages.

Public Health England also provides short summaries for each local authority:

This local data provides a useful context for understanding an area and for carrying out an audit. Data also provides a useful reference point for schools to work together to influence local commissioning

Using screening and measurement tools to help identify children in need of early help

Deteriorating mental health is not always easy to spot in children and can be overlooked until things reach crisis point. At least two children in every primary school class (based on average class size of 27) are likely to have a diagnosable mental health condition. Many more will be facing risk factors and may be struggling.

Some simple measurement and screening tools can also help school staff understand better when a child’s mental health might be deteriorating, thereby helping strengthen referral to local services, specialist CAMHS, or in-house counselling, if it is available. Routine use of such tools helps school staff be clearer about the nature of their concerns around how a particular child is coping and can facilitate the right kind of early support.

Data from the annual ‘temperature check’ can be a useful starting point to identify individual children who may be struggling, but this needs to be considered in the context of broader information such as the child’s day-to-day attainment, behaviour and functioning, as well as staff assessments and other data collected by the school. This is because children’s mental health and wellbeing may fluctuate, as do the factors affecting their wellbeing.

Staff may also pick up risk factors through their day-to-day contact with children. Parents/carers may, for example, approach school staff with worries about how their child is coping. In these circumstances, screening tools can be a useful way of clarifying the range and severity of a child’s needs. It may also provide a useful focus for conversations with parents/carers.

There are a number of surveys/tools that can be used for assessing an individual child and understanding their needs more clearly. Two commonly used ones are the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and The Boxall Profile; other options are outlined in this toolkit produced by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families. 

These tools should be considered alongside staff and parent/carer observations, the views of the child, and how a child is coping more widely  in school. All of this information would help support a referral by the school to broader local or specialist services.

Measuring the impact of what you do

It’s important to make sure that any activity you introduce has the best chance of achieving positive change. However well-intentioned or thought through, some approaches and strategies  may not always be beneficial to children. They can involve wasted effort and investment and make no difference, and in a few instances they can make things worse.

Schools should be able to explain to governors, Ofsted, etc. what activities and strategies are being used and what difference these are making to children and staff in the school.

So, it is crucial to have some measures in place to evaluate and double-check that what is being done is on track to get the right results. It’s also important to be realistic about the changes that are expected.

Tools can be used to measure the impact of whole-school approaches to improving wellbeing. They may also be useful to track more specific activity such as the impact of Pupil Premium spending or graduated SEND support. Progress can be tracked using a pupil’s starting point before strategies are employed and at their finishing point once activities have come to an end. Common tools used for this purpose include:

The Measuring and monitoring children and young people’s mental wellbeing toolkit (from the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families) provides an overview of a range of additional tools (together with school practice examples) which might be used for this purpose. 

Identifying what to change and how to change it

When assessing the impact of strategies and activities seeking to achieve change in schools, it is useful to think through step-by-step:

  • who you are aiming to target with what you are doing (e.g. the whole school or just some pupils),
  • what things you are planning to do to achieve change,
  • what changes you want to see in the short and longer term, and
  • how you might capture and measure any shifts that occur.

This logic model toolkit provides a framework for considering the questions above and creating a plan for tracking outcomes and signs of success. 

Logic models can be further developed – into a more complex Theory of Change, with clear indicators and targets.

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