It is rare, in education, to find an issue over which there is almost universal agreement. However, no-one working in schools at the moment appears to be in any doubt that the number of children struggling with mental health and well-being issues is on the rise, and the age at which difficulties are starting to affect children’s learning is getting younger.
RSA Academies was therefore delighted to receive funding from the Pears Foundation to run a programme to ensure that all staff in our schools get training to identify and provide first line support to pupils with mental health difficulties. The “all” has been important – training has been provided to headteachers, midday meals supervisors, teacher trainees and office staff as well as teachers and teaching assistants. Equally importantly, the programme has been co-designed and developed in liaison with a group of staff from the schools, under the guidance of an Advisory Board of experts, and in the main staff have participated in the training together as a whole school. We have also learnt that it if we are to successfully address children’s mental health and well-being we also need to consider the support that is available to staff.
The training has included information about the national picture in terms of mental health and well-being, practical advice on helping children in the classroom, prompts to encourage a whole school approach, and also advice on how staff can support their own and colleagues’ well-being. Informal feedback is that staff have welcomed the emphasis placed on this area and the whole school nature of the training, as well as the opportunity to tailor aspects of the training to their own school’s particular circumstances.
We are working with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families on evaluating the impact on both children and teachers. 1623 pupils and 472 members of staff completed surveys in July and September 2017. Follow up surveys will be undertaken in June and July 2018, alongside focus groups with pupils and staff. The findings will be written up, and a toolkit produced based on what we have learnt, which we will launch at an event in the autumn to enable other schools to learn from our experience and introduce similar whole school approaches.