Happy, healthy schools: mental health update

We are delighted to announce several new initiatives and ideas under development associated with tackling mental health problems given the increasing need for schools to be better informed and equipped to manage children’s and teachers’ own mental health.

Earlier last month we heard that the Pears Foundation agreed to fund a new project, a comprehensive approach to mental health training in schools. The Pears Foundation have agreed to provide a total of £80,000 to the RSA, RSA Academies and the RSA Academies Teaching School Alliance to support training for school staff on children’s mental health and well-being. Here’s why:

An estimated one in ten children aged between 5 and 16 have a mental disorder, whilst around 30% of adolescents have ‘low grade’ poor mental health i.e. they regularly feed sad, down or low.  With local authority and voluntary sector services working with vulnerable children being cut back, and thresholds for specialist services such as CAMHS being raised, school based staff are seeing an increase in the number of children with mental health difficulties that affect their ability to learn.

The government has rightly identified training for teachers as an important priority. Their announcement this week was to train one member of staff, and is limited to secondary schools.  We think a much more comprehensive approach would be beneficial, ensuring that all adults working in a school have an appropriate level of training to understand and support children with different presentations of mental health difficulties. 

We propose to develop, trial in ten schools, and evaluate, a training programme and supporting course material that supports all teaching and non-teaching staff in a school (an estimated 600 members of staff).  At every stage we would seek to engage relevant experts: the design stage would be overseen by an advisory panel, drawing on contacts through the RSA Fellowship, partners of the RSA and Pears Foundation (e.g. Place2Be) and an external evaluator: the Anna Freud Centre. 

The evaluation would inform our understanding of what works in supporting young people’s mental wellbeing. In addition to sharing this learning across the sector through a research report, its findings will inform the iterative design of  a set of training materials that could be used by other Teaching School Alliances, Universities, and others working in teacher education, either as a self-standing resource pack or with additional ‘train the trainer’ support.  We would promote this through both schools networks and utilising the RSA’s 28,000 strong Fellowship.

On a related note the RSA Academies Teaching School Alliance is organising a conference called Mental Health: find out how your school can make a positive difference on 29 June at Chateau Impney near Worcester. There’s a fantastic line up of speakers from Prof Barry Carpenter and the fabulous RSA Fellow, Jonny Benjamin MBE to Pooky Knightsmith.

Addressing mental health well is of key interest to the RSA academies, Stephen Steinhaus, Whitley Academy vice principal, wrote in the SSAT recently on how music reduces anxiety and increases confidence and Alison Critchley RSA Academies chief executive, questioned recently whether we have a comprehensive approach to mental health.

All this coupled with a nascent creative learning project with our schools and the Helen Storey Foundation that aims to inspire creative responses to mental health issues in school makes this a space to watch.