Highlighting the importance of training non-teaching staff in mental health awareness

Ensuring every child is effectively supported

Our research shows that is it often not just teachers that provide support to young people in a school-setting, but also support staff and peers, underlining the importance of taking a whole-school approach to ensure every child is effectively supported.

Between July 2017 and September 2018, the RSA and RSA Academies provided a programme of mental health awareness training across all staff in seven schools. In six of the RSA schools and one non-RSA school, Wilkes Green Junior School.

We have published a report about the project process and the findings from the independent evaluators, the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families called ‘A Whole School Approach to Mental Health’.

Key findings:

The report highlights the success of our whole school approach with increases found in all areas that were measured:

  • staff confidence in talking about and dealing with mental ill health;
  • staff mental health awareness and literacy
  • staff perceptions of the school as a supportive environment, and
  • “supportive behaviours” among staff.

Statistically significant positive changes were found in all four of these, across all groups of staff (leaders, pastoral, teaching and non-teaching) and in all school types (primary and secondary). Staff reported a 52% increase in “supportive behaviours”, which encompasses talking and listening to pupils, providing practical support and signposting/referring on to services. Many attributed this change directly to the training they received. There was also an average 13% increase in staff confidence, staff awareness and literacy, and in perceptions  of the school as a supportive environment.

Focus groups findings:

RSA and RSA Academies also conducted three focus groups in each school – with senior leaders, staff and pupils – totalling a number of 21 focus groups. These focus groups had several key themes that repeatedly came up, with potential explanations for the increase in number and severity of mental health issues in children and young people.

  • Social Media

“We have children saying they were called fat on WhatsApp and they’re not going eat again, they’re going to hurt themselves”

School Leader

“Even for the year 3s & 4s, the issue of body image…it’s massive.”


  • Pressured school environment

“If you fail, you’re not going to have a good life later on, & you will have to tell other people you failed. It does make you work harder, & give you determination, but it also makes you worry more.”


  • Poverty & Social Problems

“Families have issues with what’s going on around them and children pick up on those issues and they may not be able to handle it.”

School Leader

“Lots of kids don’t want to go home.”


  • A lack of specialised support

“We feel like nurses, social workers, police officers…we are dealing with absolutely everything. If it doesn’t reach the threshold, it’s teachers.”

School Leader

If you would like to find out more about the national and local context of these issues, as well as how we evaluated the training, you can watch the launch of the report at the RSA which shows the promising nature of a whole-school approach to mental health.

The panel for the launch event included Dr Marc Bush, Director, Evidence and Policy at YoungMinds; Dr Polly Casey, from our independent evaluation partner, the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families; Simon Blake, CEO, Mental Health First Aid England; and Ross Trafford, Principal, Holyhead School, a participating RSA academy.

Schools involved:

Project details:

Date Started July 2017
Date Finished September 2018
Project Funder Pears Foundation