RSA Academies’ mental health project in Schools Week

“Schools struggle to get pupils seen by qualified mental health professionals because training for counsellors focuses too much on treating adults, warns the head of a children’s mental health charity” so starts the article in Schools Week: Mental health charities call for more youth specialists to be trained.

The RSA Academies and RSA project on mental health is mentioned in the article in relation to our approach of training for all staff, non-teaching as well as teaching – deliberating tackling the problem by training all teachers not just having expertise and confidence residing in the few.

Our project, A comprehensive approach to mental health training in schools is being delivered through the RSA Academies Teaching School Alliance and is being funded by the Pears Foundation. It is summarised here:

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 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  and evaluate, in eight schools, 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 will 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 will 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 willpromote this through both schools networks and utilising the RSA’s 28,000 strong Fellowship.

*Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.