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Education for Wellbeing: Innovating school approaches to mental health

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Over the next three years, schools are taking part in a series of trials testing different approaches to supporting young people’s mental health. Where might this study lead us in terms of helping young people?

This research has the potential to transform mental health promotion in schools. At Outward Bound, our work revolves around helping young people to reach their full potential. This means equipping them with the skills to build mental resilience and triumph in times of difficulty.

Our courses support young people to develop their social and emotional competencies, which acts as a protective factor against psychological stress and unhealthy patterns of behaviour. So research like this excites us – it shows that we’re part of a bigger picture working towards a common goal: prioritising the value of young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

About the trial
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This research will run until 2021 and aims to give schools robust evidence about what works best for their students’ mental health and wellbeing.

The trial, led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in partnership with University College London, is designed to explore what works in schools to support young people’s mental wellbeing. It will test five different approaches to wellbeing, based on the themes of ‘awareness’ and ‘inspiration’.

AWARE project for Year 9, implementing and evaluating:

1. Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) - a mental health promotion programme delivered by external professionals over five consecutive weeks.

2. The Mental Health and High Schools Curriculum Guide - a mental health literacy curriculum delivered by teachers through six lessons lasting 45–60 mins each.

INSPIRE project for Years 7 and 8, implementing and evaluating:

3. Mindfulness - delivered for five minutes on a daily basis by trained school staff.

4. Strategies for Safety and Wellbeing - eight consecutive weekly lessons each lasting 45 minutes delivered by trained school staff.

5. Relaxation - delivered for five minutes on a daily basis by trained school staff.

What else can schools do to promote mental health and wellbeing?

Aside from this trial, there is a wide range of support out there for schools looking to develop a mental health strategy or improve their current practice.

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Here are two strategies you can explore further:

The 2015 Public Health England report on school wellbeing provides an extensive list, including government guidance, curriculum resources, and resources written by young people, for young people. Some local authority public health teams also provide coordinated health and wellbeing support for schools and other learning providers.

The Children and Young People Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC) recommends focusing on three principles to improve the ways in which schools support their pupils’ emotional wellbeing

1. Better balance between wellbeing and attainment.

Schools need to advocate pupil mental health and wellbeing, striving towards better balance in the curriculum. CYPMHC recommends that Oftsed uses its existing mandate to assess how schools are promoting wellbeing.

2. Better training and support for school staff on mental health.

CYPMHC advocates training for both new and existing staff, to ensure they understand children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Training should equip staff to deal with issues in practice, and should also raise awareness around their own mental health.

3. Better support for children and young people when needed.

There needs to be appropriate, targeted support within schools and colleges, and the local community, to support the mental health of all pupils. Schools should have good relationships with specialist services, to establish joint working arrangements, referral pathways, and share skills, knowledge and expertise.

Working to improve young people’s mental health is a virtuous circle. Programmes to support social and emotional learning can significantly improve attainment outcomes. In turn, a good education can be a protective factor for mental health.

We want to encourage schools to properly embed informed mental health and wellbeing programmes within a whole-school approach – and we’re looking forward to seeing how the latest trial adds to the evidence-base.

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