Why we developed an online training course about student mental health

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This week marks the launch of our new online module: “Mental and Emotional Health in Schools: Effective Strategies and Support”. The module was developed to help school staff promote good mental and emotional health within their school, as well as recognise and respond to signs of poor mental health, while maintaining the boundaries of their role.

Our three key motivators for developing this module:

1.     The majority of school staff will encounter pupils with a mental health condition: Pupil mental health is a growing concern for schools, with the latest figures suggesting that 1 in 10 pupils has a diagnosable mental health condition. Similarly, a recent survey found that 98% of teachers have come into contact with pupils with mental health difficulties, with 90% experiencing a pupil who has anxiety and panic attacks, 79% a pupil with depression and 64% a pupil who was self-harming.  Given this high prevalence of mental health issues in schools, it is vital that all school staff are trained to recognise and respond to signs of poor mental health so that pupils receive the support they need, when they need it.

 In addition to mental health difficulties, children and young people today face a whole range of emotional challenges, with a significant number of children experiencing bullying, parental separation, and family bereavement, and a host of other risk factors. All of these leave pupils at risk of developing a mental health condition. Ensuring school staff are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to support pupils when they are vulnerable is an important preventative strategy.


2.     School staff play a crucial role in supporting pupils’ mental and emotional health: It is imperative that school staff are aware of what they can and should be doing to support pupil mental health. While diagnosing and treating mental health difficulties does not fall within the remit of school staff, they still play an important role in supporting pupils with mental and emotional health challenges, similar to their role for pupils with diabetes or other physical health needs. Additionally, as many school staff have daily contact with pupils, they are well-placed to identify signs of poor mental health and ensure pupils are signposted to appropriate services, as well as providing ongoing support to help them cope with day to day school life.

The relationship between pupils and school staff is critical for supporting good mental and emotional health, and pupils need to have positive relationships with school staff in order to thrive across all areas of school life. Research found that children’s relationships with teachers were a stronger predictor of their emotional wellbeing than any other adult relationship. Furthermore, positive relationships with staff may be particularly significant for children with behaviour and emotional difficulties. For many children and young people, a trusted member of school staff may be one of the few consistent and caring adults in their life. Likewise, for children and young people with difficult home backgrounds, school can be an important refuge and a valuable opportunity for them to experience a safe, supportive environment, and responsive relationships, as well as a safe space to develop sense of accomplishment and develop a healthy self-worth. All of these are key for good mental and emotional health, as well as for supporting children and young people when things are more difficult.

In addition to the above, poor mental and emotional health is also linked with a range of educational outcomes which directly impact on schools, including lower attainment, lower attendance, higher exclusion rates, and reduced academic engagement. Therefore, supporting good mental and emotional health should be an integral part of schools’ strategies to support pupil attainment.


3.    Many school staff have received little or no training around supporting pupil mental health: Despite 98% of teachers experiencing pupils with mental health difficulties, mental and emotional health are often overlooked areas of teacher training. Figures suggests that over half of primary school teachers don’t feel adequately trained to support pupils with mental health difficulties. Similarly, in our recent survey assessing teachers’ experiences of teacher training, we found that 73% of teachers felt that they did not receive sufficient training around managing specific behaviour and emotional needs. It is likely that many teaching assistants, who may not have had any formal training outside of school CPD, may feel even less equipped to support pupil mental health. Upskilling school staff with an understanding of the mental and emotional health challenges that young people face, as well as strategies for responding to poor mental health, will improve staff confidence and ensure all pupils are fully supported, with their wellbeing, mental and emotional health needs. Conversely, a lack of understanding may result in staff responding less sensitively to pupils in need, which may have a damaging effect, exacerbating their difficulties and discourage them from seeking support from adults in the future.


What areas are covered by the module?

1.    Supporting good emotional health: Creating an emotional healthy school and classroom environment, founded on trusting, supportive and responsive relationships, is key to good mental health. This not only supports good mental and emotional health for all pupils, helping prevent mental health difficulties, but it also provides a helpful environment to support pupils with existing challenges. This module helps school staff reflect on how they can support the emotional health of pupils, and develop their resilience to poor mental health.

2.    Responding to signs of poor mental health: Many school staff lack the confidence to recognise and respond to signs of poor mental health. This module outlines key strategies for responding to pupils’ difficulties, and uses a range of case studies to help school staff understand what these should look like in practice.

3.    Understanding boundaries and professional responsibilities: Supporting pupils while maintaining professional boundaries can be a confusing process. Ultimately, school staff have a safeguarding responsibility and need to be working within the safeguarding procedures of their school. This module supports school staff to consider the boundaries of their role, and what they should and shouldn’t be doing to support pupils, and also gives them the opportunity to reflect on other forms of support which are available to either pupils or themselves.  

4.    Supporting your own emotional health: Staff’s own emotional health and wellbeing will impact on how they perceive and respond to pupils. Supporting pupils who are experiencing difficulties can impact on our own wellbeing, and it is vital that school staff recognise this and have appropriate strategies in place. We therefore felt it was important that this module encourages staff to think about their own emotional health and wellbeing, and recognise the importance of looking after themselves in order to effectively support pupils.

Bea Stevenson