One of the main responsibilities you will have as a senior mental health lead will be to understand and plan appropriate responses to pupils’ and students’ mental health and wellbeing needs. To do this effectively, leads will oversee intervention outcomes and evaluate the impact of your whole school approach to positive mental health and wellbeing. To do this well it is necessary to find ways of effectively monitoring interventions that suit both your school or college,  your pupils and your needs.  

Identification of mental health needs

Using monitoring and evaluation effectively to identify the needs of children and young people earlier, is stated by the Department for Education guidance to be a key duty of a senior mental health lead. In addition to this, mental health leads are also tasked with coordinating and overseeing a range of targeted early interventions for pupils and students. These interventions are either provided in their own school or college or delivered by local agencies and referral partners. It is the mental health lead’s responsibility to monitor the effectiveness of the interventions using appropriate measurement processes and tools, oversee the outcomes of the interventions on children and young people's education and wellbeing and review and adapt mental health provision based on outcome data.  

This may seem daunting and can leave mental health leads feeling confused about what to monitor and evaluate, how it will help and which measurement instrument to use. There are many to choose from and different wellbeing or mental health instruments measure different facets of wellbeing. It can be all too easy to pick a measurement tool that is free and easy to use. This can be a risky strategy as free or easy monitoring instruments may not actually be fit for purpose and it might not give you the information or data you are looking for to demonstrate you are meeting mental health needs of pupils and students or even worse show that wellbeing may have even decreased because of your intervention! 

How mental health leads can apply monitoring and evaluation to support school mental health

The Department for Education also stated in their guidance for senior mental health leads,

‘ that taking a coordinated and evidence informed approach to mental health and well being in schools and colleges leads to improved pupil and student emotional health and well being, which can help readiness to learn.’

It's this evidence-informed aspect of the work of a senior mental health lead role, encouraging the use of monitoring and evaluation. The guidelines for training senior Mental Health Leads are all based on the Public Health England eight principles for whole school wellbeing. Two related key areas are the identification of needs, and providing targeted support. 

In the DfE learning outcomes they want senior mental health leads to learn about in relation to monitoring and evaluation included: 

  • the impact that poor mental health and wellbeing can have on children and young people’s readiness to learn – and other indicators, such as attendance, attention, behaviour and attainment
  • the importance of measuring need across the whole school or college and monitoring the impact of interventions to measure progress and adapt approach
  • the tools used by mental health professionals to baseline and measure outcomes of interventions
  • how they can monitor the impact of interventions in their setting

The different purposes of monitoring and evaluation 

There are several purposes for measuring mental health and wellbeing in schools. Depending on the purpose of your monitoring and evaluation will impact on the instruments you choose and how you conduct your evaluation. Each of these purposes require different processes, tools and instruments.

The first purpose is to provide a snapshot of the current temperature of mental health and wellbeing in your school to help you pinpoint where to start in developing mental health, identify trends in year groups or cohorts and get a sense of the levels of wellbeing needed in your whole school community. For this, you may use an anonymised wellbeing assessment and pick a day where everyone completes the survey to give you a ‘big picture' of wellbeing levels across different classes, ages or cohorts.

The second is the more specific identification of individual children or young people’s needs so that you can spot individual students who might benefit from early support and put in place interventions to suit them. This requires a screening tool (such as the SDQ) to identify the needs of a young person. However this is often and best used in conjunction with a teacher referral or student self-referral process that identifies that a young person or child may need some support and the screening process is used to understand that need in greater depth to put in place the right support.

Thirdly it is recommended that leads use monitoring instruments to evaluate and consider the impact of the support and targeted interventions, to understand not only if they work or not, but for whom and in what circumstances they work.

Lastly, you can use evaluation to understand how the changes to mental health and wellbeing you are developing are impacting on your whole school. To do this you can use data you may already have, such as attendance records, attainment levels, grades, attitudes to learning or changes to behavior and plot changes over time such as at the start and end of an academic year.

Why is monitoring and evaluation important to you?

It's important to understand what your aims are before employing a measurement tool or instrument. Take some time to think about why you want to monitor children or young people's wellbeing levels and the effectiveness of your interventions. You may even want to avoid conducting an evaluation as you may not want to measure or evaluate your programme or school needs, in case it shows your intervention doesn't work or that you haven’t done a good job or the mental health needs are significant. However, knowing what works (or doesn’t work) is important for all aspects of improvement and will make a difference.  While taking time to plan and choose the right instruments and processes help both confidence levels and more successful evaluation and monitoring.

We suggest you start with your personal why. Doing this will help you stay motivated and put children and young people at the centre of any decision making.

What is your reason? 

Here are a few reasons to reflect on monitoring evaluation and why it's important to do it to identify children or young people with mental health needs earlier.

  • to develop intervention programmes that meet the needs of the children and young people and your school community 
  • to provide or give feedback to increase access to support and engagement in education. Maybe you need to provide data to get a referral to a mental health support team, school nursing or some local provision, or CAMHS.
  • To provide you with enough information to accurately make that referral to the right service to support individualised needs.
  • to use pupil or student voice in the development of your whole school approach or intervention design and delivery
  • to improve service or mental health intervention design
  • reporting impact and outcomes for Ofsted awards or governing bodies or quality awards

Learn more

In the Understanding Monitoring and Evaluation course inside our DfE assured Wellbeing Club you’ll learn how to use evaluation tools to identify needs and monitor impact along with how to use monitoring and evaluation to target your support and make appropriate referrals so that you understand that children and young people are able to access support earlier. 

To find out how to access funding to cover the costs of our Wellbeing Club Programme access our free information session.

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