The school-based mental health and wellbeing landscape has undergone seismic change since 2020. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, momentum towards the development of dedicated, in-school mental health expertise was growing significantly. As a cornerstone of government mental health and wellbeing strategy, the Department for Education would like every school in England to have a trained Senior Mental Health Lead in place by 2025.

To support this the Department for Education has committed to offer senior mental lead training to all state schools and colleges in England by 2025. Further information about the DfE offer to schools and colleges can be found here.

This guide provides an overview of the Senior Mental Health Lead Training helping schools and prospective leads make an informed choice for the right Senior Mental Health Lead training for them.

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Introducing a Framework for Whole School Mental Health and Wellbeing

Our whole school approach to positive mental health and wellbeing, combines positive and organisational psychology theory with mental health in schools guidelines and recommendations. Our system model represents the dynamic way mental health and wellbeing is developed in schools and colleges. We use it to provide a framework for planning, developing and embedding school wellbeing.

Senior Mental Health Lead Overview

The role and remit of the mental health lead are not clear cut or the same in every school. Each school will have their own nuanced way of establishing the role of the school mental health lead, primaries will be different from secondaries and FE colleges and alternative provision will be different again.

The remit of what is involved in providing a Senior Mental Health Role and associated tasks will be different schools to school, it’s important to note it is not a one-size-fits-all . For more detail about the role of the senior mental health lead review our SMHL job description.

Who should be a Senior Mental Health Lead?

The Senior Mental Health lead's role is intended to be a strategic leadership role, with oversight of the whole school or college approach to mental health and wellbeing in their setting. Who this is in a school or college occupies the role is likely to vary.  

The government guidance for schools recommends that your Senior Mental Health Lead is a member of your senior leadership team or works very closely with your leadership team and has their support to influence strategic change and embed mental health and wellbeing into the culture of your school.

This recommendation has been driven by extensive evidence that suggests a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing is the most effective way to make a difference to the mental health of pupils and students.

In our SMHL Training Wellbeing Club, the SMHL is often the headteacher a deputy or assistant head teacher or a staff member appointed into the role to work closely with SLT on school mental health.

You can find out more here on the government information page for Senior Mental Health Lead Training.

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Senior Mental Health Leads DfE Funding Webinar

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Senior Mental Health Lead Grant

On 10 May 2021, DfE announced £9.5m in funding so that, between September 2021 and March 2022. A further £10m between funding has been provided for schools to start training before March 2023.

This senior mental health lead grant funding means that two thirds of schools and colleges in England have are able to access a grant to pay for senior mental health lead training - helping develop the knowledge and skills in settings to implement an effective whole school or college approach to mental health and wellbeing.

This article explains how to access the DfE funding to pay for your Senior Mental Health Lead training.

We are proud to announce that our Wellbeing Club for and training for Senior Mental Health Leads is an approved programme and eligible for DfE grant funding to cover the costs for your Senior Lead to join for a year.

Senior Mental Health Lead Training

The government-backed Senior Mental Health Lead training provides schools with the opportunity to train a member of staff to lead and develop mental health and wellbeing.

In order to roll this out quickly the government created a provider list of quality-assured providers. All providers must meet the learning outcomes for Senior Mental Health Lead Training which align with Public Health England's Eight Principles for whole school mental health and wellbeing.

The eight principles provide a simple way of focusing school efforts develop mental health in strategic areas. We have used this model for several years and developed it into our whole school system framework which represents the dynamic nature of developing school mental health.

This diagram below illustrates the eight principles and is taken from the Public Health England Document 'Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing - a whole school and college approach'. The principles are also listed below and you can find the whole document here.

  1. Leadership and Management
  2. Student Voice
  3. Staff Development Health and Wellbeing
  4. Identifying Need and Monitoring Impact
  5. Working with Parents, Families and Carers
  6. Ethos and Environment
  7. Curriculum, Teaching and Learning
  8. Providing Targeted Support and Appropriate Referrals

How Senior Mental Health Lead Training Providers Use the Eight Principles

There are over 120 different Senior Mental Health Lead training courses to choose from on the DfE assured Senior Mental Health Lead training list, this can be baffling and overwhelming, especially if you don't have much time to research all the different providers and what they have to offer.

You may just pick the one at the top of the list or the one that appears first when you do a google, this may not be the best way to end up with a course that leads to the long-term mental health outcomes you want for your school.

There are a few essential things that all Senior Mental Health Lead training courses must cover.

DfE requirements for Senior Mental Health Lead Training

The minimum requirements a DfE-funded course must provide for leads are

  1. To support leads to review and reflect on the school or college's current approach to mental health and wellbeing
  2. To provide training that meets the Senior Mental Health Lead learning outcomes
  3. To support leads to develop an action plan to improve access to mental health services for children and young people to reduce mental health problems
  4. To support leads to create and start implementing an action plan to work towards whole school mental health and wellbeing
  5. So support leads to make progress towards developing school mental health and wellbeing in an academic year.

This, however, is a suggested minimum. And in reality, the more Senior Mental Leads can do to develop school mental health the bigger the long-term impact it will have.

We have found through our work with Senior Mental Health leads over the last six years, that through learning more about how to identify mental health needs earlier in pupils and students results in the increased need to provide effective early prevention and targeted mental health support. This becomes a key Senior Mental Health Lead duty and leads need practical resources and ongoing training and development opportunities to be able to do that well and efficiently.

Why are there so many Senior Mental Health Lead Courses?

The government felt schools would like a choice in how they wanted to learn about developing school mental health. There are also around 8000 leads that need to be trained per year so a large Senior Mental Health Lead training marketplace as popped up. This is great in principle but it has been by many leads we work with as a 'minefield', not knowing which course to choose.

This is a big decision to help you make it, we have developed these tips to help you choose the right Senior Mental Health Lead course for you

How much time does it take to train a Senior Mental Health Lead

As recommended by the government many courses are two full days. The training grant covers permissible spend to backfill staff to attend this training.

Attending two days of training can be great to immerse yourself in the learning and 'get it done'. But in some situations, it is not possible to relieve staff to attend traiing for two days, especially if they are SLT or maybe they simply are too busy to take two days away from school. In this case it is also possible to attend ontine and modular training which can be done gradually in bitesize modules, this is how we provide our training for SMHL's in Wellbeing Club

We advise schools thinking about senior mental health lead training to not only think about how long teh training itself takes, but to also think how much time is allocated to apply the learning from the training in your school. Anyone can do a course and get a certificate but it is actually how you use that learning that REALLY makes a difference to the mental health in your whole school.

Following any training it may take a long time to apply the changes in your school, you are likely to be met with some resistance and you may forget some of the most important points by the time it comes to using them.

Looking at courses that provide learning in bite-size and on-demand modules allows you to learn what you need to learn, when you need to learn it and fit in with other teaching or leadership duties. This also provides more ongoing development and learning opportunities for you to access as your whole school approach evolves which can take time and a more gradual approach that becomes developed and embedded over one or more academic years. Find out more about our Wellbeing Club Content and learning modules for SMHL's here.

Where is the training held?

This may be a practical decision or personal preference. A simple way to narrow your choice is to think about would if you prefer face-to-face training locally to you or would you prefer online. Online works for many busy Senior Mental Health Leads who have other duties and are unable to physically get out of their school to a training course. This also means they can take what they learn and apply it straight away in their schools to start making a difference to school mental health.

What else do you get with the Senior Mental Health Lead training?

A thing to think about is what else do you need to be able to lead whole school mental health and wellbeing?  Would you like access to a supportive community, practical training resources, tools and activities to support you to develop mental health in your school or ongoing CPD or workshops to build up your knowledge gradually?

When you start any training course you won't know what you may need in future, training providers that don't provide ongoing CPD help and advice may leave you feeling that although you know 'what' to do in theory you don't have the skills or resources to apply in practice.

This is where the ongoing nature of Wellbeing Club can help, we provide regular drop-in calls to gain help and feedback, online coaching progress logs to keep you on track and help you priorities and a library of online learning CPD workshops you can dip in and out of depending on your priorities for developing mental health.

What is the provider's approach to SMHL training?

Maybe one of the more complicated things to understand when it comes to choosing your Senior Mental Health Lead Training is the approach or theory each course draws upon. This can be understood by looking at each course or the underpinning theory or methodology behind a provider's approach. Although all providers that are DfE assured have to meet the senior mental health lead learning outcomes, they all have their own unique approach to applying these learning outcomes.

For example, you may prefer a more trauma-informed approach, a more relational approach a more leadership approach, a more clinical approach, or you may not know, which can make this choice difficult.

Our DfE assured training programme is underpinned by Positive Psychology and Coaching approaches also known as Positive Education, which is the science of wellbeing applied in education. In our SMHL Training programme Wellbeing Club, we support SMHL's to apply positive psychology wellbeing strategies to prevent the onset of mental health problems, share wellbeing activities and strategies through a universal curriculum that has an impact on all pupils, staff and the whole school community.

Choosing the right Senior Mental Health Lead course can feel overwhelming, the video below provides some tips and advice to help you make the right decision for you and your school.

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Introduction to Whole School Wellbeing

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Why we developed SMHL Wellbeing Club

Through our DfE assured Senior Mental Health Lead Training - Wellbeing Club, we have supported several Mental Health and Wellbeing Leads in primary, secondary and FE colleges on their journey through developing their own sustainable approaches to school mental health and wellbeing.

You may be wondering why our course for Senior Mental Health Leads is called Wellbeing Club rather than something more obvious like 'Senior Mental Health Lead Training'. That is because we had already developed, piloted and launched Wellbeing Club before the SMHL Training Grant was provided. Rather that creating a course to fill a gap in a new market.

We have been working with schools for over 6 years supporting them to develop mental health and wellbeing. This helped us realise what schools need to develop school mental health, which is ongoing and accessible training, peer networks and most importantly practical resources that help them actually apply strategies that develop mental health rather than learning how to do it in theory.

We then went through the quality assurance process like all the other DfE assured providers to get Wellbeing Club and the online learning within it DfE assured. The courses, resources and CPD in Wellbeing Club meet the learning outcomes for Senior Mental Health Lead training, but also go beyond them to provide quality CPD and practical resources we know schools need and want.

What is SMHL Wellbeing Club?

Wellbeing Club is an annual online subscription programme. The programme allows you to access practical online learning and resources inside our Wellbeing Academy as well as exclusive learning and community areas only for Wellbeing Club members.

All the Wellbeing Club content is all based on positive education and organisational psychology approaches. The courses, activities and resources are all designed to support members that join to develop a sustainable and embedded approach to school-positive mental health and wellbeing.

Joining Wellbeing Club helps Mental Health and Wellbeing Leads learn HOW to develop a whole-school approach to school wellbeing and helps you feel confident to actually put your plans for developing mental health and wellbeing in your school into action.

Once you have joined you will be able to access an annual subscription to a growing library of online courses, practical CPD workshops and downloadable mental health resources and wellbeing activities for pupils and staff. Your subscription is renewed annually so you continue to receive resources and development opportunities as you develop and embed whole school mental health.

Adopting a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing

Our Wellbeing Club provides a practical approach to developing whole school mental health, through the application of our step-by-step system model. Please feel free to access our free workshop where we introduce our model, and in the meantime, you may also read an extensive outline about our whole school integrated system.

What is provided in Wellbeing Club?

Once your annual access is unlocked by completing the new member survey you will see you have access to quite a lot of information and CPD.

There is a range of senior mental health lead training available inside the Wellbeing Club content areas, as well as resources and tools to help you implement your school mental health action plan.

You can dip in and out of the content as you like, and there is no expectation that you complete everything. We see it like a buffet - try a bit of everything and then choose the bits you like the most. If you have any questions or need any support, our team is always on hand to help.

Wellbeing Club membership provided access several areas of our Wellbeing Academy as part of your membership these include

  • Wellbeing Club Community- For the latest updates, ongoing help, live session booking and tracking your progress
  • CPD Library- Professional development workshops just for Wellbeing Club members on specific areas of developing mental health and wellbeing.
  • Staff Wellbeing Workshop Library- CPD to support staff wellbeing in your role of mental health lead (developing and embedding tier only)
  • School Examples- Examples of effective practice and resources from other schools and colleges
  • Resource Hub- Practical downloadable school mental health and wellbeing resources for developing your whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.

These areas are added to every half term, meaning the CPD and resources in the membership build during the time you are a member.

Wellbeing Club Sneak Peek

SMHL online courses and Resources Wellbeing Club Members can access

  1. The SMHL Pathway Course - exclusive course for Wellbeing Club members on reviewing, planning and leading whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing (our equivalent to Senior Mental Health Lead Training)
  2. Wellbeing Toolkit Course - our leading positive education course which teaches you have to use a whole range of evidence-based mental activities (developing and embedding tier)
  3. Staff Development Toolkit Course - our train-the-trainer CPD programme to help you increase staff capacity to support mental health earlier and share strategies for wellbeing (developing and embedding tier)
  4. Each course has a set of downloadable practical wellbeing activities and resources

There is much more information about all the courses and resources inside the Welling Club on our content library page.

Senior Mental Health Lead Training Membership Levels

Based on member progress and feedback, Wellbeing Club now offers three different learning pathways through the content depending on which stage a member is at in their journey to whole school mental health.

These are ...

Starting - beginner new in post SMHL getting their whole school approach suited, reviewed and started.

Developing- a SMHL that has made progress to develop school mental health and is looking for training and resources to implement their action plan and develop school mental health and wellbeing

Embedding - a SMHL who has made significant progress developing school mental health and is now looking for training and resources to embed consistent school-wide strategies

We provide recommendations for Senior Mental Health Leads about which content they should access based on their school's identified needs and priorities. This article provides an overview of the different journeys a senior mental health lead may make through Wellbeing Club based on their unique starting point.

Developing school mental health isn't something finite you can do once and then tick off your list. Developing mental health and wellbeing infinite (which sounds a bit scary). This means it can take several academic years, three to six, for mental health and wellbeing to become fully embedded and sustainable.

Because of this, we recommend Wellbeing Club members join with the mindset that they will be moving through the stages of developing school mental health beyond the first DfE-funded year. This takes off the pressure to do 'everything' in one go and supports the development of an approach to mental health that is sustained over time.

We help Wellbeing Club members assess their progress each academic year and support them to move through each membership tier every 12 months. There is no obligation to stay beyond one year. Many members do continue to work with us through their journey to whole school mental health, as they find the resources, ongoing CPD and practical help valuable and an affordable way of supporting pupil mental health.

Ongoing learning and development is key for SMHLs

Unfortunately, you don't know what you don't know or what the emerging mental health and wellbeing needs will be for your school. Joining Wellbeing Club at any tier means our expert positive education consultants and coaches will be on hand to help when you need them. While our practical resources and train-the-trainer approach equip you will a whole toolkit of materials you can use to develop and sustain mental health and wellbeing for the years you are a member and beyond.

To find out more about the Wellbeing Club programme visit our in-depth information page. You can also access our free example taster course to see how one school we worked with developed whole school mental health and the huge impact it has had on children and staff.