What is whole-school mental health and wellbeing?

A whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing involves the whole school community working together to build and embed processes and strategies that develop wellbeing for pupils, staff and stakeholders. To work a whole school approach requires collaborative work between senior leaders, teachers and all staff as well as parents, carers and the wider community. Mental health and wellbeing become part of the fabric of the school and its culture and ethos.

One of the most effective ways to support children to improve mental wellbeing and prevent mental health problems is through a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.

A whole school approach involves supporting children and staff to flourish and succeed. Whole school approaches to wellbeing are sustainable and positively impact the whole school community and many aspects of school life, such as behaviour, relationships, attendance and attainment.

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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.

Reasons to Promote School Mental Health and Wellbeing

It is widely recognised within the education and mental health sectors that children and young people’s mental health and levels of wellbeing have a huge impact on their ability to learn and achieve.

Research in the UK informs us that 1 in 6 children and young people have a diagnosable mental health problem. Almost every day we hear alarming reports about children and young people’s mental health, with recent figures suggesting that there has been a rapid increase in referrals to CAMHS, the highest levels since records began. In recent years there has been an increased focus on supporting children and young people to manage mental health problems and improve wellbeing at school. This has been amplified by the Covid19 pandemic.

There is a moral case for change to increase wellbeing of all children and young people not only because this impacts learning and success at school but because failing to do so puts the mental health of all children and young people at risk.

Why is Mental Health and Wellbeing Important in Education?

There is increasing recognition from both the health and education sectors of the importance of teaching children and young people the social, emotional and psychological resources for promoting wellbeing and protecting their mental health they need for a flourishing life now and in future. Evidence tells us the most effective way of doing this is during their time at school. A whole-school approach is key to developing mental health and wellbeing of all pupils when they are at school.

Good wellbeing underpins children and young people's ability to learn.

‘Taking a coordinated and evidence-informed approach to mental health and wellbeing in schools and colleges leads to improved pupil and student emotional health and wellbeing which can help readiness to learn’

Department for Education, 2021.

A whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing provides an ideal opportunity to teach wellbeing strategies that can protect against the onset of mental health problems throughout the lifespan. Schools with an embedded whole school approach explicitly teach and implicitly cultivate strategies for wellbeing so the school itself becomes an early intervention. This enables all members of the school community to develop wellbeing and flourish.

Latest Government Recommendations for Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

In recognition of this, the government has led changes both to the school curriculum and Ofsted frameworks, and school mental health guidance to include a greater focus on mental health. There is now a greater requirement for schools to develop a whole-school approach to positive mental health and wellbeing.

The Department for Education is championing whole-school approaches to mental health as best practice. To support with this the DfE is now encouraging all schools to appoint a mental health lead to implement whole-school approach that fits the needs of the school community and prevent the onset of mental health problems. To support schools and colleges with this the DfE are providing a training grant of £1200 per school to train a mental health and wellbeing lead.

In addition to this Ofsted also recognise the positive impacts that wellbeing and good mental health can have on achievement and pupil outcomes. Many schools are now including positive mental health and wellbeing as key elements of school improvement plans.

Updated NICE Guidelines - Social, Emotional and Mental Wellbeing in Primary and Secondary Education

NICE have recently updated their guidance for schools on the best way to support the mental health of children and young people and prevent the onset of mental health problems developing.NICE guidelines provide information on ways to promote children's social, emotional and mental wellbeing. They aim at protecting them from behavioural problems and health conditions by promoting good mental health.

These guidelines are designed to help inform a whole-school approach that will benefit all children and young people. It contains recommendations for a universal wellbeing curriculum, and identification of those at risk of poor social emotional mental wellbeing.They recommend targeted support and support with school-related transitions or other life changes are key to supporting the mental health of children and young people.

Why We Help Schools Develop Whole-School Mental Health and Wellbeing

Worth-it specialise in early prevention and intervention of mental health problems for children and young people. We started out our work by providing direct targeted interventions in schools for young people struggling with poor mental health.

For years we provided targeted mental health support and wellbeing programmes funded by the NHS, local authorities and charities like Children in Need. Our programmes were delivered in school or in the community and local schools could make a referral to our programmes. We helped many young people reduce levels of anxiety, low mood and stress. We also helped them increase personal wellbeing resources that improved thoughts feelings and behaviour.

Over time found that this work only did so much to support young people make sustained changes to their wellbeing. We started training teachers, staff and parents to support young people’s mental health and wellbeing using the strategies we had developed through working directly with young people.

We realised through research and practice that the most effective way to develop children and young people’s mental health was to work with whole school communities supporting them to develop their own tailored whole school mental health approach, underpinned by effective evidence-based approaches to early prevention.

We piloted our approach by working with the NHS and 20 schools across Leicestershire. This provided key insights which led to the development of our whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. This led us to create a simple way to explain how schools can develop mental health and wellbeing.

How to Promote Wellbeing in Schools

We know that developing a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing can feel like a big, overwhelming, and potentially expensive task. That is why we created our whole school system framework. A simple way to share with school leaders, school staff, mental health leads and commissioners an effective and practical way of developing whole school mental health.

We hope by finding out about our approach that it will save you time, energy, and stress while bringing clarity and reassurance.

Our whole school system for mental health and wellbeing offers a step-by-step process, enabling you to audit, plan and take action in developing and embedding your whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Key areas to promote wellbeing for schools

Our system framework helps you figure out your unique starting point and what is already working well in your school. These are your foundations for building your own whole school approach to mental health that supports your pupils, staff and community. Learn how to apply this framework for promoting mental health by joining Wellbeing Club our DfE assured programme for Senior Mental Health Leads.

There are 10 key areas where mental health can be promoted and built. This list provides an overview with some practical mental health and wellbeing activities you can use that promote wellbeing and mental health for all.

Culture and Ethos Embedded Through Policy, Process and Place

  • The school environment promotes and supports the development of positive mental health and wellbeing
  • The school's approach to mental health and wellbeing is shared, understood and visible in our school
  • The school's policies and procedures support the development of positive mental health and wellbeing for all

Leadership and Management

  • School leaders champion and support school wide positive mental health and wellbeing
  • Mental health and wellbeing are an integral part and considered as part of school strategy and planning
  • Activities that promote mental health and wellbeing are integrated into school improvement plans or strategic action plans

Staff Development and Training

  • Staff participate in training in how to look after their own wellbeing and develop wellbeing as a team
  • Staff are provided trained to support to pupils with poor mental health and in activities that develop wellbeing
  • Staff understand how they can help promote wellbeing in their teaching and learning practice

Staff Wellbeing Initiatives

  • Positive relationships underpin all staff wellbeing initiatives
  • Staff lead initiatives that they identify as important for their wellbeing
  • Staff wellbeing underpins pupil wellbeing, staff encouraged to lead and participate in activities that promote wellbeing

Universal Taught Wellbeing Curriculum

  • The teaching of strategies for wellbeing exist for all pupils in the curriculum
  • Pupils lead positive mental health and wellbeing approaches amongst their peers
  • Activities that promote wellbeing are explicitly taught as part of the curriculum, while school-wide opportunities exist to promote wellbeing for pupils

Day-to-Day Experience of Wellbeing

Targeted Support and Prevention Programmes

  • A range of targeted prevention programmes are provided to meet a range of pupil needs
  • Support for mental health and wellbeing is accessible and staff know how to help pupils gain targeted support earlier in the onset of any mental health problems or concerns
  • The range of targets early prevention programmes are reviewed and assessed and used as the basis for planning interventions to ensure they meet pupil needs

Parents and Carers

Agencies and Key Stakeholders

  • Work with external agencies are an integral part of support for pupil and staff wellbeing
  • Agencies worked with are reviewed to ensure quality and suitability to provide mental health and wellbeing support
  • Working with health providers such as school nurses, mental health support teams (MHST), local providers and CAMHS

Pathway to Specialist Provision

School Wellbeing Improvement Plan

These 10 areas of a whole school framework help you reflect on the areas to develop as part as your school's mental health and wellbeing improvement plan, helping you put in place action steps.

Planning whole school wellbeing doesn't need you to reinvent the wheel. It does require you to reflect on what you are already doing well and do more of those things, as well as take steps to address any gaps.

A simple framework is useful to help you be able to work through this process of improvement and action planning without getting overwhelmed. Breaking your improvements and actions down by each area of the whole school approach makes that feel more straightforward, you can track your progress more easily and feel like you are moving forward.

Members of our wellbeing club are supported through school improvement plans and audit tools to develop their own improvement plans that fit the need of their school community and help them feel clear that the plans they are developing are going to have a real impact on the mental health and wellbeing of everyone in the school.

Promoting Wellbeing in Schools is Dynamic

Our approach to positive mental health recognises the complexities of each aspect or element involved in developing mental health within a school. In a system, there are interconnections between each element of the system. It’s important to identify how they interact with each other and as a whole.

The process is dynamic, changing one area of wellbeing in a school will have a knock-on effect to another. The change evolves over time, and can become self-sustaining as long as the core conditions that enable wellbeing to flourish are cultivated.

Our school system has also been developed to allow schools to focus on one element or several elements of their whole school approach. There is no wrong place to start. Our system recognises that all schools are already on their journey of whole school mental health.

We work with schools to build on the effective practice they already have in place, strengthening these areas and addressing any gaps in provision, with our programme of mental health resources, CPD for school leaders and mental health leads.

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Introduction to Whole School Wellbeing

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Activities for Promoting Wellbeing in Schools

Our whole school approach for mental health enables schools to create capacity through upskilling staff to develop their own and children’s mental health. We provide training, tools, practical activities and resources for schools to be able and feel confident to effectively support children develop positive mental health. We support schools through the process of developing whole-school mental health and wellbeing to apply activities that promote mental health and wellbeing.

Our way of supporting schools develop mental health and wellbeing uses the positive education model the SEARCH pathways to wellbeing developed by Waters and Loton after 10 years of research in schools and with over tens of thousands of participants which provide a framework for embedding wellbeing activities across whole school systems and underpin our positive mental health and wellbeing programmes.

To be able to train mental health leads, school leaders, staff and stakeholders it's important to use a robust and evidence-based framework for explicitly teaching strategies for wellbeing. This is done through the use of positive education.

What is Positive Education?

Positive psychology is the empirical study of meaning, success and wellbeing, the application of which not only increases wellbeing but reduces risk of mental ill-health.

Positive education is the use of positive psychology within education. There is a growing body of evidence supporting the use of positive education to develop pupil wellbeing and reduce risk of mental ill-health. Positive education is about protecting the mental health of young people and promoting feelings of happiness and joy, which in turn are associated with fewer behavioural problems and improved academic success. Positive education research helps provide a proven way of learning and teaching strategies for wellbeing in school or educational settings.

What are the SEARCH Pathways to School Wellbeing?

SEARCH is a data-driven meta-framework developed by Waters and Loton (2019) 'designed to help school leaders, teachers and practitioners make evidence-based decisions when implementing positive education interventions.'

Waters and Loton developed the SEARCH framework through large-scale literature review of evidence followed by further school-based research studies. They identified six overarching pathways to wellbeing (from which they generated the SEARCH acronym): strengths, emotional management, attention and awareness, relationships, coping, and habits and goals.

It is widely recognised that to successfully build wellbeing in students that an embedded approach to wellbeing is promoted throughout a school or setting is required rather than simply delivering a stand-alone programme, workshop or positive education intervention. We use this framework to help schools coordinate, promote, plan and improve activities for building wellbeing throughout their whole community.

SEARCH Framework - Pathways to Wellbeing (Waters and Loton 2019)

The six pathways for promoting wellbeing identified in the SEARCH framework

  1. Strengths – pre-existing qualities within individuals that arise naturally and are intrinsically motivating to use and energising. We embed a language and lens of strength awareness and development into all our programmes.
  2. Emotional management – the ability to identify, understand and manage one’s emotions by understanding how emotions operate through our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Our approach enables children and young people to learn strategies to understand and express all emotions and develop positive emotions: this is particularly useful in stress management.
  3. Attention and awareness – attention is our ability to focus, either on inner aspects of self, such as emotions and physical sensations, or on external stimuli. Awareness refers to the ability to pay attention to a stimulus as it occurs.  Mindfulness also plays an important role in this category. In our approach, we promote wellbeing by helping children and young people develop choice and control over where they put their attention, and build self-awareness.
  4. Relationships concerns the skills required to build and support supportive social relationships, develop belonging and connection, as well as capitalise on momentary social interactions. Much of our positive education work focuses on skills to develop positive relationships – communication skills – and understanding how we’re coming across to others.
  5. Coping and Resilience– defined as constantly changing cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person. Our approach helps children and young people identify what their personal stressors are and helps them build a broader range of coping strategies to be resilient and manage day to day challenges they face.
  6. Habits and goals. Habits are persistent and learned patterns and preferences in decision-making and behaviour that promote wellbeing. Goals are formal milestones, endpoints, achievements, or aspirations, that articulate what people desire, aim for and are willing to invest effort in to.

We have integrated the SEARCH pathways as the way to audit, plan and organise wellbeing strategies that are interwoven and embedded across a whole school approach, including whole school activities for promoting wellbeing and wider curriculum teaching and learning.

You can think of the SEARCH pathways as ‘what to do’ to develop wellbeing in your school and our whole school approach is ‘how to do it’ – together they support you promote evidence-informed wellbeing strategies across your whole school system.

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Strategies to Support Teacher Wellbeing

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What are the Benefits of Promoting Wellbeing for Schools?

There are many benefits to developing and promoting whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. The benefits don't only impact the pupils but create a positive ripple effect that impacts the whole school community and its stakeholders.

Learning Benefits of Whole School Approach to Wellbeing

  • Motivation
  • Commitment
  • Engagement in learning and school

Successful Learning behaviour

  • Social-emotional skills
  • Attitude to learning
  • Cognitive skills development
  • Improved focus and attention

Improved Behaviour

  • Reduced disruption
  • Less incidents, fighting and bullying
  • Reduced exclusions and absence

Wellbeing Benefits of a Whole School Approach to Wellbeing

Staff Wellbeing Improved

  • Reduced stress and sickness absence
  • Improved staff retention
  • Improved teaching ability and performance
  • Improved staff relationships and morale

Pupil Wellbeing Improved

  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Happiness and contentment
  • Connection and positive relationships
  • Satisfaction with life
  • Increased resilience and coping
  • Reduced stress levels

Mental Health Support

  • Prevention of mental health problems
  • Earlier access to support for those in need
  • Issues identified earlier
  • Reduced mental health stigma

Whole School Approach to Wellbeing Vs Piecemeal

You may still be in the research phase about what the whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing is. If this is the case, sometimes it can be beneficial to compare the whole school approach to the alternative. Some call the alternative 'reactive', but we think that 'piecemeal' captures the essence of a non-whole school approach.

To assist you, we've developed a short comparison:

Whole school approach to wellbeing

  • Joined up strategic approach, wellbeing underpins all aspects of school life
  • Wellbeing is core business at your school
  • There is a shared and understood language of mental health and wellbeing
  • Wellbeing present in the policies processes and place
  • Everyone knows their role in developing school wellbeing and supporting mental health
  • Strategies for wellbeing development are part of effective teaching practice and embedded into teaching and learning
  • Wellbeing is universally taught and embedded into the curriculum and experienced implicitly on a daily basis
  • Proactive enabling everyone to build strategies for wellbeing and prevent mental health problems
  • Wellbeing is visible, can be seen in displays, the behaviour, and the way the school environment feels
  • Developing school mental health and wellbeing is seen as a long-term approach, which becomes embedded over time
  • Staff wellbeing is fundamental to the success of the whole school approach

Piecemeal approach to school wellbeing

  • Teaching wellbeing is contained to one workshop for children or a one-off training staff
  • Improving wellbeing is seen as a bolt-on, luxury, fad or tick boxy
  • Organisational behaviours and processes do not support mental health and wellbeing they may make it worse
  • Tokenistic to be seen to be doing things rather than actually doing them
  • Seen as the role of certain individuals, e.g. the mental health lead or pastoral support
  • Taught in fragmented lessons or one-off workshops
  • Dismisses nuances or complexities of emotion or behaviour, over simplified
  • See as only one or two people’s responsibility who are ‘trained’ in that topic
  • Reactive, only supporting those that have been identified to have a need or problem, passing the buck and referring on
  • Stigmatised and misunderstood, for example hiding posters behind toilet doors
  • Quick fix, brief or one-off interventions
  • Staff not valued as integral to supporting pupil mental health and wellbeing, staff not understanding their role in school mental health
  • Staff are burnt out and stressed, the culture between of staff can be resistant or defensive

Why we Created a Whole School System for School Mental Health and Wellbeing

At Worth-it we have been working with 100’s of schools for 12 years supporting them to develop strategies for positive mental health and wellbeing. We have combined our know-how and practical experience with the extensive evidence base underpinning our whole school positive mental health support. We didn't feel that some of the more popular wellbeing frameworks for schools explained the Therefore nature of change require to promote wellbeing.

Theorfore, we have developed our own dynamic ‘system’ for developing and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing in schools covered above. We have chosen to refer to our whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing as a system.

A systems approach considers the school as a complex and boundaried unit. Within the school system, mental health can be developed as a whole through developing the interactions and interconnections between each element of the system. For example, improving staff mental health has a positive impact on pupil mental health. While developing pupil mental health, improves behaviour which in turn reduces staff stress. This is a dynamic process that, once the necessary conditions have been put in place, becomes self-sustaining, highly efficient and low cost to sustain over time.

Our aim is to support schools to cultivate positive mental health wellbeing at key points in their system. Our systems framework offers suggestions about where those key and unique starting points may be for a school. Providing a map or route to effectively plan a strategic whole-school approach to mental health. Our school system model can be used with schools, supporting them to reflect on the areas that already work well, identify any gaps in their provision, and plan a school mental health strategy.

How we Apply Wellbeing in Schools

We have developed our wellbeing and positive mental health framework into a programme for school leaders and mental health leads. Our Wellbeing Club membership provides a year of access to training, support and resources that enable schools to promote an evidence-based wellbeing framework in their schools no matter what their starting point is or where they are on their journey to whole-school mental health.

The Wellbeing Club programme is a DfE assured Senior Mental Health Lead training course. This means eligible schools can apply for £1200 grant to pay for a member of staff to join our programme.

We have developed a growing library of wellbeing activities, courses, CPD workshops and peer networking to provide school leaders and mental health leads with everything they need to promote mental health and wellbeing in their school or college.