Mental Health and Wellbeing Training for Schools and Colleges

10th Mar, 20

Mental Health and Wellbeing Training for Schools and Colleges

Over the years I have delivered mental health and wellbeing training for numerous schools and colleges, reaching a wide range of education staff and subsequently benefitting thousands of children and young people in the process.  This blog gives an outline of some of the training sessions provided and why I believe them to be essential for all staff working within education.

Auditing and Identifying Needs

Towards the end of 2018, I was contacted on LinkedIn by an amazing lady Amanda Taylor, who is very passionate about supporting mental health and wellbeing throughout schools.  I was asked to devise a strategic plan around mental health and wellbeing for all the Pupil Referral Units (PRU’s) across six Local Authorities in South Wales.

This work involved meeting with headteachers from each of the PRU’s to carry out an audit of the mental health provision already in place, as well as asking all school staff and students to complete a questionnaire around health and wellbeing.  Results from these surveys were analysed to enable me to identify the needs of each school, as well as highlight the training needs of the school staff.  Key areas staff wanted to learn more about were understanding Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), trauma-informed approaches and promoting positive staff wellbeing.  Based on the findings from the audits a conference was subsequently held for all PRU staff which invited specialists in each area to talk about the individual topics of interest.  This was a great piece of work to be involved in and I was very impressed with how the PRU’s were supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Cross Phase Headteachers Conference

For mental health awareness day on 10th October 2019, I was honoured to be invited to be the keynote speaker at a headteachers’ conference focused on mental health and wellbeing for all primary and secondary schools in Swansea.  It was a very powerful conference and it was incredible to meet so many headteachers enthusiastic about supporting mental health and wellbeing in their schools.  It was an inspiring day to be involved in and I left feeling very passionate about what I was doing and the number of young people I was subsequently reaching.  It is so important for the senior leadership teams (SLT) in schools to value the importance of supporting the emotional health of staff and students.  Unless it comes from the top then this subject is never going to be given the time and dedication it deserves.

Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference for Education Staff

On 30th October 2019, I held a conference for school staff, alongside staff from Lancashire Mind and Sam Tyrer (who runs a programme in schools in Lancashire called ChangeTalks). This conference brought together education staff from many different schools and gave them an opportunity to share good practice and discuss what was working effectively within their schools to support mental health and wellbeing.  The conference outlined practical strategies and resources school staff could use to support students.  It highlighted the need for staff to act as good role models for students, by having an open dialogue about mental health and by practising self-care strategies.  Feedback from the conference highlighted the need for future conferences to be delivered separately for primary and secondary school staff, therefore these conferences are being arranged for some time in the new academic year.

Mental Health Training for All School Staff

Following the headteachers’ conference, I was contacted by several schools in Swansea and was asked to deliver training to all school staff of several primary schools.  I really enjoyed this piece of work having previously only ever delivered training to staff in secondary schools and colleges.  It highlighted to me the importance of raising awareness of mental health at an early age as possible, equipping children with the language to be able to describe how they are feeling emotionally as well as physically.  After visiting Swansea several times, it was decided I should work with schools on a ‘cluster basis’, not only to save on travel but to enable me to reach a larger number of school staff at once.

Mental health training for all school staff is vital.  Staff who work on the frontline in schools often act as the ‘eyes of the school’, witnessing those young people arriving late or who appear out of sorts.  It is therefore essential for training to be available for all staff employed within the school community, to avoid students who are struggling slipping under the net.

Mental Health Resource Folder

Following the mental health training sessions, I always provide schools and colleges with a mental health resource folder consisting of useful activities they can use with students on an individual or group basis, through classroom activities or for whole-school assemblies.  I think it is important for schools to have a ‘go-to’ resource folder which they can access for any specific issues they are concerned about.  For example, having resources focused on supporting students experiencing anxiety, low-self-esteem, anger issues, low mood or eating difficulties etc. and being able to access useful resources whenever needed.  Although support for students is vital, we also want to encourage the use of self-help strategies so students are able to help themselves.

Specialist Training for Pastoral Staff

What I have found helpful from experience is to provide more specialist training for the pastoral staff in a school.  Training these staffs have helped to reduce referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and improve student outcomes.

This training focuses on different therapeutic techniques and how they can be used to support young people’s mental health and wellbeing.  It aims to give pastoral staff the confidence to provide advice and guidance to those students experiencing lower-level mental health difficulties, such as low self-esteem or anger issues.  This acts as a preventative measure by providing early intervention to students experiencing mild to moderate symptoms and hopefully helps to prevent problems from escalating.  Often cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is used as one therapeutic treatment approach once a young person is known to be struggling.  However, I believe understanding the principles behind CBT should also be used as a preventative measure by helping young people to recognise the impact of their thoughts on how they feel and what they do. 

Given how pastoral staff support students struggling emotionally on a daily basis, I think it is essential for these staff members to receive supervision, peer support or guidance in some shape or form.  Whether this be by being supervised by someone within school or external to the school. This gives staff an opportunity to discuss any young people they are concerned about and can provide advice and guidance regarding any students they are supporting. 

Staff Wellbeing

Staff wellbeing is a significant area for schools and colleges to focus on, with teaching and working in schools is incredibly stressful much of the time.  Towards the end of last year, I delivered various training sessions around staff wellbeing with the focus on a compassionate approach to managing stress, by encouraging individuals to be less critical and kinder towards themselves.  Staff need to be aware of how they can promote positive mental health and wellbeing in themselves, as well as the students in school.

A neglected area is often the wellbeing of the senior leadership team (SLT) in school, with many headteachers discussing with me how little support is offered.  The Anna Freud Centre is rolling out the third phase of the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training and this is aimed solely at headteachers and members of staff from SLT.  However, this training targets how SLT can offer a whole-school approach to supporting mental health and wellbeing and there is little proposed with regards to supporting the emotional health of SLT. 

Parent/Carer Sessions

I have now facilitated several sessions for parents and carers, raising awareness of mental health issues so parents/carers feel more confident in recognising when their child is struggling and being able to offer advice and guidance to their child.  However, only one of these sessions was well attended by parents and carers and this was when I marketed the training as ‘Surviving the Teenage Years’, rather than my previous title of ‘Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health and Wellbeing’.  It would be interesting to know why this was the case, though to me it demonstrates that stigma and discrimination still exist with regards to mental health and wellbeing.  Parents and carers need to take an active role around promoting positive mental health in their children, but I believe they need to be offered guidance on how to do this.  As well as in school, it is essential to have an open dialogue at home about mental health and how everyone is feeling.

I am very privileged to be in a role which I thoroughly enjoy, and which enables me to meet so many like-minded, passionate people along the way.  With there being so much more awareness now around mental health and wellbeing, we are certainly heading in the right direction with regards to supporting young people’s mental health.  However, although young people are feeling more able to talk about how they are feeling, there is still an awfully long way for us to go in terms of the support we offer young people both in and outside of school.

Mental Health in Schools Conference Flyer

Agenda Swansea Headteachers Conference

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