Blog by Lisa Fathers, Head of Teaching School / BFET Co-Principal
During the last few years my Teaching School has been leading the way with mental health work. I felt this week was the right time to ‘blog’ about this work given Sunday night’s brilliant SLT chat on staff wellbeing and of course today is ‘ Time to Talk’ day and I do believe ‘conversations change lives’.
Our focus on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people began in 2012, when the Alliance for Learning became involved in delivering mindfulness as part of the Mindfulness in Schools Project. There is an increasing body of research evidence which suggests that mindfulness techniques can be effective in dealing with stress, depression, eating disorders, chronic pain and illness as well as encouraging wellness. Since 2012, we have delivered mindfulness training to 656 teachers who have since gone on to deliver training in-house to their colleagues and of course large numbers of children and young people.
Mindfulness courses were (and still continue to be) delivered to staff and pupils in our schools and in June 2013 we were involved in a research project (Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Programme: non-randomised controlled feasibility study) that examined the effectiveness of teaching mindfulness in schools. The findings of this work were published by the British Journal of Psychiatry, which can be read here.
My regular meetings with the principals of schools in our TSA have highlighted huge concerns about the mental health of children in schools. These concerns have rocketed to the top of the priority list and are keeping many school leaders awake at night – alongside other issues such as budgets and staff recruitment and retention.
In June 2016 our Teaching School was commissioned by the Warrington Clinical Commissioning Group (WCCG) and Culcheth High School to improve mental health and reduce stigma in secondary schools across the whole of Warrington. Over the last 7 months, we have worked with senior staff and PSHE leads from 12 Warrington schools to deliver a bespoke mental health package which included case study work, reviewing existing provision, basic awareness raising, individual twilights to whole staff, the official Mental Health England First Aid two day course to the identified ‘leads’ in each school and further onsite visits to help embed policy and practice back in schools. The programme also included an ‘Introduction to Mindfulness’. I’m so pleased by feedback on this work so far!
Last year I trained as a Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor with Mental Health England because I passionately wanted to be able to personally make a difference to the provision in our schools. I’m also completing the Adult MHFA Instructor training because of course we need to look after our teachers in schools too!
On the 9th January I was immensely pleased by the Prime Ministers plans to improve mental health provision in schools. I was delighted that one of the strategies she mentioned was the MHFA course and an ambition to have at least two MH First Aiders in every school. This is absolutely a step in the right direction but there is much to do. As a parent and a school leader it is crushing to know that 1 in 10 children have a diagnosable mental disorder and that even more than that suffer from low mood, even in primary schools. We know that 70% of mental health issues in adults can be traced back to childhood/adolescence so it’s crucial that our teachers have the basic knowledge and vocabulary to be able to help with prevention and to intervene early. The MHFA course is not a ‘fix all’ but what it does do is raise awareness, cover the basic themes and help teachers ensure that ‘wellbeing’ is high on the agenda. We also offer an advanced Mental Health course which explores attachment and early trauma, its impact on mental health and how children can be supported in the classroom.
Of course without a doubt schools should also be desperately trying to ensure their schools are ‘active schools’ because we know that there are indisputable links between physical health and mental health and that just 15 minutes a day of activity can lift mood, improve energy levels and self-esteem. Clearly the work of the Youth Sport Trust supports this message. If you don’t know what they do visit their website at https://www.youthsporttrust.org/ and join a community of schools whose mission is to build a brighter future through PE and physical activity. In Greater Manchester I co-chair the Headteacher Alliance for PE and Sport and we as a collective group of headteachers are working with Greater Sport to launch The Daily Mile – a simple concept which will undoubtedly save lives and transform the health of not just children but staff too: more info here http://thedailymile.co.uk/ via the Daily Mile website.
If we don’t do something to protect the health of future generations I am scared to imagine where we will be. The wellbeing of staff is just as important ….. but that’s another blog!