The majority of school leaders are committed to supporting pupils’ wellbeing and promoting good mental health, according to new research. However, schools also reported significant challenges, including insufficient funding, capacity and access to specialist services.
These were the findings of research published this week by the Department for Education, which asked NCB and NatCen (National Centre for Social Research) to investigate character education and mental health provision in schools.
The survey, completed by 2,780 schools and colleges in England, found that almost all the schools and colleges (92%) that took part, reported having an ethos or environment that promoted mutual care and concern.
Our in-depth research also found that school and college staff believed their settings had a responsibility to support the mental health of their pupils.
“I think mental health, as part of a wellbeing agenda, is a vital part of school's activity. In order for students to thrive supporting good mental health … is really important.”
School staff thought their main role was to provide education, but that colleagues were becoming more aware of the need to support pupils’ mental health.
“Our primary purpose is to educate … but many of our children come in, in no way ready to do academic learning because they need nurture.”
(LA maintained primary)
Teachers thought that adopting a whole organisational approach was essential to normalise attitudes to mental health. This required having staff who understood mental health and embedding the promotion of positive mental health throughout the school.
There was a near universal (99%) attempt in schools and colleges to identify pupils with mental health needs. They also said they provided tailored support to children with specific needs, including counselling; educational psychological support; peer mentoring and buddying schemes; group interventions; and providing dedicated space to support mental health.
“Having the wellbeing centre has been amazing. It gives our counsellor somewhere to be based when they are in and also means the students know where to go when they have problems.”
(LA maintained secondary school)
However, schools and colleges highlighted several challenges to supporting the mental health needs of their pupils, including:
- Lack of funding for adequate provision within the school (seven out of 10).
- Lack of staff time and capacity to create a culture and ethos that supports mental health.
- Long waiting lists and high thresholds to access specialist services.
- Insufficient partnership working between schools and specialist mental health services.
We hope this new research will inform the forthcoming Government consultation paper on children’s mental health. We have also produced five practice examples designed to inform schools and local decision makers about effective mental health and wellbeing provision.
Supporting mental health in schools and colleges is available here.
Developing character in schools is available here.