Since 2018, HeadStart Wolverhampton has been developing mental health and wellbeing support in primary and secondary schools across the city, adapting and replacing previous schemes of work and creating a PSHE Association accredited Wellbeing Toolkit for primary schools across the country. As HeadStart funding draws to a close, the work is now being delivered to schools to enable them to independently implement the programme, leaving a legacy from HeadStart.
Using data collected through the Wellbeing Measurement Framework in conjunction with Manchester University, and a Local Evaluation Measure with Wolverhampton University, HeadStart Wolverhampton created the Wellbeing Toolkit: a series of lessons based upon six pillars of wellbeing, detailed in the lesson plan below, to be delivered across the schools. The toolkit is mapped against the Physical Health and Wellbeing strand of the statutory guidance in Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education (2019). Building resilience is a key component of the strategy, and the toolkit aims to teach pupils about resilience and the other components of positive mental health and wellbeing featured in The Five Steps to Mental Wellbeing NHS guidance.
The toolkit is designed to enhance the wellbeing of young people by giving them the tools to look after their own wellbeing, including problem solving skills, learning how to handle emotions and ways to practice empathy. Each lesson in the toolkit has a supporting PowerPoint presentation and the resources teachers need to deliver the lessons, which include games, creative activities and group discussion prompts. By the end of 2021, the Toolkit had been delivered to approximately 5,000 young people in primary and secondary schools in Wolverhampton, with versions adapted separately for Key Stages 2 and 3. The PSHE accredited Key Stage 2 version will be made available for rollout in primary schools across the country.
The lesson themes are ordered as follows:
Lesson 1: Wellbeing and Resilience
‘The benefits of physical exercise, time outdoors, community participation, voluntary and service-based activity on mental wellbeing and happiness’ (DfE, 2019:33).
In this lesson children learn about the connection between mental and physical health, and the steps they can take to promote both types of health through the five steps to wellbeing. The intended outcomes are for children to be able to define mental health, explain each of the 5 steps to wellbeing and demonstrate what resilience is and why it is important for good mental health and wellbeing.
Lesson 2: Handling Emotions
‘That there is a normal range of emotions (e.g. happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, nervousness) and a scale of emotions that all humans experience in relation to different experiences and situations’ (DfE, 2019:33).
Children learn about a range of difficult emotions that they and others may experience, such as loneliness and isolation, and are supported to develop coping strategies to manage them. Intended outcomes are for children to be able to define a range of emotions, to have reflected on how they have dealt with them in the past and have learnt some effective ways of managing difficult emotions.
Lesson 3: Empathy
‘The importance of respecting others, even when they are very different from them (for example physically, in character, personality or backgrounds), or make different choices or have different preferences or beliefs’ (DfE, 2019:21).
Pupils learn what empathy is, why it’s important and how to cultivate and demonstrate empathy to others. Children are able to define and explain empathy, recognise how behaving empathetically can have a positive impact on other people’s wellbeing and how to practice empathy and put other people first.
Lesson 4: Problem Solving
‘[Knowing] how to judge whether what they are feeling and how they are behaving is appropriate and proportionate’ (DfE, 2019:33).
Children learn about everyday problems and how to use strategies to overcome them, including making a plan, working as a team and showing resilience. The intended outcomes are for children to learn that while there are different types of problems, the skills needed to solve them are often the same, and that healthy responses can lead to problems being solved.
Lesson 5: Growth Mindset
‘The importance of self-respect and how this links to [a young person’s] own happiness’ (DfE, 2019:21).
This lesson focuses on the differences between a growth and a fixed mindset, and how to adopt a growth mindset. Self-respect is highlighted as an important component of a growth mindset, which involves positive self-encouragement and self-belief. Children are able to identify and understand how a growth mindset is beneficial for mental health and wellbeing.
Lesson 6: Aspirations
‘Pupils should also be taught the benefits of hobbies, interests and participation in their own communities’ (DfE, 2019:32).
The final lesson introduces the concepts of short- and long-term aspirations; and recognises that aspirations can be big or small and relate to different areas of life, such as at school, with friends and within their areas and hobbies of interest. The aim is for children to identify short and long-term goals to support their personal aspirations, and take steps to meet these aspirations.
In 2019, 30 primary and secondary schools participated in the Wellbeing Toolkit course. Evaluation research was conducted to assess participating pupils’ views. 50% of pupils stated that, before taking part on the course, they predicted it to be either useful or fairly useful. Almost a quarter, 24%, of pupils were unsure, and 8% felt that the course would not be useful to them.
After completing the course, the percentage of pupils who felt that it was either very or fairly useful increased from 50% to 97%. The remaining 3% of pupils stated they were unsure how useful the course was, and no pupils reported that they found the course either not very useful or not useful at all.
The young people taking part in the Wellbeing Toolkit sessions were also asked to rate how happy they were with what they learnt in the sessions; 5 being very happy and 1 not happy at all. 91% of the responses rated either very happy or happy, and over 70% of those who responded felt that the course changed the way they felt about themselves.
Around 70% of those asked also felt taking part had had a positive impact on how they behaved in situations with teachers, friends and at home. The area with the greatest reported change was with teachers, with over 40% of young people reporting that what they learnt changed the way they behave with teachers ‘a lot’.