The start of a new academic year always gets me excited, welcoming the new intake, meeting new classes and getting to know and build great relationships with students. Like many others, I eagerly await the publication of the green paper on children and young people’s mental health to see how it galvanises services and enhances support which we all recognise is much needed for children and young people. I am not the type of person who is very good at sitting around waiting though. I can see many of the challenges ahead and know there are things I can be doing to make a difference now.
As a National Teaching School Tapton School leads Fields of Learning alliance. I see this as a fantastic opportunity to start working straight away on what I think are some of the most logical and important things schools can do to promote the positive mental health and wellbeing of students and staff. As a school, Tapton has always been keen to promote positive mental health and wellbeing and it is great that mental health forms a significant component of Fields of Learning’s strategic aims as a teaching school alliance. I am really keen to get involved in planning and delivering a mental health and wellbeing module to school leadership teams and trainee teachers.
There is no doubt in my mind mental health and wellbeing should be a compulsory element in all initial teacher training as well as being a core area that should be refreshed on a regular basis, just like safeguarding training. I am not only proposing that we cover mental health and wellbeing training to support students but that we also provide training for staff to help support their own mental health and wellbeing. This is a key area for me as I believe it is important that staff look after their own mental health and wellbeing, supported by the school to be able to care for students.
Staff mental health and wellbeing directly impacts on students and school. Department for Education figures show that the number of teaching staff leaving the profession is increasing and alarmingly a significant proportion of these are in the first few years of their career. I know there is a host of reasons why this may be but one thing that we can start to address is supporting staffs mental health and wellbeing. Teaching trainees as they embark in the teaching profession how to look after their own mental health and wellbeing so they adopt good habits from the start of their teaching career should pay dividend in the future. This is especially true as one of the key factors identified between successful schools and those schools which are struggling is staff turnover. Supporting staff mental health and wellbeing is key in this area.
I think the mental health first aid is a great first step but my worry is schools send a member of staff to complete the training but this is not then disseminated or acted upon within the school organisation. Yet the school have ticked a box to say that a member of their staff has attended. Making mental health a compulsory element of initial teacher training as well as core training for all staff when in post, similar to safeguarding would make a massive difference.
As I said at the start I am not a person who is inclined to sit and wait and would urge yourselves to think what you can do to support children’s and staff’s mental health in your setting. This may be simply by talking about in a form discussion, PSHEE lesson or assembly to raise awareness of and start to destigmatise; setting up some support for students; organising staff training; thinking about how you can support staff mental health and wellbeing. Success is not a big step in the future but a small step taken right now.