We spoke to Vicky Abbott, the Whole School Approach Lead and Health Programme Advisor at Public Health Dorset, about how a whole school approach to mental health can support students.
The well-being of Children has a serious impact on their mental health as adults with 50% of mental illness in adult life (excluding dementia) starting before the age of 15 and 75% starting by age 18 . For this reason, it is important that schools and colleges recognize their unique position to support children. The Department for Education report, Supporting Mental Health in Schools and Colleges, argued that schools have an opportunity ‘to build relationships, and offer support to both children and their families’ .
The Whole School Approach encourages schools to adopt mental health values to promote a culture of positive wellbeing. These values can include compassion and kindness, recognizing the importance of a healthy mind. It proposes a holistic approach to the RSHE curriculum of physical health, mental wellbeing and relationships. While schools have a responsibility to identify mental ill-health and provide targeted interventions, the Whole School Approach follows a preventative agenda.
So, what do we mean when we refer to the Whole School Approach?
The Education and Health Committees’ report, on Children and young people’s mental health – the role of education, quotes Siobhan Collingwood, Headteacher of Morecambe Bay Community Primary School:
“For us, [the Whole School Approach] is integral to everything we do. We have a values-based system within the school, which helps children to develop positive skills and strengths like resilience, effort and happiness…The children can speak and understand that language—what it means to be resilient as a learner, to be able to be independent and to be helpful”.Siobhan Collingwood, Headteacher, Morecambe Bay Community Primary School 
Public health England, in their report ‘Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing – A whole school and college approach’, outlined 8 principles of the approach :
- Working with parents/carers · Identifying need and monitoring impact of interventions
- Staff development to support their own wellbeing and that of students
- Enabling student voice to influence decisions
- Curriculum teaching and learning to promote resilience and support social and emotional learning
- An ethos and environment that promotes respect and values diversity · Targeted support and appropriate referral
- Leadership and management that supports and champions efforts to promote emotional health and wellbeing
Similarly, The Mental Health Foundation, ‘Make it Count’ campaign, delivers the message ‘mental health is not extracurricular’ . This campaign supports the Whole School Approach to make mental wellbeing a fundamental part of every school day.
What are the challenges that schools face?
Vicky explains the challenges schools face in providing effective mental health support:
“For an education setting, challenges include available funding for resources, staff capacity, [for some] limited space to encourage innovative or alternative approaches to physical activity as a coping tool, social influences, and freedom in the curriculum to allow for emotional wellbeing growth.”Vicky Abbott, Whole School Approach Lead and Health Programme Advisor, Public Health Dorset 
How can these challenges be overcome?
Vicky suggests that solutions can include:
- Creative curriculum development. For example, creative walking trails around the school
- Thinking innovatively to Integrate physical activity throughout the school day. For example, gardening areas, or low impact physical activity challenges along a corridor
- Include the whole school community, staff, parents, children
- School self-needs analysis is important too!
Adopting and implementing a Whole School Approach to mental wellbeing is increasingly important as coronavirus brings new and unexpected challenges to children’s mental health and wellbeing. The change in school routines to adapt to Covid-19 will influence students emotionally, impacting their mental wellbeing. It is important that schools have coping strategies and resources to support the children, young people, staff and parents with these changes and new ways of managing the school day.
Public Health England has shown the link between children’s wellbeing and attainment at school . It is widely recognised that a child’s emotional health and wellbeing influences their cognitive development . Therefore, it is important that schools utilise the resources that are in place and incorporate wellbeing education and practices into every aspect of the school environment.
- Time to Change has put together resources for schools
- Mentally Healthy Schools has put together resources to help teachers ‘rebuild and recover’
- Inverclyde Educational Psychology Service has created a self-assessment sheet for schools focused on the 6 nurture principals
 MGC Interview with Vicky Abbott, Whole School Approach Lead and Health Programme Advisor, Public Health Dorset, 16/09/21
 Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer. 2012. Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays, Chapter 10 [Accessed 05/01/21]
 The Department for Education. 2017. Supporting Mental Health in Schools and Colleges [Accessed 05/01/21]
 The Education and Health Committee. 2017. Children and young people’s mental health – the role of education. [Accessed 05/01/21]
 Public Health England. 2015. Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing A whole school and college approach [Accessed 05/01/21]
 Mental Health Foundation. Mental Health in Schools: Make it Count [Accessed 05/01/21]
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