Andy Mellor, a past president of NAHT, is National Wellbeing Director for the Schools Advisory Service which provides absence insurance and a range of medical and welfare benefits for members. Here he talks about why prevention is better than cure and how SAS is helping schools to improve staff and pupil mental health and wellbeing.
Most schools know SAS as a service that supplies staff absence insurance policies. Once a member of staff has been off for a time, it comes into force and protects school budgets against unforeseen costs.
In fact, we do so much more. Once a school is signed up with SAS, staff have access to hospital consultations, physio and counselling without being on lengthy waiting lists. This helps schools keep staff in the classroom, meets the needs of the learners and improves staff morale.
SAS has worked with a number of well-being partners and we are now starting a major piece of work with Innovating Minds, a community interest company with its headquarters in Birmingham.
Dr Asha Patel has been developing a whole school approach to mental health in schools, providing clinical support, training and supervision for staff.
Now she has created EduPod, an online platform with self-assessment audits, surveys and a results dashboard. Mental Health Leads and senior leaders will be able to access these tools alongside podcasts, webinars, videos, mental health resources and action plans, to assess and benchmark their progress towards creating happy and mentally healthy environments.
Why we need this support
I was a primary headteacher in Blackpool and I know from my own experience that when people feel looked after, staff absence levels decrease. When teachers feel valued and supported, their attendance is generally good, children can access learning and there is a better atmosphere which improves general well-being in a school. It creates an upward spiral.
There are so many pressures on staff and children now. School accountability is a major factor, so are recruitment and retention, league tables, capability assessments. All of these factors provide constant pressure and wear away confidence. Senior leaders and staff can find appraisals stressful. A well thought through whole school wellbeing culture can help to complete what is sometimes a stressful experience with minimum of stress and with wellbeing in mind.
The impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing of a test focused education system means that we have moved to a system of valuing what you test. Great schools still teach character and resilience but this takes time and that is time taking out of the day for making further progress towards test targets. We need to give schools permission to teach those critical character qualities even if that means not making as much progress against the national average.
Over the last 10 years referrals to CAMHS have become unsustainable and we need now to return to educating the whole child.
While the Mental Health Leads initiative is a good idea, it does not go far enough. There are inherent flaws in a scheme which puts the expertise and responsibility in the hands of one or two people who may leave the school for promotion or maternity reasons. Pupil mental health is everyone’s business.
Schools need help to cope with these pressures. This means schools need to be encouraged to take a forensic approach and look closely at what they are doing, identify issues, find providers and quality assure them. However, they are not experts on mental health and have a limited knowledge of what is available. There is no single clear definitive photograph of what well-being looks like.
When I started at the end of 2019 as National Wellbeing Director, I knew schools wanted information, contacts, advice and examples of schools doing it well and started looking for regional and national partners.
Dr Asha Patel was active on Twitter communities and so we looked at her expertise and what Innovating Minds could offer. Once we had done our due diligence, we were even more impressed.
We have bought 100 licences for EduPod, for our clients and will be tracking results in schools. Having powerful tools like EduPod will have a major impact on well-being in schools and give them practical strategies to improve the environment.
If we are serious about building a whole school approach to mental health and reaping the benefits for staff and pupils, we need to develop more systematic and informed approaches and have access to high level professional materials.
National Wellbeing Partnership - https://schooladvice.co.uk/national-wellbeing-partnership/?filter=all
Innovating Minds - www.innovatingmindscic.com