2021 Summer Term


  • Life through a lens
    Geoff Barton looks back at the unprecedented events of this academic year and thanks members for their extraordinary work in keeping schools and colleges going throughout. More
  • Are you ready?
    Malcolm Trobe CBE shares steps to help you prepare for the Early Career Framework. More
  • Curriculum in a COVID climate
    As we approach the end of what has been a truly challenging academic year, ASCL Specialist Tom Middlehurst looks at the lessons learned and what next for the curriculum. More
  • Better financial reporting
    In May 2019, the DfE published the Academies Better Financial Reporting Programme paper.* Here, ASCL Specialists Hayley Dunn and Julia Harnden outline the programme's progress. More
  • Free schools ten years on
    Ten years since the start of the free schools programme, Jude Hillary from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shares highlights from an independent investigation looking at the impact of the programme. More
  • Modelling a healthy mind
    Martin Sacree and Jaime Smith explore how senior leaders can work to become a mentally healthy school or college. More
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Martin Sacree and Jaime Smith explore how senior leaders can work to become a mentally healthy school or college.

Modelling a healthy mind

The mental health agenda has had a major impact on schools in the last ten years and the policies of successive governments, outlined in Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: A green paper (tinyurl.com/58883xhj), move everyone towards a whole-school or further education (FE) college approach.

Now the impetus for change has been accelerated by the pandemic and the challenges it has brought for both students and staff. As we have all returned to school, we have seen increased levels of mental health issues that have either been triggered by or exacerbated by the pandemic.

Shoreham Academy

Martin is Vice Principal – Students, at Shoreham Academy, West Sussex. In his following account, he outlines how Shoreham Academy’s experience is typical of many:

We are seeing an increase in lower-level mental health concerns, such as increased anxiety and stress; emotionally based school refusal appears to be more common than before lockdown. We are more alert than ever to this risk of more serious mental health concerns emerging and are ready to take action to support young people if they do.

Staff are also experiencing increased stress and anxiety, and unknowns with respect to how assessments will work this year are an additional pressure. They are also feeling a bit disconnected from school after working remotely for so long.

All of this means that it is crucial for our leadership team to work hard to ensure that students and staff feel supported, and that our school is a mentally healthy one.

Part of this is modelling good mental health practice to staff. We have mutual support systems in place for leadership so that we’re all looking out for one another, and have made a conscious effort to decrease our focus on monitoring staff performance and focus instead on supporting staff and their work.

We have introduced formal and informal supervision systems so that anyone who is struggling knows where to turn for help. We’ve also started a wellbeing group and we dedicate time in our staff forums for discussions about staff wellbeing, encouraging staff to share how they’re feeling so we can listen and take their concerns on board. Listening to one another is something we try to encourage across the entire school community.

Having mentally healthy staff means they are more able to support students having difficulties and can better implement the strategies we have introduced for student wellbeing. We have regular tutor time and assemblies dedicated to mental health and have strong pastoral support systems. If a particular student is struggling, we make sure they know there are trusted adults in the school they can turn to, and we have clear pathways to external support as well as access to a school counsellor.

Mentally Healthy Schools

The Anna Freud Centre, where Jaime is Director of the Schools Division, has just expanded its Mentally Healthy Schools website (mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk) to include secondary schools and FE colleges, and Shoreham Academy has made extensive use of its resources. Here, Jaime reports on experiences and findings so far:

While becoming a mentally healthy school or college may seem straightforward on paper, the reality, as with all change, is more complicated. How do you embrace change and retain consistent values? How do you maintain and improve what’s best in your setting, while also encouraging new ways of working? And how do you juggle all this while running a busy school?

Experience and research show that teaching is one of the most stressful occupations (tinyurl.com/ty52sx8c), and unless staff are supported, they may feel demoralised by the policy and practice churn that education often falls prey to.

This is why promoting staff wellbeing is so important to a whole-setting approach to mental health and wellbeing. A key element is encouraging openness about wellbeing for both pupils and staff and there are simple things leaders can do to promote staff wellbeing (tinyurl.com/4chvdecb), from sharing confidential helplines to carrying out staff wellbeing surveys (tinyurl.com/5y8xwdp4).

The pandemic, as we have said above, has made prioritising mental health in our education settings more important than ever; we’ve seen an increase in mental health problems in young people and this will place additional demands on schools and colleges.

But evidence also shows that some children have benefited from staying at home. We need to ask ourselves difficult questions. Why were they happier? What was going on at school or college that wasn’t working for them? Having access to the right resources is crucial to give the staff confidence to normalise the discussion of mental health in schools and colleges.

The Mentally Healthy Schools website covers every aspect of young people’s mental health with step-by-step guidance and practical suggestions to follow, all of it evidence-based.

The whole-school approach section (tinyurl.com/57yy6nxu) covers everything leaders need to consider when working to create a mentally healthy school or college. Staff can use the Mentally Healthy Schools webpages on mental health needs (tinyurl.com/5fdzk5r7), and risks and protective factors (tinyurl.com/ny5rjpxc) for professional development and to better understand what students may be experiencing and why.

The resource library (tinyurl.com/2n7v379x) offers hundreds of free, clinically assured resources from many different organisations, filterable by topic, age and type of resource. There are lesson and assembly plans, guidance and support for individual students and resources to support staff mental health.

An education setting needs to have a caring, supportive culture where all staff feel that their mental health is a top priority. Senior leaders play a crucial role in defining that culture and vision, making it clear what behaviours, values and beliefs underpin it.

Find out more

To find out more about becoming a mentally healthy school or college, and to access hundreds of free resources, visit mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk

The Anna Freud Centre also has a free framework for schools to help implement a whole-school approach to mental health, which you can find at annafreud.org/5steps

Jaime Smith
Director of the Schools Division at the Anna Freud Centre, and was a teacher for six years.

Martin Sacree
Vice Principal at Shoreham Academy, part of the United Learning Academy chain in West Sussex.