Mental health trials in schools launched

DfE launches trials in schools to support wellbeing and confirms pilot areas for assessments for children entering care

Published on 11th February 2019

Hundreds of school children across 370 schools in England are to learn techniques aimed at improving their mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced that up to 370 schools in England will take part in a series of trials testing different approaches to supporting young people’s mental health.

Children will learn mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises to help them regulate their emotions and will benefit from pupil sessions with mental health experts.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: "As a society, we are much more open about our mental health than ever before, but the modern world has brought new pressures for children, while potentially making others worse.

"Schools and teachers don’t have all the answers, nor could they, but we know they can play a special role which is why we have launched one of the biggest mental health trials in schools. These trials are key to improving our understanding of how practical, simple advice can help young people cope with the pressures they face.

"To support this, we’re introducing compulsory health education in all schools, within which children will start to be introduced gradually to issues around mental health, wellbeing and happiness right from the start of primary school," he added.

The study, which will run until 2021, aims to give schools new evidence about what works best for their students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in partnership with University College London, the school study is recruiting more primary and secondary schools to join. The trials are designed to explore the impact of different approaches at school, in recognition of the significant time children spend at school and the important role teachers can play in recognising changes in pupils’ behaviour or mood.

The trials will test five different approaches:

- Two approaches focused on increasing awareness in secondary schools through short information sessions either led by a specialist instructor or by trained teachers. These include a set of tools to increase understanding of mental health and mental disorders among both pupils and teachers.

- Three approaches in primary and secondary schools that focus on lighter-touch approaches such as exercises drawn from mindfulness practice, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques and recognising the importance of support networks including among their own peers.

Mr Hinds also confirmed the nine areas across the country that will trial new high-quality mental health assessments for young people entering care, helping them get the support they need to meet their individual needs at a time when they are more vulnerable.

Also run by the Anna Freud Centre, the mental health assessment pilots will look at providing improved mental health assessments for children entering the care system. Statistics show that currently an estimated half of all children in care meet the criteria for a possible mental health disorder, compared to one in 10 children outside the care system.

The pilots – backed by £1 million announced last year - will identify the mental health and broader wellbeing needs of children entering care, including whether a referral to a more specialist service is needed.

The nine areas piloting the assessments are: Brighton and Hove, Devon, Doncaster, London Borough of Merton, North Yorkshire, North Tyneside, Salford, Staffordshire and West Berkshire.

Funded by the Department for Education, The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, along with a consortium of partners including Action for Children, Research in Practice and the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC) will work with the nine sites over a period of two years.

A new assessment framework is to be introduced, with the child or young person at the heart of these assessments. The approach will be more relational, include the young person’s carer, and bring together views of those around the child. The aim is to increase awareness of the level of the young person’s mental health needs and create a shared understanding of these needs across the important people in the child’s network.

The DfE has also commissioned SQW Ltd to undertake an evaluation of the pilots to understand what works, or does not, and what other factors affect outputs and outcomes to improve health assessments.

Dr Jessica Deighton from the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families said:  "We know schools have a strong commitment to supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing but have had little clear guidance about the best ways to approach this. We want children and young people, parents and teachers to be confident that mental health in schools has an absolutely robust evidence base.

"This world leading research which, we at the Anna Freud Centre are proud to be leading, will provide that and has the potential to transform mental health promotion in schools across England. We also need to better identify the mental health needs of the most vulnerable children in society, particularly children in the care system, and an improved mental health framework will greatly help," she concluded.

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