Schools are failing to adequately provide for students’ emotional health and wellbeing. A lot of this is down to ignorance, the findings of a new report from Ofsted reveal – only half of all schools were even aware of Government guidelines on how to meet the needs of the one in 10 pupils who have mental health difficulties
The National Healthy Schools Standard (NHSS) was introduced six years ago to provide schools with practical ways to create a safe and productive learning environment and minimise potential health risks (for more details, see: the wiredforhealth website). One of the eight key areas the standard addresses is emotional health and wellbeing (including bullying). In the report Healthy minds: promoting emotional health and well-being in schools, inspectors expressed grave concern at how few schools were taking action to work towards achieving this standard.
Based on visits to 72 schools, the inspectors found good practice in just one in three. These schools tended to exhibit: • an ethos that values and respects individual students • zero tolerance of bullying and swift resolution of problems
• involvement of parents in identifying problems.
The pupils identified a lack of friendships and bullying as key reasons for emotional difficulties in school. Having in place effective whole-school systems for eradicating bullying was seen to have a hugely positive effect on pupil wellbeing, reducing the risks of students developing mental health problems.
In schools with good arrangements for tackling bullying, students felt able to discuss any incidents in the knowledge that matters would be discussed sensitively and resolved speedily.
Those schools that were most effective at promoting emotional health were the ones that valued and respected every individual. They promoted many and varied opportunities for pupils to share their thoughts and feelings and used the curriculum to develop pupils’ listening skills and an understanding of other people’s points of view.
The report sets out examples of good practice in providing for the needs of students with mental health problems –.
Pupils identified as having emotional problems were often those with poor attendance who did not actively take part in school life. While they tended to have few friends, they presented few challenges to the teacher so often as a result their problems were not followed up. Few schools saw non-attendance, lateness or falling behind in course work and homework as indicative of deeper problems, says the report.
The inspectors also criticise schools for relying too heavily on informal methods for identifying vulnerable students. Only a few used information from the pupils’ previous schools to help recognise those with mental health difficulties.
Impact of behaviour
In more than half of schools, the behaviour policy caused stress and tensions for the students. For example, strategies such as using exclusion as a solution to difficult behaviour or failing to provide a suitable curriculum for pupils in alternative provision made students feel undervalued and contributed to their low self-esteem, which in turn had a negative effect on their behaviour and attendance, creating a vicious circle.
One major barrier to providing for students’ emotional wellbeing was the low level of awareness among staff of its importance. Training is one way to combat this. But the inspectors found that three out of four schools were failing to give staff the necessary training on how to deal with students with mental health difficulties. Most of the training that is available tended to focus on managing behaviour rather than promoting positive relationships and resolving conflict, said the inspectors.
Working with agencies
Working well with professionals from health and social services was seen as being key to providing the best help for students with mental health difficulties. But the inspectors found that partnerships with external services were unsatisfactory in nearly one-quarter of schools and significant improvements were required in two-thirds.
Effective strategies for promoting good joint working included: i) regular meetings attended by all agencies where pupils’ needs are discussed and plans agreed and recorded ii) identifying one person at school to be responsible for coordinating and liaising with health and social services to help ensure that important information about pupils was disseminated effectively
iii) meeting regularly with a network of relevant professionals to share effective strategies.
Action curriculum managers can take to improve provision for these students at whole-school level.
Download the report Healthy minds: promoting emotional health and well-being in schools via: www.ofsted.gov.uk