The profile of mental health has been raised in the news of late and the DfE has published non-statutory advice “Mental health and behaviour in schools” in November 2018 that focuses on helping schools support pupils whose mental health needs manifest themselves in behaviour. It sets out a school’s roles and responsibilities in relation to mental health and how school staff may support children.
Whole school approach
All schools are under a statutory duty to promote the welfare of their pupils. There should be a consistent whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. This includes endeavouring to prevent mental health problems arising and not exacerbating existing problems by creating a safe and calm environment and equipping pupils to be resilient. It also covers identifying as early as possible when a pupil has a mental health problem. Schools should put internal support in place for pupils (such as counselling) and external support (working effectively with specialist agencies where appropriate).
Schools can teach pupils about mental health as part of curriculum subjects such as sex and relationship education. This is part of embedding the culture in the school and removing any stigma so that pupils feel comfortable talking about mental health concerns.
School staff should have clear systems in place for identifying mental health problems, including referral systems. Staff must first instigate an assessment to determine whether there are any underlying factors such as undiagnosed learning difficulties. Staff must then plan what action to take to support a pupil, implement this and conduct regular reviews to determine progress.
It is important for schools to be alert to how mental health problems can underpin behavioural issues in order to support pupils effectively. Tackling bullying will assist in providing a safe and welcoming environment for vulnerable pupils. Behaviour policies must include appropriate sanctions that reflect the fact that all pupils may not be treated the same if a pupil’s disability makes it harder for them to comply with the policy. When considering excluding a pupil, schools should consider any contributing factors such as mental health problems before reaching a decision to exclude.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
There are recognised risk factors for children developing mental health problems that mean it is more likely that pupils with SEND have mental health concerns.
Mental health problems may be an indicator that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering abuse, neglect or exploitation. It is essential that staff are aware of their responsibilities as set out in the statutory guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education 2018 (Part 1) and Working Together to Safeguard Children. If staff have a concern about a pupil’s mental health that is also a safeguarding matter, immediate action must be taken including contacting the designated safeguarding lead and making a referral in accordance with the school’s Safeguarding policy.
The advice contains a useful table of risk and protective factors that are believed to be associated with mental health outcomes. We would advise that key staff at the school read the advice as a whole and how it may apply to their school, incorporating it or reflecting it in their policies and procedures.