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Mental health: how to stop schools worrying about it

This piece is taken from a longer article first published in the SSAT Journal Autumn 2015

As an academy trust, you could set up your own borough-wide mental health service for young people and families, writes Rachel Nash of Maltby Academy…

Mental health is no longer seen as a problem falling exclusively to health services to understand and deal with; schools are increasingly expected to implement their own services. Mental well-being is in fact referenced in the 2015 Ofsted Framework among the descriptors for personal development, behaviour and welfare.

The former Coalition’s No health without mental health report (2011) cited evidence that half of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the time they are age 14, while 75% of those with lifetime mental health problems experience symptoms before their mid-20s.

And a 2004 ONS Survey reported that 1 in 10 children aged 5-16 had a clinically diagnosed mental disorder.

In addition to caring for their students, like all responsible employers schools have a duty of care for the well-being of their staff, particularly at a time when mental illness is being cited as the biggest cause of sickness absence in the UK.

The challenge for schools and academies is how to implement a service which is all-encompassing, given that their primary role is as educators, not mental health professionals, and they have limited funding for this.

MAT set up a borough-wide mental health service

The Maltby Learning Trust (MLT) is a multi-academy trust of five local schools (one secondary and four primary) in an area of Rotherham with some districts among the most 5-10% deprived nationally.

It has a long tradition of working proactively with the wider school community, so given shrinking public resources nationally, the trust created an in-house service, Rotherham Multi-Agency Support Team (MAST), to take a borough-wide approach to whole-school mental health interventions.

Since its inception in March 2014, the team has acted as an agent for over 20 primary and secondary schools across Rotherham, and with the local authority, to recruit multi-disciplinary mental health practitioners and to support the mental health needs of school communities.

While these practitioners spend most of their time working on an outreach basis in schools and family homes, they all meet once a week to share learning and good practice and to receive necessary peer support; also supervision on a monthly basis.

Practitioners spend most of their time working on an outreach basis in schools and family homes, but they all meet once a week to share learning and good practice

Rotherham MAST is also considering how it can network other practitioners in schools who are working in isolation, to benefit from this shared learning.

The service’s strategic leader has a background in counselling, multi-agency/cross-sector collaborations and service development, and management. The leader works as part of the extended senior leadership team and is managed by MLT’s chief executive.

This gives schools the confidence to develop a package of support appropriate for their school community, with a leader who can supervise mental health practitioners across a range of roles and who will liaise with borough-wide initiatives.

With a history of working closely with schools, the leader can facilitate links between pastoral staff in schools and Rotherham MAST practitioners at Tier 2 (CAMHS Strategic Framework) or Wave 3 (SEND) level. This is a vital factor: as Luxmoore (2014) states, ‘the counsellor will be one of many people offering support – never the only person.’

Rotherham MAST will potentially play a key role in creating better pathways between different levels of support to ensure that children and young people get the right level of support at the right time.

Evaluation and funding processes

While Rotherham MAST remains a not-for-profit arm of MLT, and absorbs some full-cost recovery expenditure, it is aware that the packages of support schools are purchasing are predominantly funded through pupil premium.

Rotherham MAST therefore collects a raft of outcome measures, utilising both evidence-based and bespoke evaluation systems, and produces regular reports for its stakeholders to demonstrate impact.

Services developed/ offered by Rotherham MAST include:

  • Students: counselling, group work, PSHE material and peer mentoring
  • Staff: counselling, training including SLT, governors and supervision
  • Families: home-based individual support, parenting groups and workshops.

SSAT member? The SSAT Journal Autumn 2015 is available to download from the members area here.

Not a member? Download an excerpt of the Journal here.

Get involved in the #mentalhealth discussion on Twitter



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