Started offering training
Staff trained so far
Bradfield College is an independent co-educational school in Berkshire. Most of the 770 pupils aged 13 to 18 board under the care of a Housemaster or Housemistress, although there are a number of day pupils.
Initially, Bradfield College trained 32 members of staff in Youth MHFA. The College was so delighted with the results, it has embedded the training for all staff and has since put almost all of its full-time teachers, as well as large numbers of its support staff, through the two-day course. Deputy Head, Kevin Collins, is a qualified Youth MHFA instructor, and delivers the course to Bradfield staff.
Kevin Collins realised that over the last 10 years it had become more commonplace to encounter children with emotional issues. Often it was to do with eating and food, or relationships with their peers or parents. Anxiety about their studies was being felt much more keenly. “It would seem that there has never been a more difficult time to be young,” explains Kevin.
“Expectations of young people today are ever increasing, bringing with them competition and anxiety. Also, the ubiquitous nature of social media means children can never switch off and escape the scrutiny of their peers. Add to this relationships, drugs, alcohol and fluctuating selfesteem – everything that comes with adolescence – then perhaps it’s not surprising that their mental health isn’t in great shape.”
Bradfield College recognised that its teachers may not be adequately equipped to best manage the issues they encounter. It decided the stakes were too high and acted.
“After attending a Youth MHFA course, teachers are much better at spotting early warning signs, like a change in mood of a child, which might otherwise have gone unnoticed, and intervening," says Kevin. “Acting quickly and effectively, just as with physical health, can make the difference between a good recovery and prolonged mental illness.”
“After attending a Youth MHFA course, teachers are much better at spotting early warning signs, like a change in mood of a child, which might otherwise have gone unnoticed, and intervening.”
He adds: “It’s also taken away teachers’ fear of mental illness. If they think a child might have self-harmed, they won’t succumb to the urge to run away. Now, if a pupil knocks on any of our teachers’ doors wanting to talk, they will always make the time to listen to them. You just can’t know what is going on in their heads. It could be a life-saving conversation.”
Kevin describes the unexpected changes brought about at the school by MHFA as a “cultural transformation”, creating a much more “cohesive and collaborative” school, with pupils being disciplined less often.
“There has been a real shift in the atmosphere,” he enthuses. “It’s changed the whole teacher-student relationship. If there are problems, teachers are more likely to work through them with pupils and support them, rather than punish them. Conflicts between teachers and pupils happen far less.”
“There has been a real shift in the atmosphere. It’s changed the whole teacher-student relationship. Conflicts between teachers and pupils happen far less.”
The school was recently awarded a rating of ‘outstanding’ in all aspects of its pastoral care during an inspection. The experience has made Kevin evangelical about the benefits of the training.
“I think every teacher in every school in the country should be trained in Mental Health First Aid,” he says. “Every three years our teachers get training in physical first aid – and a good thing, too. Accidents happen, children become ill, but why on earth do we disregard their mental health?”
What’s the next step for Bradfield? Training their sixth-form students, so they can look out for younger pupils more and look after themselves better. As they embark upon adult life, going to university, what could better prepare them for the pressures and challenges ahead?
And for other schools and wider society? Kevin thinks the problems of mental ill health are definitely not going away.
“This isn’t a flash in the plan,” he says. “I think addressing mental health will in the future be expected of all organisations. Employers will increasingly put more resource into looking after their employees’ mental wellbeing, reaping the economic rewards of more productivity.
“I believe schools, too, will look very different from how they do today for this same reason. It’s easy for any teacher to get lost in obsessing about academic results, for schools to become exam factories. But this misses the point. What, after all, can be more important than our children being happy?”