Started offering training
Staff trained so far
90 Youth Mental Health Aware Half Day
40 Youth MHFA Two Day
City of London School (CLS) is a selective independent boys’ day school situated on the banks of the River Thames. CLS was involved in the initial pilot of the newly designed Youth MHFA course. Andrew McBroom, Head of Sixth Form and Staff Development explains how he first heard about the training:
“It was at a Teachology inset conference that I first heard about the Youth MHFA course and I was so inspired by the speaker highlighting the importance of early intervention in mental health that I went back to school with a mission to find out more. I visited the MHFA website and decided that this was exactly the kind of training that our teachers would benefit from, so I contacted the organisation to explore the options. The feedback from staff was hugely positive, so we decided to invest in rolling the training out among a cohort of 25 staff.”
Aware of the fact that most independent schools pride themselves on their pastoral care offerings, Andrew explains:
“It’s very in-vogue for schools to talk about resilience and mental health and of course that’s a good thing but it shouldn’t just be something that looks good on the surface, but when you dig deeper is nothing more than rhetoric. I truly believe that at CLS we practice what we preach and one of our most valuable offerings is the gift of time. If a student knocks on the door and needs to talk, we as teachers prioritise that because in the most extreme case it could be a lifesaving decision and if nothing else we have taken the time to listen and hopefully offer some sound advice. Listening non-judgementally is one of the five steps of the process taught on the Youth MHFA course and I think it is one of the most valuable.”
Feedback from teachers who have attended the course at CLS has been extremely positive. Andrew says: “Never before has a training course elicited such glowing appraisals from our teachers, and I know for a fact that many of our trained Mental Health First Aiders are already putting their newfound skills into practice in their pastoral and teaching roles.
“There is total parity between the feedback that our teachers are giving the course through the evaluation form and the verbal feedback I am getting once the course has been delivered, all complimentary and very positive. It is the structured approach of the course and the supporting materials that we are left with that makes it so practical and a fantastic tool to have at our fingertips.
“It is the structured approach of the course and the supporting materials that makes it so practical and a fantastic tool to have at our fingertips.”
“A two day course doesn’t make you an expert on mental health but it certainly empowers people. Since completing the training, myself and other staff members have encountered conversations with students where the subject matter is serious and unnerving but the processes we have been taught to deal with such situations have been invaluable. We would have had those conversations regardless of having taken part in the training, but being Youth Mental Health First Aiders means we now have the knowledge and confidence to deal with the situation in a much better and effective way. Teachers are very good at giving advice but on the Youth MHFA course you are taught first and foremost to be a good listener and that is something I have really benefited from.”
The students at CLS are positive about their experiences in a school where 100% of the staff have MHFA training. Peter Kandunias, a student in the Sixth Form offers his view: “Teachers play such an important part in our lives, we spend so much time with them so there is definitely a need for some kind of training around mental health issues. As a student at CLS I feel there are so many options for me to talk to teachers if I have a problem and there seems to be a general ethos in the school that it’s OK to talk about these kinds of things.”
“As a student, what really stands out at our school is the feeling that there is always someone you can turn to, whether it’s your form tutor, a subject teacher or head of year. It’s very comforting to know that.”
Marcus Knight-Adams, also a Sixth Form student, agrees: “I think the expectation to achieve academically alongside all the other things that we have going on in our lives can sometimes lead people to feel overwhelmed and can result in more serious issues, but what really stands out at our school is the feeling that there is always someone you can turn to, whether it’s your form tutor, a subject teacher or head of year. It’s very comforting to know that.”
Going forward, CLS intends to keep its MHFA training up to date with refresher courses and there are also plans to involve parents to a greater degree in the school’s approach to pastoral care.
Concluding, Andrew says: “Adopting a whole school approach to mental health and rolling out the MHFA training to all our staff has created a culture where we can openly talk about the issues facing children and potentially ourselves. This leads to a mutually supportive environment where the issue of mental health is discussed, problems can be addressed and not ignored, with the risk of getting worse.”
Speaking in September 2018 Andrew detailed further actions taken by the school to strengthen the wellbeing agenda. "Our relationship with MHFA England has, alongside other influences, encouraged us to focus more consciously on this area of school life. Over 10 staff per year (on a rolling programme) now complete the Youth MHFA Two Day course; we have full-time counselling provision; specialist training has been provided to key pastoral staff (for example suicide awareness, self-harm, technology addiction and bereavement); the PSHE curriculum has revamped; we regularly have expert visiting speakers to address parents and staff are now offered ‘supervision’ opportunities to discuss the complex cases they encounter. Just this month we have appointed a full-time Pastoral and Wellbeing Advisor."
Andrew continues to be struck by the quality of the MHFA training and the impact it has.