Started offering training
Staff trained so far
E-ACT multi-academy trust plans to train all 2,300 staff members as Youth Mental Health First Aiders alongside the roll-out of a new pupil-led mental health curriculum. With 15,400 pupils attending the 25 E-ACT primary and secondary academies across England, their joined-up approach to pupil support is vital.
E-ACT’s internal survey results reflect the growing crisis in young people’s mental health across the country. Almost a third of pupils – over 5,000 young people – said they feel stressed either most or all the time, while hundreds reported signs of common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Director of Education Jane Millward recognised that they needed to be proactive to support their pupils’ learning and wellbeing. Many of the young people who attend E-ACT academies come from disadvantaged areas, and the wide geographical spread of E-ACT academies means that pupils face a diverse range of social pressures and concerns. In addition, those who have been excluded from school are at increased risk of mental health issues.
Ali Quinn, E-ACT’s mental health lead, decided on an innovative approach to address the situation. Drawing from her background as a Social, Emotional and Mental Health specialist teacher, Ali recommended the Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course to train staff to recognise signs of mental health issues and offer support on a first aid basis.
“If a young person opens up to you and perceives a negative reaction, they may never open up to anyone again. And that’s tragic,” says Ali. “By introducing this training, we wanted to give every member of staff the skills to respond calmly and compassionately, to guide them towards the appropriate support to help them recover and thrive.”
Senior leadership at E-ACT were on board straight away with the training initiative. CEO David Moran says: “We know that one in 10 children have been clinically diagnosed with a mental health disorder in the UK – that is around three children in every class. This brings into focus even more our collective responsibility to help pupils maintain and manage their mental health - good mental health is vital if pupils are to be able to learn and thrive.”
Ali and nine of her colleagues qualified as Youth MHFA instructors so that they could deliver the courses to staff at academies across the country. So far, they have trained almost 300 staff as Youth Mental Health First Aiders, with plans to reach 500 by the end of the academic year.
Although the training initially prioritised staff who routinely have one-to-one contact with pupils, such as pastoral managers and heads of year, the courses are also open to all teachers, teaching assistants and support staff. With mental health being approached so holistically within the trust, it comes as no surprise that every Youth MHFA course that Ali and her fellow instructors run is oversubscribed.
Ali says: “It’s supported by all our academies and time for the course is blocked out in advance of the term. Dedicating the two days for the course saves school staff time in the long run as we are giving them skills and confidence to deal effectively with issues that they already face every day.”
“I feel more confident in my role as a teaching assistant to support our children’s wellbeing.”
Ali describes the feedback as “phenomenal”, with 100% of E-ACT staff rating the MHFA course as “good” or “very good”, and 100% reporting an improvement in their confidence and knowledge around mental health. “People tell me it has been lifechanging. A delegate from one of my courses came to me a while afterwards and said that it had opened their eyes to signs that one of the young people they work with was experiencing psychosis. Before they had interpreted it simply as odd behaviour and weren’t sure what to do, if anything. But after the training they were able to intervene and they have signposted the young person to external agencies for further support.”
As well as knowing how to respond to a mental health crisis and addressing problems such as bullying, the MHFA courses equip staff with the skills to encourage positive mental health in the long term. One delegate said: “I feel more confident in my role as a teaching assistant to support our children’s wellbeing.”
While E-ACT is on track to exceed its target of 500 Youth Mental Health First Aiders by the end of the year, it is set to launch a new strand of its mental health strategy, this time focusing on staff wellbeing. Ali and her instructor colleagues have recently qualified to deliver Adult MHFA courses too and will soon be training school staff, regional teams and head office employees, so that they can look after their colleagues as well as pupils.
Meanwhile, the trust is developing a tailored mental health curriculum for each academy. With pupil workshops running across various local areas, young people were supported to develop their own action plans, with activities ranging from assemblies to share their learning with peers, to creating information posters to put up around the academy, to organising fetes for parents on topics such as wellbeing and resilience.
Ali is running an evaluation of the impact of Youth MHFA training on the pupils themselves, with results due later in 2018. Summing up E-ACT’s pioneering approach to the strategy and new curriculum, Ali says “We can’t make assumptions – we must listen.”