“Mental health has been brought into our consciousness and is enabling us to take a truly holistic approach to each child’s development.”
 

Started offering training
September 2015

Staff trained so far
83


Located in a quiet, leafy corner of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is St Philip’s School - a special educational needs school for young people aged 9-19 years. St Philip’s is designated as a school for children with moderate learning difficulties and currently has 144 pupils on its roll, each with Statements, or Education, Health and Care Plans. Many of the pupils have additional needs such as mild to moderate Autistic Spectrum Disorders, language impairment or emotional issues; a few have sensory or medical needs. What is also special about this school is its approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Along with a deep understanding of how to provide the best education for each and every student, St Philip’s also demonstrates an exemplary approach to protecting and supporting the mental wellbeing of all the young people who attend the school. It does this by implementing a number of preventative measures but also by intervening when a pupil is showing signs of emotional distress or symptoms of mental ill health.

As part of its whole school approach, St Philip’s has chosen to train all its staff in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
 

Why we train our staff in Youth MHFA

Ben Walsh, Headteacher at St Philip’s, explains: “Supporting the emotional wellbeing of our young people is a whole school priority and is firmly embedded throughout the school’s overall safeguarding agenda.

“Mental Health First Aid training is inclusive, in that it enables those who do not have a grounding in mental health to understand and feel empowered to act when they are concerned about the mental health needs of our students.”

“Mental Health First Aid training is inclusive, in that it enables those who do not have a grounding in mental health to understand and feel empowered to act when they are concerned about the mental health needs of our students.”

Staff, including the caretaker at St Philip’s School, have been trained by their local Health Link worker, a role funded by the local Public Health Authority. Debbie Battle, the school’s Safeguarding and Prevention Officer considers the training an important part of every staff member’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and says: “We know that emotions are the drivers of cognition and in some cases learning difficulties are the cause of mental health issues whereas in others it can be the reverse. It is really important for all our staff to be very aware of the signs and symptoms of a mental health issue so that an appropriate support plan can be put in place for each child’s emotional and educational needs.”
 

Feedback

Despite many of the teachers at St Philip’s having a wealth of expertise and knowledge around educational psychology and the relationship between mental health and learning, the school’s Senior Leadership Team is resolute in its opinion that Youth MHFA training has made a big impact.

A person at the heart of this subject area is Andy Hill, Deputy Head and PSHE teacher at St Philip’s. He explains how the training has helped in his role:

“MHFA training enabled me to develop my own understanding of mental health difficulties and illness. As a result I have been able to deliver a more relevant and meaningful PSHE curriculum on this most important subject. Students now speak far more openly about their own difficulties. They are able to seek extra support when they feel they need it which makes for a happier and healthier school.”

General feedback about the Youth MHFA training amongst staff has also been extremely positive and Debbie refers to a ‘cultural shift’ having taken place within the school around how to talk about mental health. She says:

“The overall benefit of staff attending the Youth MHFA course is that mental health has been brought into our consciousness and is enabling us to take a truly holistic approach to each child’s development. The language we are now using to talk about mental health is more appropriate and descriptive which in itself encourages conversations on the topic. We are also starting to identify potential mental health issues through our student’s written work which is a very powerful tool when it comes to early intervention and addressing a potential problem before it escalates.”
 

A pupil at St Philip's school with the therapy dog, Shadow.
A pupil with the St Philip's therapy dog, Shadow
 

What the future holds

It is clear that St Philip’s is fully committed to the emotional and mental wellbeing of all its students and this will remain a core focus for the school for the foreseeable future. It is the school’s policy that as and when new staff join they will be asked to attend a Youth MHFA training course to develop their skills and awareness around children’s mental health.

From a wider perspective Debbie would like to see mental health become a core part of the teaching curriculum and for it to be considered a key element of the safeguarding work that all schools must undertake to protect their students. She concludes by saying:

“Progress from my point of view will be when staff and students in all schools can talk freely about mental health without feeling any stigma. Ultimately I wish for an education system where mental health is prioritised because we know it will have a profound impact on a child’s transition into adult life.”

One year 9 student sums up his feelings about his own mental health difficulties through a wonderful piece of poetry:

“Depression is like water that makes you drown in despair and misery.
Keep seeing into the dark which is impossible to shatter and impossible to come through unscathed.
This was the old me that I had to shed the skin of. 
It wasn’t easy but I finally feel lifted and no longer heavy and chained to my own despair.”