The Greater Manchester mentally healthy schools pilot was launched this week to promote better mental health and wellbeing among students, and improved skills in identifying signs and symptoms of mental illness among school staff. Through a collaboration between the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, the Alliance for Learning Teaching School (part of Bright Futures Educational Trust), the Youth Sport Trust, 42nd Street and Place2Be, a six-month pilot will run involving 30 local schools as part of an ongoing four-year action plan to transform mental health approaches in the region.

Lisa Fathers, Director of the Alliance for Learning and National Trainer with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, who is leading the drive into the pilot schools, said, "The schools – both primary and secondary – who are involved are so excited about the positive impact this will have on their students. This collaboration between the partners involved and the schools is really exciting and will no doubt pave the way for further innovative approaches.”

The project embraces a whole system approach combining high quality CPD for leadership teams in schools, MHFA training for staff and students and using physical activity, life skills and athlete mentors to support year 6 and year 11 students, with follow-up targeted student groups and Young Health Ambassadors given the opportunity to shape future provision in their schools.

Working alongside Lisa is Dr. Sandeep Ranote, the consultant child & adolescent psychiatrist and children’s mental health lead for Greater Manchester. Commenting on the initiative, Dr. Ranote said, “Prevention is really important — building that resilience. However, it’s also very important to recognise mental illness is a real illness and some young people will need to access the right care and support and so we have within that pilot a specialist team that will actually be directly providing support and advice to our schools to rapidly access the right services.”

The aim of the scheme is to demonstrate how greater collaboration between the voluntary community and social enterprise sectors, and mental health education in schools, can increase the awareness and confidence of staff, whilst also equipping students with better tools to understand and manage their physical and emotional wellbeing. Learnings from this phase of the programme will then inform roll-out across Greater Manchester, including colleges, as part of wider plans to invest in mental health.

Dr. Patrick Johnston, Director of Learning at Place2Be said, “We’re delighted to be a part of this exciting new collaboration. We know from our experience of working directly with schools over the last 23 years that they play a crucial role in supporting their pupils; creating a culture of openness, identifying problems early and providing support in a familiar environment. Providing high quality training for teachers and school leaders will help to give them the understanding and skills to deliver a ‘whole school approach’ to mental health, which will ultimately ensure that more children and young people can get the support they need.”

To find out more about Youth MHFA training please click here