A holistic approach to education is helping schools to nurture children’s mental health and focus on creating happy childhoods…

From wellbeing lessons, to onsite counselling, schools are really stepping up their game when it comes to mental health. Pastoral care has become about so much more than simply safeguarding children. Looking after children’s mental wellbeing now goes hand-in-hand with promoting physical health and academic achievement. 

Good mental health allows children to learn effectively, build resilience, and cope with everyday challenges. Promoting mental wellbeing at school is a meaningful way to help children develop a sense of self and an understanding of others in the wider world. It also lays the foundations for positive mental health in adulthood.

Forest School in London, E17, is one school that has become known for their outstanding practice in pastoral care. The School was awarded Gold in the School Mental Health Award delivered by the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools in 2021. Here’s how schools, like Forest, are taking a 360° approach to pupil’s mental wellbeing.

Pupils at Forest School, E17, are placed into Houses that operate like a second family

Building an effective support system

Schools that are really succeeding at pastoral care and nurturing children’s mental health recognise that it is everyone’s responsibility. Building a community where pupils feel supported not only by teachers, but also their peers is the key to a positive school culture. Being active and engaged in a community helps to promote wellbeing, creating a sense of belonging. Pupils who feel connected to their peers and their teachers are more likely to be engaged learners, who thrive academically.

At Forest School, the House system operates like a second family for children. Pupils are placed into one of the 14 Houses, made up of approximately 85 pupils. The Heads of House play a key role in the School’s pastoral support network. Competing in House activities, as well as taking advantage of the School’s huge co-curricular and extra curricular offerings, also provides an opportunity for pupils to collaborate with members of the school community from all year groups.

Pupils at Forest have a vast mental health support network. This includes Tutors as a first point of contact. Since 2016, the School has offered on-site counselling service in partnership with Place2Be along with self-referral provision via Place2Talk. The School also has wellbeing representatives amongst the student body to encourage pupils to support each other.

At Forest School, children have access to Wellbeing lessons

Teaching wellbeing strategies

Schools can promote positive mental health by teaching wellbeing strategies. This includes helping to empower students to ask for help when they need it, as well as accepting support from others. By building up children’s resilience and helping them to learn decision-making skills, you ensure that they will be able to overcome obstacles when they occur.

At Forest School, wellbeing is embedded across the whole curriculum, with a RSHE (Relationships, Sex and Health Education) curriculum that sits alongside it. 

The pastoral programme ranges from personal decision-making lessons as part of the Sixth Form Diploma, to pupil leadership, pupil welfare tracking, EDI, faith and belief, and wellbeing events tailored to staff and parents. Wellbeing lessons give children a safe, nurturing environment to consider issues that might affect them as they grow up and teach them skills they will need in adulthood.

Forest also has a Pastoral Strategy Team, incorporating RSHE and Personal Development. This digs deeper into what a pupil at Forest experiences in terms of skills and helps to shape the School’s holistic provision – supporting the development of the whole child.

Opening up the dialogue

Schools are much more successful in their pastoral care programmes when they have an open dialogue with parents and carers. By giving parents and carers ample opportunities to discuss any matters that might affect their child’s welfare and development, they are better equipped to support pupils. This open dialogue goes both ways, also helping parents to support children when they get home. Conversations are the key to wellbeing.

Forest School, for example, prides itself on fostering transparent, trusting, and positive relationships between the School, parents / carers, and the pupil. The School describes this relationship as being ‘triangular’ in nature.

New Y
Pupil feedback is crucial at Forest School

Equipping teachers with the tools to succeed

Making sure teachers have the tools, skills, and knowledge to uphold and champion a school’s ideals is key. Good staff wellbeing is also essential for cultivating a mentally healthy school. Giving teachers the right training and support will help them to promote pupil wellbeing and attainment.

At Forest School, staff training is a focal point of the wellbeing provision. The School has an extensive programme where every member of the teaching staff attends Mental Health First Aid Training delivered by MHFA England.

An ongoing process

A robust pastoral programme will recognise that it’s an ever-evolving process. Feedback from pupils is, of course, critical. Getting them involved will ensure that a school’s mental health provision continues to serve everyone well.

At Forest, teachers are aware of the need to constantly review what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, to support pupils effectively. The School is committed to putting their students at the centre of the decision making, which is ultimately what has set them up for success.

This is a sponsored post created in collaboration with Forest School, an independent day school located on the edge of Epping Forest for pupils aged 4-18.


Read more school news here.