Pangbourne College Assistant Head, Pupil Mental Health and Wellbeing Caroline Bond outlines the key markers of a school that prioritises children’s mental health and wellbeing

According to the Mental Health Foundation, depression affects more children today than it ever has. So, how can you be sure that your child’s school is doing all it can to look after young people’s mental health and wellbeing? Here are some of the key indicators to look out for.

Is there a ‘traffic light’ system to show up pupils struggling with mental health? This system helps pastoral staff to share information on those children who may need extra support. Background information on the child is confidentially shared with staff to ensure that everyone is aware of a particular pupil’s situation. Staff then know which behaviours to look out for and appropriate actions to take.

Does the school use tools to flag pupils who are at risk? One example of this is AS Tracking, a social-emotional assessment tool which flags pupils and enables the school to put a plan in place to address the issues facing them. This is an excellent tool for uncovering issues which children may be hiding from those around them.

Is there an onsite counselling service? Most schools provide access to counselling services, but an onsite counselling service makes it so much easier for children to get counselling as and when they need it and in a supportive and familiar environment.

What about a peer mentoring programme?  Some schools give their Sixth Form students the opportunity to peer mentor the younger pupils, who often feel more comfortable talking through their problems with someone closer to their age. These programmes help to create an ethos of care and kindness in the school.

Can parents get support too? Quite often, parents struggle as much as their child to understand what is happening, let alone how to support them through their difficulties. Tools such as the Wellbeing Hub from TeenTips provide excellent, practical advice on how to support a child, also giving parents useful information to help them understand more about wellbeing and mental health issues.

“A school needs a culture of care – a setting which is values-led, with an ethos that encourages kindness and respect”

Is there an equal focus on physical health and exercise? According to a joint report from the Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust, frequency of exercise is a key factor affecting young people’s mental and emotional health. This shows that a school that encourages sport and other physical activities on a frequent and regular basis, is more likely to be able to help your child to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.

Does your child’s school help them build resilience? Prevention is always better than cure, so your child’s school should do as much as possible to help them develop positive strategies to take care of themselves and cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs. Activities which foster a strong sense of resilience – in other words, the ability to face, overcome and ultimately be strengthened by challenges – include Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award and the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) Programme.

Is there a culture of care? Finally, and most importantly, a school needs a culture of care. This is a setting which is values-led, with an ethos that encourages kindness and respect, where positive mental health and wellbeing is accepted as an important aspect of school life, and where everyone is encouraged to take part in activities promoting wellbeing. This is most likely to be an environment where a child can flourish.

If a school employs all of the above initiatives, it is clearly a place which also values and supports your child’s mental health and wellbeing.

Pangbourne College

Further reading: Cranleigh School on the importance of CCF adventures