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5 Steps: Working together

27th April 2021  |  By: Hannah Stolton, Governors for Schools


The 5 Steps framework, launched by the Anna Freud Centre, calls for change in how schools and colleges support the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils and staff. ‘Working together’ is one of the five steps. Hannah Stolton reflects on the key role which governors can have in contributing to change.

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Governors as a driver of mentally healthy schools

We’re pleased to see more attention being focused on the importance of wellbeing and mental health in schools. This is long overdue.

However, the burden of expectation to motivate and deliver change usually sits on school staff and parents alone, particularly on school leadership teams (SLT). Too often, a school’s board of governors is overlooked or ignored when it comes to changing a school’s ethos and culture regarding wellbeing. Doing so means a big opportunity is missed.

So, what part can governors play?

  1. A natural fit

A governor’s role is to support the school, to help set the strategic agenda, manage financial matters, and to hold school leadership to account by asking difficult questions and examining data and reports. To enable long-term, meaningful change in a school, it is therefore worth ensuring those responsible for setting the agenda are consistently putting wellbeing at the top of it.

  1. Incentivise change

Headteachers and other school leaders respond to incentives as much as anyone else. If a school board is failing to make wellbeing an issue for their SLT, it is completely understandable for the SLT to focus on other concerns. Similarly, if there is lack of funding, lack of informed challenge, and no real effort to ease other demands to free up capacity to address wellbeing, these all send a clear signal to SLT that wellbeing is not a genuine priority. And the inverse is true. If a school board clearly commits to improvement, is consistent in its support and expectation, and enables SLT to tackle the issue, it will ensure genuine, long term buy-in from staff.

  1. An investment, not a cost

Governors are responsible for setting a school’s budget, and funding is often a major concern when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. To ensure wellbeing is part of their school’s cultural architecture, a board should understand that a mentally healthy school is one which pupils want to attend and where staff want to work. It is one which understands the money spent providing training and support will be more than saved in decreased staff absence and turnover, and it knows that both attainment and behaviour improve when pupils’ wellbeing is looked after.

  1. A direct link

We believe that having a link governor for wellbeing is a critical step for school boards. Wellbeing governors can act as something of a subject matter expert, but can also ensure the mental health and wellbeing of staff and pupils is on the agenda at every meeting. They serve as a point of contact, and provide support on the board for staff wellbeing leads. They also ensure policies, training and provision are fit for purpose and impactful.

Just as a whole-school approach to mental health ensures that all aspects of school life - and all members of the school community - are taken into consideration, we believe it should also mean that a school’s resources are brought to bear in order to enable sustained, positive change. A board of governors that is informed and engaged will be a force multiplier, in not only ensuring a school is mentally healthy, but is resiliently so.

To find out more about how you can volunteer to become a school governor and make a difference in schools, visit the Governors for Schools website.

To find out more about the Wellbeing Governors campaign and to access resources on wellbeing in schools, please visit the campaign page.

On Thursday 29 April (4.30-6pm), Hannah Stolton will be speaking at a free online seminar hosted by the Anna Freud Centre. This seminar is the fifth of the series to focus on the 5 Steps framework.

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