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Teachers need mental health training to best support their students

A new survey has found that more than 40% of teachers say they don’t feel confident helping students with their mental health. Just 36% of classroom teachers say they have received training in supporting students’ mental health over the past 12 months, despite the pandemic and the impact this has had on many children and young people’s mental health.

Mental health difficulties are increasingly common – with 1 in 6 children in England having a probable mental health disorder in 2021. The survey findings reflected this, indicating that 82% of secondary school teachers say they have seen increasing levels of anxiety or depressive symptoms among pupils, which includes low mood and loss of interest in activities they had previously enjoyed.

Today, the Anna Freud Centre and Early Intervention Foundation have released a free resource, ‘Classroom wellbeing toolkit: Simple ways to support secondary students’. It is evidence based and contains practical strategies that can be implemented by classroom teachers in secondary schools across the country. This new resource will help build teachers' confidence to address the needs of their students, covering five strategy areas on:

  • Building supportive relationships;
  • Creating a classroom environment where all students feel they belong;
  • Promoting good mental health;
  • Responding to stress, low mood and anxiety;
  • Preventing bullying, cyberbullying and sexual harassment.

Both the Anna Freud Centre and Early Intervention Foundation are calling for this new resource to be included within the curriculum for all initial teacher training and as part of ongoing staff development. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the Department for Education have both recently issued guidance on the value of schools taking a whole school approach to addressing the mental health and wellbeing needs of their students.

Jaime Smith, Director of the Anna Freud Centre’s Schools’ Division, says: “Embedding a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing across the whole school community, including having a trained Senior Mental Health Lead, will support students to thrive. It will also improve attendance and attainment, giving students the best chance to fulfil their potential. It’s essential that all school staff, no matter their role or stage of their career, have the appropriate training to be able to support their students.

“Teachers repeatedly tell us they want practical suggestions on how to make a difference. This toolkit is not asking teachers to be mental health professionals, or to add to already overstretched workloads, but instead focuses on simple strategies that can be employed by all classroom teachers as part of their everyday practice and which aim to enhance the quality of the classroom environment and staff–student relationships.”

Steph Waddell, Assistant Director, Impact and Knowledge Mobilisation, Early Intervention Foundation says: “Schools are in a unique position to be able to support young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Teachers see this as a priority, but need advice about how best to support their pupils. They want to know how they can encourage positive mental health on a day to day basis, how they can help pupils build friendships and develop resilience and they also want practical strategies to help young people manage stress and anxiety. The strategies in this toolkit can be used by teachers within everyday teaching and learning. As such, they form a fundamental aspect of a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.”

Rahi Popat, Pastoral Support Officer at Keyham Lodge School in Leicester, says: “We have seen a huge rise in our children and young people experiencing a variety of different mental health difficulties over the last few years. We have seen students with increased anxiety, low mood and self-harm. Therefore, I was incredibly proud to be involved in helping create this resource as it enables all teachers from any background to utilise the resource according to their school needs. The resource allows for professionals to pick which areas works best for their students and tailor it to what is happening in their school community. It helps fuel connection and helps build stronger and positive relationships with students. We want all teachers to feel empowered, enriched and excited at the prospect of using such a valuable piece of work in their setting.”

Written by education experts with guidance from practising teachers and young people, this toolkit draws on the evidence base of what works. Topics covered include 'How to help your students talk about their feelings' and 'How to prevent sexual harassment in your classroom'.

The new resource, ‘Classroom wellbeing toolkit: Simple ways to support secondary students' is available to download for free.