The Evidence Based Practice Unit leads the national evaluation of HeadStart. Together with our partners, we evaluate and share learning from the HeadStart programme. 

What is HeadStart?

Started in 2016, HeadStart was a six-year, £67.4 million National Lottery funded programme set up by The National Lottery Community Fund. It aimed to explore and test new ways to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 1016 and prevent serious mental health issues from developing. To do this, six local-authority-led HeadStart partnerships worked with local young people, schools, families, charities, community and public services to design and try out new interventions aiming to promote young people’s mental health, wellbeing and resilience. The six HeadStart partnerships were based in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton.  

As a test and learn programme HeadStart ended in July 2022, with many of the approaches having been sustained and embedded locally. We will complete the national evaluation of HeadStart by mid-2023.

The HeadStart Learning Team

The Evidence Based Practice Unit has been working with The National Lottery Community Fund and the HeadStart partnerships to collect and evaluate evidence about what does and does not work locally to benefit young people, now and in the future. Partners working with the Evidence Based Practice Unit on this evaluation included the University of Manchester and the Child Outcomes Research Consortium. This collaboration was called the HeadStart Learning Team. Previous partners in the HeadStart Learning Team include the London School of Economics (LSE) and Common Room.  

The HeadStart Learning Team used a mixture of questionnaire and interview methods. Young people completed questionnaires every year to help track changes in their feelings and behaviour over time. Professionals provided information regularly about the support that was offered as part of HeadStart. Professionals and young people took part in annual interviews to explore challenges and opportunities around delivery and to explore what young people found helpful. 

Together with colleagues from The National Lottery Community Fund, the HeadStart Learning Team developed the Wellbeing Measurement Framework (WMF), a suite of measurement booklets for primary school, secondary school and college students. Each WMF is a comprehensive and practical package of validated measures that are designed to assess a range of mental health indices, including positive wellbeing, behavioural or emotional difficulties and the presence and strength of protective factors. 

Chief investigator: Professor Jess Deighton

HeadStart national evaluation final report

Full report – Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people: the role of HeadStart

Executive summary – Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people: the role of HeadStart 

Appendix 1  evaluation approach

Appendix 2  interview schedules and topic guides

Appendix 3  additional impact analysis not published elsewhere

Appendix 4  HeadStart publications and engagement activity

Appendix 5  information about partnership approaches

HeadStart evidence briefings

In HeadStart evidence briefings, we share our research findings from the HeadStart programme. These briefings draw on qualitative, quantitative and summative data collected during the six-year programme. The research examines a wide range of topics related to children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing and explores perceptions about and impact of HeadStart delivery.

HeadStart evidence briefing 1. Mental health problems in young people, aged 11 to 14: results from the first HeadStart annual survey of 30,000 children

HeadStart evidence briefing 2. HeadStart year 1: national qualitative evaluation findings - young people's perspectives

HeadStart evidence briefing 3. Learning from HeadStart: the relationship between mental health and school attainment, attendance and exclusions in young people aged 11 to 14

HeadStart evidence briefing 4. Learning from HeadStart: does social action help young people with emerging mental health issues?

HeadStart evidence briefing 5. Whole school approaches to promoting mental health: what does the evidence say?

HeadStart evidence briefing 6. Shining a light on risk and protective factors: young people’s experiences

HeadStart evidence briefing 7. Learning from HeadStart: the mental health and wellbeing of adolescent boys and girls

HeadStart evidence briefing 8. Learning from HeadStart: Does cross-age peer mentoring help young people with emerging mental health difficulties?

HeadStart evidence briefing 9. HeadStart in schools: What do school staff members think?

HeadStart evidence briefing 10. Delivery of the HeadStart programme during the coronavirus pandemic: HeadStart staff perspectives

HeadStart evidence briefing 11. Learning from HeadStart: does a brief, school-based intervention aimed at building resilience help children with emerging mental health difficulties?

HeadStart evidence briefing 12. Learning from HeadStart: changes in perceived social support during early adolescence

HeadStart evidence briefing 13. Young people’s experiences of HeadStart: 2017–2021

HeadStart evidence briefing 14. Youth participation: models used to understand young people’s participation in school and community programmes

Evidence briefing 15. Supporting young people’s and families’ mental health and wellbeing: examples and perspectives from parents and carers in HeadStart

Evidence briefing 16. Changes in local areas as a result of the HeadStart programme: stakeholder perspectives

HeadStart case studies

Our HeadStart case studies share some of our practice-based learning from the programme. Some case studies take a close look at learning from a particular HeadStart area, while others zoom out to think about how multiple HeadStart areas addressed the same challenge – from engaging children and young people in research and evaluation to making best use of mental health and wellbeing data.

Case study 1. Using surveys to measure wellbeing in schools: how to get a good response rate

Case study 2. Reporting on young people's progress on intervention: developing an intervention outcome report

Case study 3. Using data to inform system and cultural change: informing system and cultural change in emotional and mental health using the Wellbeing Measurement Framework survey results

Case study 4. Engaging children and young people meaningfully in evaluation and research: learning from HeadStart

Case study 5. Making best use of pupil mental health and wellbeing data

Case study 6. Evaluating a multi-disciplinary children’s referral service: HeadStart Kernow’s Bloom model

Case study 7. Youth participation in HeadStart: review of youth participation activity across a diverse, multi-service youth mental health and wellbeing programme

HeadStart heads up briefings

HeadStart heads up is a briefing based on learning from the evaluation of HeadStart, large-scale study of children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. It aims to highlight policy implications emerging from this pioneering evaluation at the forefront of child mental health research.

HeadStart heads up briefing 1. What are HeadStart interventions focusing on to improve mental health in 10 to 16-year-olds?

HeadStart heads up briefing 2. What are local HeadStart partnerships doing to support the mental health of children and young people aged 10 to 16?

HeadStart heads up briefing 3. How are systems change and sustainability being approached in HeadStart?

HeadStart heads up briefing 4. Young people's perspectives on social support and coping strategies (a COVID-19-relevant briefing)

HeadStart heads up briefing 5. Gender differences, improving support and talking about mental health: learning from the 2020 HeadStart conference

HeadStart heads up briefing 6. Targeted interventions in HeadStart: how do HeadStart partnerships support the mental health of young people, and do they reach those in need?

HeadStart heads up briefing 7. Mental health problems and subjective wellbeing: are they influenced by the same things?

HeadStart heads up briefing 8. What has gender got to do with
young people’s mental health?

What young people and staff members told us

What young people in HeadStart told us about: handling problems and difficult situations (based on evidence briefing 2)

We wanted to find out how young people handle problems and difficult situations in their lives. We spoke to 63 young people who had either received support from HeadStart or could receive it in the future. This booklet explains what the young people told us.

What young people in HeadStart told us about: having difficulties and getting support (based on evidence briefing 6)

We wanted to find out whether young people’s experiences of difficulties in their lives, and the support they received to cope with these
difficulties, had changed during the first two years of HeadStart. We spoke to 78 young people at two separate times. This booklet explains what the young people told us.

Staff perspectives on HeadStart delivery

This document summarises learning from the first year of the HeadStart programme, drawing on research interviews conducted with staff members at each HeadStart partnership as part of the qualitative evaluation of HeadStart led by the HeadStart Learning Team.

Young people’s experiences during the coronavirus pandemic: views of young HeadStart volunteers

During summer 2020, young people who volunteered for HeadStart shared their experiences of the coronavirus pandemic. In this poster we summarise what they shared.

Publications by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

At a glance: impact of HeadStart on secondary pupil absence, exclusion and attainment

We aimed to investigate if HeadStart was effective in ameliorating school outcomes such as absence, exclusion and attainment. We also aimed to explore if synthetic control method was an appropriate methodology to investigate the effectiveness of area level interventions.

Conducting economic evaluations of mental health and wellbeing early intervention and prevention programmes: learning and insights from a real-world implementation context

This study aims to explore the process of collecting and using cost data from programme implementers’ perspectives, in the context of delivering a prevention and early intervention programme in a real-world setting.

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