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The government’s 2017 Green Paper, ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision’, outlined new responsibilities for schools and colleges in relation to mental health. These have been warmly welcomed by the education and health sectors alike. A whole school or college approach to mental health and wellbeing requires a culture change across the wider school or college community, and this requires leadership. 

Why a whole-school or college approach

It’s well established that mental health and wellbeing influence children and young people’s cognitive development and learning, as well as their social and emotional health.  Children and young people struggling with mental health problems are unlikely to be able to learn effectively and are more likely to be absent from school or college. Staff working in schools and colleges are ideally placed to recognise and respond to early signs of mental health problems in children and young people. 

Whole-school or college approaches to mental health and wellbeing have become best practice. They can improve attendance and attainment, reduce bullying, and help identify difficulties sooner before problems escalate. NICE guidance puts a whole-school approach at the heart of social, emotional and mental wellbeing in schools.

Children and young people who are considered most at risk, (e.g., those with existing or emerging mental health difficulties, or additional needs) are most likely to benefit.  Providing additional training to school staff can be helpful, however,it is also crucial to have senior leadership buy-in - both of which are essential to a successful whole-school approach. In 2020, the Anna Freud Centre surveyed more than 6,000 teachers about the types of policies and practices their schools had in place. It found that most teachers said their school had policies in place which referenced mental health, but only 12% of primary schools and 16% of secondaries had a practical framework to support a whole-school approach to mental health. 


You might like to consider the following within your setting.

  • A practical framework to support a whole school/college approach to mental health 

  • Clear policies that support staff to respond to pupils’ mental health needs  

  • A range of policies e.g., safeguarding and behaviour which reference mental health 

  • Opportunities for all staff to learn new skills and knowledge about mental health

  • Are they accessible to all staff, do staff know about them, and how do you communicate


  • Which of these policies and practices would you prioritise? 

  • What other areas of work would you like to prioritise/add to the list above?


The school/college community

A whole-school or college approach means encouraging participation from parents and carers, pupils, staff, and governors, and identifying champions in these communities to create a mental health action group within your setting.  When preparing for change, you might want to consider the following.

  • How can I involve governors, pupils, parents/carers and other staff members in the process? 

  • How will I communicate the whole school/college approach to the wider school


  • How can I make this process transparent? 

  • Do we have a SMHL with established responsibilities for mental health and wellbeing across the whole school/college community?


Appointing a Senior Mental Health Lead

The government Green Paper recommends that all schools and colleges have a designated Senior Mental Health Lead (SMHL) by 2025. Senior mental health leads in schools and colleges are not expected to be mental health professionals; it is not the role of teachers and school leaders to diagnose or treat mental health conditions. However, with appropriate training, SMHLs can take the lead on implementing a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. The person taking on this role will often be a senior leader or other staff member who is able to influence strategic decision-making and drive forward and embed a whole-school approach. To be successful, they will need the support of the whole leadership team and other colleagues, drawing together a small team that includes the SENDCO and other staff with pastoral responsibilities. If you have not yet appointed a senior mental health lead, you could consider: 

  • inviting a member of SLT or other staff member to take on the designated lead role and to hold responsibility for mental health and wellbeing;

  • having a named member of staff who links to mental health and specialist service providers;

  • Find out about training and funding to cover the costs of training so that your designated lead has the professional development needed for their role. In each case, their responsibilities for mental health and wellbeing should be written into their job description.


  • Mental health lead resource hub

    A resource hub, created in partnership with and funded by the Department for Education, to help mental health leads to develop and sustain their whole-school or college approach to mental health.

  • Mentally Healthy Schools: ten tips for school leaders

    Our Mentally Healthy Schools team provide ten tips for school leaders who want to make mental health and wellbeing a whole-school priority.


Advice for mental health leads

Jaime Smith provides advice for mental health leads in schools or colleges.

Mental health and wellbeing in schools resources

Jaime Smith gives advice to anyone working in a school setting about resources they can draw on to support the mental health and wellbeing of the children and young people in their care.