On this page you can find information about:

  • Whole-school approaches
  • The role of the designated mental health lead


The government’s 2017 Green Paper, ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision’, outlined new responsibilities for schools and colleges around 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 school community and this requires leadership.

Why a whole-school or college approach

It’s well established that mental health and wellbeing influences 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 are unlikely to be able to learn effectively and more likely to be absent from school or college. Staff working in schools are ideally placed to recognise and respond to early signs of mental health difficulties in children and young people.

Whole-school approaches to mental health improve attendance and attainment and can help children and young people – and school staff – before problems escalate. Children from the toughest backgrounds are most likely to benefit.

In 2020, the Anna Freud Centre surveyed more than 6,000 teachers about the sorts of policies and practices their schools and colleges had in place. It found that most teachers said their school or college 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:

  • which of these policies and practices do you have in place?
  • are they accessible to all staff, do staff know about them, and how do you know?
  • which of these policies and practices would you prioritise?
  • what other areas of work would you prioritise?

The school community

A whole-school approach means encouraging participation from parents, pupils, staff and governors and identifying champions in these communities. 


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 approach to the school community?
  • How can I make this process transparent?
  • Do we have a designated lead for mental health with established responsibilities for mental health and wellbeing across the whole school community?

Appointing a designated lead for mental health

The government Green Paper recommends that all schools and colleges have a designated lead for mental health (DLMH) by 2025. Most now have one in place.

Designated mental health leads in schools and colleges are not expected to be mental health professionals; teachers and school leaders should not be involved in the diagnosis or treatment of mental health conditions.

It is not a requirement for the designated mental health lead to be a senior leader, but schools tell us that Mental Health Leads who are either on the senior leadership team (SLT) or have support from the SLT are likeliest to be able to implement whole-school change and improvements efficiently.

Their responsibilities should be written into their job description with responsibilities that include developing a whole-school or college approach to mental health and wellbeing.

If you have not yet appointed a designated lead, you could consider:

  • inviting a member of SLT to take on the designated lead role and to hold responsibility for mental health and wellbeing
  • having a named governor with responsibility for mental health and wellbeing
  • having a named member of staff who links to mental health and specialist service providers.

In each case, their responsibilities for mental health and wellbeing should be written into their job description.



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

Jaime Smith gives advice to all staff about supporting mental health and wellbeing.

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.

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