Improving your pupils' mental health – two case studies

Written by: HTU | Published:

Supporting children’s emotional wellbeing in primary school is vital to ensuring pupils can grow into happy and healthy adults. Two winning schools from the Resilience and Results Awards explain how they prioritise their pupils’ mental health

King’s Hedges Educational Federation

Barbara Stoneman, deputy headteacher, King’s Hedges Educational Federation, Cambridge (Resilience and Results Winner 2013)

Kings Hedges works hard with its resources to demonstrate exceptional provision for students across all aspects of supporting wellbeing. The awards judging panel was quick to pick up on our careful and innovative use of external services and resources, considered measurement and evaluation of achievements, and strong evidence of placing pupils’ voices at the heart of our decision-making strategies.

We believe that early intervention is the key. Questionnaires on entry to early years are undertaken as part of a two-year FAB Project (family happiness and wellbeing) and this screening process identifies early signs of mental health problems. Home visits are valuable in gaining the parents’ perspective on the needs of the child and gives the staff an insight to the child’s home and family life. 

As a result of a successful Lottery bid, the school has set up So to Speak, a group of 20-plus pre-school pupils who are demonstrating delayed or limited-speech development. The project aims to minimise the impact of disadvantage by improving factors around expressive language, separation anxiety and language deficit. The school closely monitors the development of these children and is already seeing that many are exceeding the progress of their peers.

As pupils progress through the school, a rigorous PSHE map gives particular attention to wellbeing units including “keeping safe”, “anti-bullying” and “sex and relationships education”. Each unit is linked to weekly philosophy sessions which equip pupils with the vocabulary and skills to express their needs and feelings.

Pupils are encouraged to talk about their wellbeing. Issues are discussed by groups of pupils at the school council and pupils actively support healthy friendships and vulnerable pupils during playtime through the provision of “buddy stops” and Lunchtime Club.

All staff are given annual safeguarding training and are expected to look out for signs of distress and follow the school’s rigorous systems to bring effective and timely support. The school has set up systems such as Talk Time, a school-funded drop-in where children can talk to a trained adult and get advice and help about their worries.

If a child has deeper rooted problems or emotional issues  then the school can refer them to Blue Smile, a counselling/mentoring support service partly funded by the school and charity donations.

The Blue Smile team uses play and art therapy techniques to help the child explore difficult emotions, with information about their needs and progress being fed back to the parent or carer. Although initially some parents were nervous about accepting this support, many parents now approach the school when they have concerns about their child as they have heard about the great benefits of the service.

Where staff or parents and carers identify that they need support with family relationships, parenting or behaviour management, the school can refer to Red Hen, a charity-funded project that has benefited recently from a successful Lottery bid. It was a project initially set up at King’s Hedges and has been extended to provide support to pupils in five local schools.

Epsom Downs Primary School

Katharine Barnard, assistant business manager, Epsom Downs Primary School, Surrey (Resilience and Results Runner Up 2013).

Epsom Downs is a primary school with an integrated day nursery, early years provision, and family centre catering for children from 0 to 11 years of age. At the school, the idea of “nurture” is embodied strongly in our ethos and we strive to make it a practical and measurable action rather than just a concept.

On a general level, each week’s staff meeting has a “children causing concern” section where all staff are made aware of children who are experiencing behavioural, emotional or friendship difficulties. These names are displayed on the staffroom whiteboard and emailed out to staff. This ensures that staff in all areas of the school are aware of the children who are in need of some extra encouragement or support. Furthermore, all children fill out a daily Happy/Sad lunchtime sheet which allows lunchtime staff and class teachers to track emotional wellbeing and look for signs of bullying or withdrawal. Children who are struggling to make friends may be assigned lunchtime buddies or in more serious cases, a Circle of Friends intervention may be organised via the Nurture Room (see later).

This benefits not only a child who needs extra support from their peers, but also the children who are asked to be involved as they gain a tremendous sense of pride, maturity and wellbeing from caring for another child.  

The Pupil Premium is used to fund interventions that directly benefit wellbeing. In 2011/12, we spent £13,000 of our Pupil Premium on nurture activities (staff, facilities and resources), including £4,000 on the lunchtime Fun Club which gives free school meals children the opportunity to play with toys and carry out craft activities.

The emotional wellbeing of children starts at home and so we also have a part-time home-school link worker who works with families who may be in need of support. Class teachers, teaching assistants and other members of staff build relationships with parents and work hard to understand the sometimes complex family situations. If necessary, they can make a referral or recommendation to our on-site children’s centre.

Our Nurture Room is staffed by two specifically trained emotional literacy support assistants. Children may be referred for a nurture programme for a variety of reasons (bereavement, self-esteem, friendship problems, anger-management, behaviour, concentration difficulties) and may take part in individual or group sessions. They are encouraged to discuss and explore their emotional wellbeing and develop strategies to overcome their difficulties.

Additionally, and in recognition that many of our children need more intense nurturing support from an early age, we have a specialist provision called the NEST (Nurturing Emotional Support Together). Children in key stage 1 who have significant behavioural and/or emotional difficulties can be referred to the NEST where they work with a specialist teacher and teaching assistant every morning before joining their class in the afternoon. 

The aim is to teach the children how to make the right choices, and give them the social skills to enable them to relate to their peers and control their bad behaviour. This provision is open to our children and to those from nearby primary schools.

Menthal Health: Top tips

Mental health advice for schools from the The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition:

  • Integrate mental health and emotional wellbeing into the curriculum.
  • Use curriculum plans to allow students to focus on their own emotional wellbeing.
  • Co-ordinate your pastoral care system so that learning mentors, school nurses, teaching assistants, counsellors, and others adopt a consistent approach to emotional wellbeing. 
  • Provide consistent training to the whole staff team on children and young people’s mental health.
  • Ensure that any commissioned counselling or mental health services are fully integrated into the fabric of the school.
  • Anchor services in the school which offer a range of interventions based on need.
  • Build an ethos which firmly supports the emotional wellbeing of all pupils and staff through self-evaluation forms, Ofsted reports, and school leadership (including governors). 
  • Ensure there is a collaboration between anti-bullying and healthy schools material.
  • Engage with parents as much as possible – they are critical to supporting the school approach at home.
  • Collect as much evidence as possible that links the improved emotional or psychological wellbeing with improved academic progress.

Resilience and Results

The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition launched the Resilience and Results Awards earlier this year to highlight and celebrate the work schools in England are doing to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of their students, staff and parents. It is hoped that the results will act as a benchmark for excellence across the education sector. For more information on this year’s winning schools, visit

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