Wellbeing Award for Schools

Written by: Philippa Stobbs | Published:
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Schools are taking the initiative in nurturing wellbeing and supporting better mental health via the Wellbeing Award for Schools. Philippa Stobbs explains

Do members of a school community, sometimes quietly and uncomplainingly, often feel they are only just surviving? Are the stresses of life at times too much for some pupils and staff?

This is certainly the picture painted by our own research (Patalay & Fitzsimons, 2017). When we spoke to school leaders they expressed concerns about a rising tide of mental health issues among young people and a serious gap in specialist care beyond the school gates.

Many school leaders reported increases in the number of students suffering from mental health and wellbeing issues:

  • Fifty-five per cent said there had been a large increase in anxiety or stress.
  • More than 40 per cent reported a big increase in the problem of cyber-bullying.
  • Seventy-nine per cent reported an increase in self-harm or suicidal thoughts among students.

But when they needed to refer a pupil for help, all too often they had challenges in obtaining mental health care from local services in their area.

So when we developed a Wellbeing Award for Schools with Optimus Education, we designed it as a means for schools to intervene, to do something positive and take a systematic approach to improving the wellbeing and mental health of the whole school community.

The award is built on a robust framework of eight objectives which epitomise best practice. Each of these objectives contain a number of key performance indicators (KPIs), against which schools provide evidence of their achievements.

  • Objective 1: The school is committed to promoting and protecting positive emotional wellbeing and mental health by achieving the Wellbeing Award for Schools.
  • Objective 2: The school has a clear vision and strategy for promoting and protecting emotional wellbeing and mental health, which is communicated to all involved with the school.
  • Objective 3: The school has a positive culture which regards emotional wellbeing and mental health as the responsibility of all.
  • Objective 4: The school actively promotes staff emotional wellbeing and mental health.
  • Objective 5: The school prioritises professional learning and staff development on emotional wellbeing and mental health.
  • Objective 6: The school understands the different types of emotional and mental health needs across the whole-school community and has systems in place to respond appropriately.
  • Objective 7: The school actively seeks the on-going participation of the whole-school community in its approach to emotional wellbeing and mental health.
  • Objective 8: The school works in partnerships with other schools, agencies and available specialist services to support emotional wellbeing and mental health.

Achieving accreditation is a rigorous and challenging process, but also exceptionally rewarding with benefits for everyone.

Two years on from launching the award, it is evident that many schools are not content to wait for government promises of funding for new middle-tier mental health support or designated senior leads for mental health within schools to materialise. They are creating a movement on their own.

More than 1,000 schools have signed up to take part in the Wellbeing Award for Schools, benefiting the lives of tens of thousands of pupils, families and staff across the country.

The latest impact report on the Wellbeing Award for Schools (NCB, 2019) shows how schools are embracing a whole-school approach to better mental health, are helping not only children but also the staff, volunteers, governors and parents.

Whether it is providing mental health first aid training for staff, or designating a “mindful Monday” or “fitness Friday” for the entire school, or putting a stop to unnecessary evening marking, the report is full of initiatives that have worked in schools across the country.

One school told us: “The impact on behaviour has been really good.”

Another said: “Staff now feel that their wellbeing is considered important by the school leaders; they know mental health is a priority.”

One of the biggest impacts is seen in the reduction in the stigma attached to mental health. Many schools reported a big improvement in the attitude of pupils, with staff feeling much more comfortable talking about any stress or mental health difficulties that they are having themselves.

This is a big change from when staff may have preferred to mask their difficulties citing a physical illness. Likewise, parents felt they were not being judged if they talked about their own problems within school.

Another school reported: “Pupils are more willing to approach staff or peers if they have a problem.”

Other impacts cascade from undertaking the award process including improved pupil behaviour and wellbeing, improved staff and parental wellbeing and improved staff morale

Further comments from schools in the report include:

  • “We have always had a focus on nurturing the children, but the award made us think more about nurturing our staff.”
  • “The award has led to a phenomenal journey for some parents – it’s been absolutely brilliant for them.”

We hope schools reading the Impact Report will take the next step and share it with their governors, headteachers and pupil support teams and start building enthusiasm for a revolution in the school’s approach to its emotional health.
We live in a time when no-one should suffer poor mental health in silence, and when wellbeing and resilience should be positively promoted for all. We hope you are part of the movement and will join the growing numbers of schools taking action.

Further information & resources

  • For more information on the Wellbeing Award for Schools, visit www.awardplace.co.uk/award/was
  • Mental ill-health among children of the new century: Trends across childhood, with a focus on age 14, Patalay & Fitzsimons, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, UCL, September 2017: http://bit.ly/2SRb1Fb
  • The Wellbeing Award for Schools: Impact, best practice and what works, NCB/Optimus Education, October 2019: http://bit.ly/2Hr448C
  • The NCB advocates a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing work. For details and support, visit http://bit.ly/3bJpZpt


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