This year, Children’s Mental Health Week runs from the 3rd – 9th February. It’s a great opportunity to refocus on one of the reasons many people decide to become governors – to help the next generation of young people to be happy, healthy and well prepared for life.
Set up by children’s mental health charity Place2Be, Children’s Mental Health Week serves to highlight the importance of children and young people’s mental health. This year’s theme is Find your Brave, and the children and young people in our schools certainly experience plenty of situations where they need to be brave. Transitions in to school, between key stages, and exam pressures are often the first things that come to mind, but for many children, getting through the school day can be a challenge in itself.
How can governors support mental health and wellbeing in schools?
Even though governors can’t be there in the classroom to help pupils navigate their way through school, there are things you can do to make a difference. For starters, governors can help to make sure there is a whole school culture that supports health and wellbeing.
In 2014, The Department for Education (DfE) published Mental health and behaviour in schools, a non-statutory advice guide for schools. The guide was updated in 2018, and although it is non-statutory, it does remind us that all schools have a statutory duty to promote the welfare of their pupils.
Even if you have been more focused on statutory requirements in your role, the theme of wellbeing does appear in other documentation that governors should be aware of. The Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education guidance states that pupils should be taught about physical and mental health so that they can make good decisions about their own health and wellbeing. It’s also explicit in making clear that physical and mental health are interlinked – and that good physical health contributes to good mental health, and vice versa.
There have been a number of recent studies that support this, including the Active Lives Children and Young People Survey Academic year 2018/19. The data is a compelling argument for governing boards to support schools in delivering varied and inclusive physical activity opportunities for all pupils. The results show that when children are more active, they are happier, more trusting and more resilient.
What do schools think about making mental health provision a priority?
Governors for Schools strongly supports this idea. In November 2019, we wrote our first blog on the topic of physical and mental health and launched a survey to find out more about the role and physical and mental health and wellbeing on governing boards.
The results told us that a majority of schools recognise that physical and mental health and wellbeing are a priority, and feature on most school improvement plans. Although most governing boards don’t have someone in place to oversee this area, an overwhelming majority said having a governor who would champion physical and mental health and wellbeing throughout the work of the governing body was a top priority.
Around half of the boards that have dedicated sport, mental health, and wellbeing governors are beginning to make the link between physical and mental health. There’s some way to go here to make sure that schools reflect the relationship between the two in the way that the RSE document suggests.
How does your board support your school’s mental health?
This is a good time to reflect on your own board. Do you have one or more governors who would recognise physical and mental health as part of their remit? When did your board last discuss physical and mental health in a meeting? Can you remember any reference to these areas in the visit reports you’ve read recently? Be sure to keep following our social media channels, blogs, and newsletters for more on this.
Don’t forget to read our set of questions that you can use to start conversations about activity and wellbeing in your school.