Audit, improvement and strategy
An effective school improvement plan involves governors, senior managers, parents/carers, staff, pupils and other school community members working together to establish priorities, set goals for improvement, implement strategies to achieve those goals and evaluate progress.
The objective is to improve student achievement levels by creating a positive, nurturing and supportive school environment, minimising barriers to learning such as risk factors and poor mental health, enhancing the way the curriculum is delivered and increasing the degree to which parents are involved in their children’s learning at school and in the home.
Find out more about the audit
- Leadership and management: What is the school’s vision and strategic direction in terms of mental health and wellbeing and how effective is it? How is the school providing visible senior leadership for emotional health and wellbeing? How well is mental health and wellbeing referenced and integrated within the school’s strategic priorities, goals, aims and policies and practice?
- School ethos: How does the school’s culture promote respect and value diversity? How are staff already supporting children’s mental health through day-to-day contact and through building a sense of belonging
- Curriculum teaching and learning: What focus is given across the curriculum to social and emotional learning and promoting resilience? Is it sufficiently intensive and ongoing with learning goals and themes being reinforced and threaded throughout the curriculum?
- Enabling pupil voice: How are pupils involved and listened to? What does the school do to encourage children to talk about how they feel? What is the school doing to give children the skills to know how and when to ask for help?
- Staff development, health and wellbeing: How confident do staff feel in identifying children’s needs early and mobilising protective factors for children at risk of poor mental health? How much does professional and personal development focus on mental health and wellbeing?
- Identifying need and monitoring impact: How is the school assessing the needs of all pupils; the progress of those who need support, and the difference made by programmes/interventions being used to improve mental health and wellbeing? Is the school building on data collected as part of the school health profile, analysing needs of children and families?
- Working with parents/carers: How does the school engage with and work with parents and carers to reduce risks and de-escalate needs?
- Targeted support and appropriate referral: How do staff identify and support or refer children who may need extra help at an early stage? See our sections on risks and protective factors and mental health needs.
- In addition to these core principles, schools also need to review how much current in-school and community support is meeting children and families’ needs. How are patterns of unmet need being logged, collated and communicated to senior leadership and local commissioners? Liaison with school nurses, who are tasked with capturing service gaps, may also help the process of influencing local commissioning.
There is further information on these core principles in Public Health England’s guidance on ‘promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing: a whole school and college approach’
Other useful information
There are a number of other documents to help develop a mental health and wellbeing audit, including:
- Katherine Weare and the National Children’s Bureau: An evidence summary of what works in promoting social, emotional wellbeing and responding to mental health problems in schools. Also provides an overview of what a whole-school approach should look like.
- Brighton & Hove City Council: Emotional health and wellbeing framework for schools.
The audit - roles and responsibilities
A mental health and wellbeing audit should:
- Have school governance and leadership involvement
- Be championed and taken forward by an identified senior leadership team member.
- Involve school nurses and others providing therapeutic services in school.
- Draw together the whole-school community to evaluate strengths and areas for development in mental health and wellbeing, including:
- a range of school staff, parent/carers, key community leaders (e.g. partners and BAME)
- themed discussion groups with children in the school. This activity could use a video on talking about mental health (see below) or the mental health spectrum as a trigger for a discussion (within groups and/or in private) around reviewing:
- what the school already does to help children cope with day-to-day difficulties and keep healthy and safe
- what could be improved
- how well children feel able to get help when worried or struggling
- what ideas might make this easier for children and parents/carers
- what things contribute to children ‘struggling’ with their wellbeing in school (and when and where does this happen).
It’s important to consider the range of health, social and voluntary sector service providers.
- Is there a local central gateway (e.g. a single point of access) through which you refer all children if you have mental health concerns? These arrangements can help schools understand and build up knowledge on who locally might support different levels of need.
- Does your local area already have a directory of services supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing? Some do, but not all schools know about these directories.
- When starting to map out broader local services supporting children’s mental health note:
- What age is a particular service for?
- How referrals are made (e.g. self/parent/carer referral via a GP or school nurse)?
- What are the criteria for referral?
- Contact details for referral.
- How can external services work in partnership with schools to support a child thrive and achieve (joint working systems and information sharing protocols)?
School improvement planning
Based on the findings of the audit and consultation, senior leadership can:
- Create an improvement and action plan, identifying realistic and manageable goals, priorities and targets for improvement, to be reviewed annually. As part of the audit and consultation, schools can think about how they will know if things have improved for children, parents/carers, teachers, leadership and the school community. A helpful way of identifying realistic goals and changes is through completing a logic model or theory of change framework. See, for example this simple logic model developed by the Evidence Based Practice Unit at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and this explanation of theory of change.
- Make sure that emotional health and wellbeing threads throughout the school improvement plan, policies and procedures as well as through cross-curricular activity.
- Build on what is already in place and develop SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) objectives for the short and medium-term.
- Working in close collaboration with mental health providers and external services make certain that protocols or clear agreements are in place (or developed with schools who form part of your cluster or with external agencies) about referral criteria, crisis management, access procedures, consultancy provided to schools, training offers, commissioning etc
- Mobilise the whole school to work together to achieve and track change.
Promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing policy
Once a school has audited its whole-school approach to supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing, and developed an improvement and action plan, it will then need to make sure that it develops a mental health and wellbeing policy and reviews it regularly so that it remains a live document responsive to evolving needs and strategic and operational changes at school.
Creating the right policy for your school
Liverpool schools have produced a mental health and emotional wellbeing policy which provides an example of what a policy might look like.
Their top tips include:
- Don’t make it too lengthy, keep it concise and practical – easy to use.
- Involve pupils, staff and parents/carers – invite them to contribute and offer their feedback.
- Ensure key members of staff are named so colleagues know who is responsible for what and how concerns can be reported.
- Set an annual date to review the policy, and ensure it’s updated should any changes to staff etc. take place.
- Ensure the policy is accessible – communicate it well internally and make it available for pupils and parents/carers.
There are other examples of mental health and wellbeing policies in the resources below.
Once your mental health and wellbeing policy is agreed, it will be important to review all other school policies to make sure they synchronise and reflect your whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing.