Improving pupils' mental health

What is a whole-school approach to pupil wellbeing?


If a school has a whole-school approach to pupil wellbeing, this means the school is ensuring that wellbeing is at the heart of its community. Having the wellbeing of both pupils and staff as a core value of a school not only improves morale and performance, but normalises conversations about mental health, enabling people to speak out sooner if they are struggling or worried about someone else.

How does this differ from what your pastoral team already does?


Having a whole-school approach doesn’t render a pastoral team redundant; far from it! A whole-school approach recognises that wellbeing is the responsibility of everyone, whether you’re the headteacher, site manager, teacher or pupil.

A whole-school approach permeates into every part of a school community, recognising that, in the same way we all have fluctuating physical health needs, we all have mental health needs too.

10 percent of pupils are known to have a clinically diagnosed mental health issue (DfE, 2015); a statistic that doesn’t account for pupils who struggle but are yet to ask for help, or account for how many members of staff may have difficulties they keep hidden. A whole-school approach sends the message that there is no difference between people with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues, and no judgement towards these people.

What does this look like in practice?


Every school is different, but the following are some suggestions of how schools can develop an effective whole-school approach to pupil wellbeing:

Understand the issues

What you perceive to be the issues your pupils are facing may be very different from what they see. To understand the issues, kick things off with a wellbeing audit involving both pupils and staff – you may not like everything you hear, but you can’t bring about positive change if you don’t know what you’re up against.

Our Undertaking an Effective Pupil Wellbeing Audit and Planning a Pupil Wellbeing Audit guidance documents provide advice on how to effectively undertake an audit in order to assess your school’s wellbeing issues.

The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families produced Measuring and monitoring children and young people’s mental wellbeing: A toolkit for schools and colleges which includes methods schools can use to effectively measure pupil wellbeing.  

Start every term with wellbeing-based assemblies


Use these assemblies to remind the pupils that you want them to reach their academic potential, but not at the cost of their health. Also, use this as an opportunity to reinforce what help and support is available to them within the school and from external agencies.

Involve parents


A whole-school approach needs to include parents, so hold an open evening and invite parents in to hear more about how to encourage positive mental health at home.

Our Parental Engagement Guidance offers suggestions of how schools can effectively engage parents with the aim to improve the wellbeing of pupils.

The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust website contains additional information about how schools can involve parents in their approach to pupil wellbeing.

Look at the school environment


Assess how your school’s environment could be improved to enhance the wellbeing of pupils.

Where can your school offer quiet spaces at lunchtime for the pupils who find the canteen too overwhelming? Is it possible to have a designated classroom at break times for vulnerable pupils to visit? How can you create eye-catching information boards about where pupils can go for help?

Our Mental Health Poster and Leaflet for Pupils Explaining Mental Health can be used by schools to inform pupils about what good mental health looks like and where they can get help if they are concerned about their mental health or that of a friend.



Many primary schools now no longer issue homework in the school holidays; instead, some schools tell the pupils to go home and have fun, laugh, play and rest. This can be trickier for secondary schools, but is it possible to at least suspend homework across the board at Christmas? The advantage of this is that zero homework in the Christmas holidays means zero marking for staff when they return in January, and you’ve sent out a really important message to pupils and staff about the importance of rest.

Communicate your intention


If you decide that cakes in the staff room on a Friday might be a nice idea, then make sure you communicate that the cakes are a gesture to thank staff for everything they’ve given that week – even on the weeks that haven’t gone to plan.

If you decide to offer mindfulness to pupils, then communicate that it matters to the school that pupils are able to manage emotions. Don’t do something because it’s ‘nice’; instead, consider the impact these gestures have on the school culture.

Lead from the top


A whole-school approach has to start with the senior staff and cascade down. If the headteacher routinely works at school until 10pm, it won’t encourage other staff to look after their own wellbeing and go home at a decent time (especially the site manager). Creating a positive culture among staff will have a huge impact on the pupils, because despite our best intentions, they do notice when morale is low or the teacher in front of them is stressed.

For an example of a school that is currently developing this approach to a high standard, have a look at the work of Clare Erasmus at The Magna Carta School, who have developed a model for other schools to adopt. This model includes having a ‘wellbeing zone’ at school where pupils can ‘pop in’ at lunch and break times to talk about their mental health and any other wellbeing issues.

INSET days


Finally, if you haven’t already planned your INSET days for 2018, then set aside a few hours for staff to sit together as a team and have some honest conversations about what a whole-school approach could look like for you.