A review and evaluation of the work undertaken by Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) supporting schools to deliver whole school approaches to emotional wellbeing and mental health across east and south east England has generated interest nationally and locally.  The research, launched today (7 December), was undertaken by academics from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, in participation with the Charlie Waller Trust.

The ‘Best Practice Review of Whole School Approach (WSA) within MHSTs in the South-East and East of England’, evaluation report follows a review commissioned by NHS England to look at gaps in current national monitoring and evaluation measures.

Led by Kent, Surrey and Sussex Academic Health Science Network (KSS AHSN) in partnership with the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Kent, Surrey and Sussex, the report provides clear data on the ways in which local teams are developing the WSA element of MHSTs and what impact this might be having on staff, children and young people, as well as parents and their carers. It also sets out a number of ambitions for the future implementation, development and monitoring of a WSA within MHSTs across schools in the region.

The report highlights many positive achievements including:

  • Fostering staff’s professional development and support for staff wellbeing.
  • Integration of mental health resources into PHSE and the wider teaching curriculum.
  • Engagement of multiple stakeholders, including parents/carers, governors and children and young people themselves.
  • Collection and use of data to inform practice.
  • And, deliberate and considered efforts to transform the ethos and culture of the school.

It also sets out seven key ambitions that need to be addressed:

  • Maintain a sustainable funding commitment to MHSTs.
  • Provide guidance and time for MHST managers, clinical leads and practitioners to develop a thorough and rich understanding of school policies procedures and practices.
  • Prioritise the establishment of mechanisms to engage with all stakeholders who have an impact on the functioning of the school.
  • Systematically gather and collate evidence of the whole-school profile of work on mental health.
  • Address the challenge of balancing clinical interventions for mental health difficulties with the wider whole school goals of creating a strengths-based school environment that promotes wellbeing.
  • Enhance workforce development regarding WSA for MHST and school staff.
  • Undertake a substantive programme of implementation work to select the optimal tools and resources for delivering whole school work on mental health.

Tanya Procter, Programme Lead, Whole School Approach Best Practice Review and Evaluation, said:
“Overall, our research shows how MHSTs are providing an extremely valuable input to the development of schools’ capacity and confidence to address mental health issues in young people. In general, they are seen as providing something different to schools’ previous experience with mental health support and schools that took part in our research were enthusiastic about the impact they had made.

“Part of the value of MHSTs relates to an increasing sense of integration between education and health services, particularly for those students with mild to moderate difficulties – who previously would not have received the support they needed.”

Professor Robin Banerjee, Head of School Psychology, University of Sussex, added:
“This review presents a compelling picture of the enormous potential of MHSTs in transforming school communities through developing a whole school approach to mental health. However, while there is emerging evidence of positive impacts arising from this work, our research indicates that we now need to develop a common framework for understanding, implementing, and measuring the impacts of whole school approaches to mental health.  Spreading the best practice we have seen in this project across different regions will make a meaningful difference to the children and young people, parents, carers, and staff in our school communities.”

Ian MacDonald, Mental Health Trainer at the Charlie Waller Trust, who listened to the views of 266 children and young people (CYP), as part of the Whole School Approach Best Practice Review, said:
“A key part of this review was obtaining the views of children and young people in schools, as they are the ultimate beneficiaries of any whole school approach. It was really important that we hear how they experience the support on offer, and the extent to which these approaches meet their needs or not. The feedback was really enlightening and added important perspectives to our conclusions, and we are so grateful to the pupils and staff who offered their time and support to take part.

“We therefore encourage schools, MHSTs and other services involved in whole school approaches to keep ‘pupil voice’ at the centre of their work, and share good practice and resources to best capture the views of children and young people when developing this.”

The review was overseen by key stakeholders including representatives from NHS England/Improvement, Department for Education, Local Authorities, Public Health England, Commissioners, Schools and MHSTs.  Following the launch of the research, we will be working with stakeholders to implement the key ambitions regionally and nationally.

All resources are available to download:

‘The Best Practice Review of Whole School Approach (WSA) within MHSTs in the South-East and East of England’: Executive summary

Best Practice Review of Whole School Approach within MHSTs in the South-East and East of England: Evaluation Report

Best Practice Review of the Whole School Approach (WSA) within MHSTs in the South-East and East of England: Summary of Evaluation.

About Mental Health Support Teams in schools

Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) were developed following the Government’s 2017 Green Paper ‘Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision’.

MHSTs aim to deliver three core functions:

  1. Delivering evidence-based interventions in schools for mild to moderate mental health issues.
  2. Supporting the senior mental health lead in each education setting to introduce or develop their whole school or college approach to mental health and emotional wellbeing.
  3. Giving timely advice to school and college staff, and liaising with external specialist services, to help children and young people to get the right support and stay in education.