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Wellbeing Award for Meath Green Junior – Why?

The award has a focus on changing the long-term culture of a school, and embedding an ethos where mental health is regarded as the responsibility of all.

To achieve this award schools will be expected to demonstrate how they:

  • Show their commitment to promoting mental health as part of school life
  • Improve the emotional wellbeing of their staff and pupils
  • Ensure mental health problems are identified early and appropriate support provided
  • Offer provision and interventions that matches the needs of its pupils and staff
  • Engage the whole school community in the importance of mental health awareness
  • Capture the views of parents, pupils and staff on mental health issues

Introduction to the Award:

Developed in partnership with the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), the Wellbeing Award for Schools is intended to help schools prepare and equip themselves to promote emotional wellbeing and positive mental health across the whole-school community. NCB’s vision is an education system where good emotional wellbeing and mental health are at the heart of the culture and ethos of all schools, so that pupils, with the support of their teachers, can build confidence and flourish. Evidence shows us that wellbeing is of central importance to learning and attainment, with high levels of wellbeing associated with improved academic outcomes. Conversely, pupils who have mental health problems are more likely to have academic difficulties at school and experience social disadvantage later in adult life.

To achieve this vision, NCB advocates the use of a ‘whole-school approach’ where all aspects of the school experience are harnessed to promote the emotional wellbeing and mental health of pupils and staff. It is an approach where emotional wellbeing and mental health is everybody’s business.

The Wellbeing Award for Meath Green Junior School is a welcome opportunity to recognise and build upon the good work that we already do in this area. The key features of a whole-school approach form the basis of the award, and it provides schools with a benchmark of best practice against which to test itself. We believe that this celebration of success will encourage more schools to adopt an approach that puts emotional wellbeing and mental health at the heart of what they do.

Award Principles:

There are four key principles driving the ideas and recommendations behind the award:

  1. Emotional wellbeing and mental health are a continuum. Related issues can range from positive attitudes and behaviour, through to experiences of emotional distress and mental disorder.
  2. Schools already experience and manage emotional issues on a daily basis; the objective is to minimise the impact of such issues and maximise the effectiveness of any responses.
  3. Emotional wellbeing covers a range of dimensions, such as resilience, character building, relationships and self-esteem, etc. Understanding both developmental and mental health awareness is critical.
  4. Creating a positive school culture requires a whole-school approach that is led from the top while involving all in the school community.

Embarking on the award process does not imply that we, as a school are failing in this area, but rather that we have recognised the needs and demands of our school are changing and we are committed to respond to these. Much of this change will be apparent in the issues that schools face on a daily basis. Seen through the lens of academic achievement and attainment, our appreciation of the positive and negative impact of emotional and mental health challenges improves.

Taking our school forward to create a whole school capable of promoting and protecting the emotional wellbeing and mental health of young people and staff requires clear and effective leadership. The same strategic purpose given to other school improvement and change programmes will be required.  Key Priority 1 on our School Improvement Plan clearly states we wish to ‘increase the school’s capacity to support children’s social, emotional and mental health

We recognise that for many adults and children, mental health can be seen as a difficult and at times frightening issue. As a society, we are starting to deal with this stigma, but, unfortunately, there still exist plenty of negative views and attitudes that cause barriers to go up. As professionals and as parents, we can feel unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with these issues, seeing mental health as the domain of the ‘specialist’. As a school community already stretched with many demands, re-visioning how we view emotional wellbeing and changing a school culture to accommodate this vision can be challenging.

Given these and other aspects, it is imperative that we build on the schools strengths  and use our own communities as a source of support. It is also critical that we develop

our own narrative on what is to be achieved and why. In turn, this narrative will gain impact through weaving and connecting it with other values and beliefs already established within the school setting.

The whole-school community

One theme that is central to the award is the need for schools to draw the wider community and relevant stakeholders into the centre of the change process. Parents and carers are one such group. Evidence shows that, for parents, the emotional and mental health needs of their children is of increasing concern, and often parents look to the school to support and inform them. Pupils also need to be given the opportunity to express their own voice and this can be an influential source of good ideas for any school looking for innovative and appropriate solutions.

One important aspect of this broad community of stakeholders are utilising those who offer help and support generally and can provide access to specialist interventions. There is no doubt this aspect of a school’s strategy (i.e. how to access different types of help) is often a thorny issue. Currently there are recognised gaps in provision, limits and barriers to getting the help needed and poor communication and understanding of roles. This award cannot solve these problems, but it will offer ideas and solutions on how best to manage and create links and partnerships needed to help those with clinical needs.

As another critical group of the whole school community, the award views the wellbeing of staff as significant as that for pupils. Staff wellbeing is increasingly recognised as ‘under challenge’ while schools encounter increasing pressure from over-stretched resources. Expecting staff to respond to the emotional needs of their pupils while feeling exhausted and overwhelmed themselves is a barrier to the wellbeing of all involved. Equipping teachers and others with the know-how and skills needed to be better informed on the issues surrounding mental health is essential. Most of the significant changes brought about by the award through staff will not be in active interventions but in the daily interactions and relations in classrooms, corridors and playgrounds. All staff have the capacity to share and promote the messages of positive mental health, modelling the behaviours themselves and making emotional wellbeing a matter of importance and at the centre of the school’s agenda/conversation. 

 The award objectives

The Wellbeing Award has eight objectives which focus on areas of evaluation, development and celebration of the work of schools in promoting and protecting emotional wellbeing and positive mental health. Each of these areas is further broken down into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

  • 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 the 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 ongoing 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