Whole school approach (WSA)

A mentally healthy school is one that adopts a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. This brings the whole school together.

It needs partnership working between:

  • senior leaders
  • teachers and school staff
  • parents and carers
  • the wider community

This broad approach is more effective than focusing on only one or two parts of school life.

Providing healthy and happy school environments for pupils and staff:

  • supports effective learning
  • prepares pupils with the tools, sound character and values they need

A whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing is a process, not a one-off activity.

It is good practice to audit what your school is doing to prevent and identify mental health problems early.

To audit mental health and inform action plans you can use the:

A whole school approach involves a school leadership team that:

  • understands the links between mental health and achievement
  • champions and supports mental health and wellbeing for children and staff
  • supports in a practical way as part of improvement planning

Supportive school climates have strong and positive discipline with clear expectations.

Clear policies and practice

The leadership team provide clear boundaries and robust policies. Your school applies the policies consistently.

We recommend developing a mental health policy. The policy should aim to:

  • promote positive mental health in all staff and pupils
  • increase understanding and awareness of common mental health problems
  • alert staff to early warning signs of mental ill health
  • provide support to staff working with pupils with mental health problems
  • provide support to pupils suffering mental ill health, their peers, parents and carers
  • provide appropriate support to parents and carers suffering mental ill health

The school’s mental health policy should also link to policies on behaviour, diversity and safeguarding. These should challenge prejudice of:

  • ability
  • disability
  • gender
  • race
  • sexual orientation
  • social status

Schools need strong anti-bullying and homophobia policies and practice, linked with e-safety policies.  

Leadership resources

Each school or college should have a MHEW Lead. They will lead the whole school approach to mental health and emotional wellbeing.

A whole school approach develops a positive ethos where everyone feels they belong.

There is a commitment from everybody to welcome, respect and include. This builds confidence that others will listen and understand.

A key starting point is an emphasis on strengths and abilities to develop a supportive culture in which:

  • Talking about emotions and feelings, mental health and wellbeing is the norm.
  • It is acceptable to acknowledge difficulties and ask for help.
  • You can provide extra input to those with more serious problems in a joined-up way, without stigma.
  • The whole school has the skills and attitudes to support those with greater needs.

Schools with a positive ethos

In practice, schools and classrooms with these core values and attitudes have:

  • low levels of conflict and disruptive behaviour
  • smooth moves from one type of activity to another
  • appropriate ways to express emotion
  • respectful communication and problem solving
  • warm, supportive responses to individual pupils and needs

Ethos and environment resources

Mental health policy and procedures guidance [783.7 KB] [docx]

Relationship policy template [684.3 KB] [docx]

Wellbeing in schools starts with the staff.

Schools need to ensure staff have the work-life balance to manage the demands of the school day. It is hard to promote emotional wellbeing in others if you feel uncared for and burnt out.

Supporting staff

It helps if the school ethos accepts the reality of staff stress and makes it safe for staff and leaders (as well as pupils) to:

  • admit their challenges
  • seek support for mental health needs without stigma

To help staff build a greater sense of control the school can support them to develop key stress reduction skills. These can include building resilience, relaxation and mindfulness.

Staff wellbeing and development resources

Staff wellbeing policy template [796.5 KB] [docx]

Five principles of recovery [406.9 KB] [docx]

Help all students with change and transitions

Experiencing some level of emotional wellbeing challenge in life is normal. The emotional and physical changes of growing up can be stressful.

Hormonal shifts in adolescence may shake self-identity and relationships. The ‘teenage brain’ has less ability to regulate emotion and impulse and feel empathy. Even predictable changes, like the school years, can challenge and affect learning.

Teach social and emotional skills

In a positive school environment, staff and pupils have good social and emotional skills. These skills help young people manage challenges and change. They help prevent mental health problems and risky behaviour.

Schools have a key role in teaching these core skills, attitudes and values:

  • Self-awareness and self-belief.
  • The ability to recognise and manage emotions.
  • Resilience, optimism, persistence and focus.
  • The ability to make social relationships and feel empathy and compassion.

Teaching is just the start. Social and emotional skills only have real impact when the whole school applies them.

Curriculum, teaching and learning resources


Use targeted programmes and interventions

Involving specialists can help to refresh approaches. Longer term, school staff need to work alongside the specialist and receive training to take over the intervention. Using the skills learned in everyday interactions with pupils:

  • reinforces the skills learned
  • embeds the principles
  • sustains the impact of the intervention
  • improves academic performance
  • is more cost-efficient and sustainable

The interventions do need continued quality control. This ensures staff continue to deliver them as intended and quality does not drift over time.

Assess needs and track impact

Spotting problems early and prompt help means reduced risk of mental health problems. Staff need to be clear about what is ‘normal’ or a cause for concern, and recognise the early signs of mental health problems.

Form tutors and class teachers may spot changes in behaviour, attainment or attendance. This could suggest a problem and it is helpful to keep and track reliable data on this.

Targeted (graduated) support

Develop a graduated approach to your school’s mental health and emotional wellbeing (MHEW) provision. 

What is a graduated support system?

This model enables you to provide appropriate help. It has a clear pathway, systems and processes for making decisions. You access support from within the school and refer to outside agencies where needed.

Universal support

This is support delivered at whole school level. It includes reasonable adjustments, interventions and support for all pupils. This includes discussing MHEW topics in assemblies, tutor time, circle time and the curriculum.

Targeted support

Stage 1: Support and interventions delivered by staff using in-house resources, for example:

  • one-to-one support from an individual needs assistant or teaching assistant
  • small group work led by a staff member on issues such as bereavement, anxiety, or social skills

Stage 2: As above, with advice or in-person support from an external professional.

Specialist support

This is for pupils who:

  • have more complex and enduring MHEW needs
  • need help from a trained expert, in addition to ongoing support from your school or college

Embedding an in-house graduated support system

Use this document to identify the strengths and gaps in your provision.

MHEW Support pyramid template and example [324.2 KB] [docx]

In-house mental health team

It’s recommended that every setting has a mental health lead and mental health link governor. Having an in-house MHEW team helps to embed the approach into strategic planning. This might include a:

  • member of the senior leadership team
  • MHEW lead
  • pastoral staff member

Assessment tools

To decide the adjustments and support a pupil needs, the MHEW team need a shared understanding of pupil needs.

  • Observe pupil behaviour: is it internalising (such as low mood), or externalising (such as aggression)? Behaviour is communication so it's important to explore the feelings and motivations behind it.
  • Use a collaborative approach: base your approach a broad and holistic range of information. Include the pupil voice, parent or carer views, observations and information gathered through assessment tools

Clear referral pathways

It’s essential for all staff to know and understand the following:

  • The MHEW support that is available within and outside your setting.
  • How a pupil accesses this support.
  • The process for agreeing support in your school or college.
  • How you evaluate interventions.
  • What path to take if the pupil does not improve with initial support.
  • How to signpost the pupil and their family to the right staff member(s) for more information or support.

In larger schools or colleges it can be helpful to set up a MHEW panel. The panel can discuss pupil needs and make group decisions about suitable support that is available. 

Referral flow template

To see an example of a successful referral model you can view the Support Services available at St Richard's document on their website.

Within the referral flow model, you can include the following:

  • The aims, purpose and membership of the panel and experts you may invite.
  • Referral form, guidance and process.
  • How and where to save referrals on the school system.
  • Responsibility of referrer.
  • Contact with parents and carers.
  • Intervention and support guidance with thresholds.
  • Interventions for the year, such as type, criteria, intended outcomes, details, key staff and their role.
  • Signposting information.

Mental health and wellbeing depend on having a sense of self-belief and control. Pupils need to feel they have influence and a ‘voice’.

Pupil voice is about real consultation and participation. It means involving all pupils in decision making about their own learning, classroom and school life.

Done well, it can help all pupils:

  • build a vital and protective school bond
  • take responsibility for and improve their own learning
  • develop through reflection and inquiry
  • enhance their sense of self
  • develop their social skills
  • help staff and governors in school improvement

Peer education

This is a related approach to empower young people to work together and draw on the positive strength of the peer group.  

When there is a sense of ownership, wellbeing methods are more likely to be effective and to last.

Working with families can add strength and depth. It makes approaches and specific interventions much more effective.

Families can help to reinforce the messages of the school. You can also help parents and carers develop their own parenting skills and attitudes. 

This may be informal, through conversation with parents and carers, or formal through:

  • presentations at parents’ evenings
  • printed information
  • parenting education courses
  • designated family link workers

Resources to engage parents, carers and families

MHEW Parent carer survey [906.0 KB] [docx]

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