Note: The author of this article, Anastasia Soola Georgiou, works for Veema Education, an organisation offering chargeable consultancy services to schools on a range of topics.
Schools have a responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (The ministerial department responsible for children’s serv..., 2016). Safeguarding involves protecting children from maltreatment, preventing the impairment of children’s health or development, ensuring that children grow up with the provision of safe and effective care, and working to enable children and young people to achieve the best outcomes. This is important for learning because children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social and school wellbeing, are, on average, more engaged in school and have higher levels of academic achievement (Morrison Gutman and Vorhaus, 2012).
Addressing mental health problems can be a key component of safeguarding. Research shows that 50% of lifetime mental illness starts by the age of 14 (Hagell et al., 2013). Behavioural problems in children can indicate a risk of developing mental health problems (Brown et al., 2012), and school staff may be in position to identify and respond to this as a safeguarding concern.
Introducing social and emotional learning into the classroom improves mental health as well as learning outcomes and benefits young people in the long-term (Taylor et al., 2017). Evidence suggests that the following school support systems can improve both academic and mental health outcomes, by promoting positive social and emotional wellbeing (Weare, 2015):
- Adopt whole school thinking– this involves everyone working consistently in developing an ethos and culture which promotes trust, focus and purpose; the promotion of communication, acceptance of emotion, respect and the celebration of The recognition of individual differences in terms of race, ...; the promotion of staff wellbeing, providing support systems to address staff stress; the development of an environment that supports school ‘connectedness’: a feeling of being accepted, respected and bonded to the school environment. In turn, levels of conflict and disruptive behaviour will decrease and a sense of responsiveness to the individual needs of children will be encouraged. Promoting the voice of the child and engaging parents adds strength and depth, making interventions more effective, while also developing parenting capacity and attitudes (Adi et al., 2007).
- Prioritise professional learning – this includes working to develop staff understanding of risk factors to wellbeing, helping children become more resilient, raising awareness of mental health, supporting children and young people with transitional arrangements and keeping up-to-date on the impact of social media and challenges posed by new technology.
- Develop supportive policy and practice– robust policies on behaviour, anti-bullying and diversity will help with tackling prejudice and taking positive steps to de-stigmatise mental health.
- Implement targeted responses and identify specialist pathways– this involves provision of work on social and emotional skill development for children with difficulties, the use of one-to-one support and group work, using specialist staff to initiate innovative and specialist programmes before transferring responsibility to mainstream staff, ensuring that there are clear pathways for help, referral and intervention and developing a coherent teamwork approach.
- Connect appropriately with approaches to behaviour management– this means responding wisely to ‘difficult’ behaviour, use of clear consequences while understanding its deeper roots; taking opportunities to model and teach positive behaviours.
Taking a well-planned and clear approach to safeguarding through the curriculum, reinforced by a stimulating, positive and solution-focused continuing professional development programme for staff, can support a strong school ethos, enabling a positive learning environment for students and a better working environment for staff.