This week is Children’s Mental Health Week and the theme this year is ‘My Voice Matters’. Three mental health leads share how their schools are enabling pupil voice within their wider whole school and college approach to mental health and wellbeing.
Lynn Whitehead-Lewis, is the mental health lead and school counsellor at Catchgate Primary School, Durham.
We, as adults like to be heard but I am also a firm believer pupils need to be heard to ensure that their wishes, opinions, experiences and interpretations are actively listened to and considered.
We were fortunate to be part of Schools North East, Voice of the Pupil Trailblazer Project in 2018. The project developed a framework for engaging children and young people in discussion about mental health, and having their voices heard. As a result, we have seen an increase in pupils asking for help with their mental health. Pupils have also been presenting with growing confidence and self-worth, a clearer sense of purpose, trust, and sense of belonging.
There are so many ways that education settings can ensure that children’s voices are heard. We involved them in the development off our wellbeing page, suggestions for the wellbeing display board and developing a Mental Health Anti Stigma campaign, in collaboration with Investing in Children. The training programme is now being delivered in schools across the North East.
Putting your approach into practice can feel a little daunting. It doesn’t have to be. As the mental health lead, I also took advantage of the £1,200 grant available from the DfE to fund quality assured senior mental health lead training. After completing the training, I feel we have a stable foundation on which to build a solid and effective platform for our pupil’s voices.
We have also put the following into place to enable pupil voices to be heard:
- Suggestion box where any child can post a suggestion and it is discussed by the School Council, acted upon, or not with feedback based on a ‘you said, we did’ approach.
- The school council and team captains represent, lead, and ensure our children’s voices matter.
- I’d like to talk box based on the traffic light system means that a child can ask to talk to someone and depending on how urgent or important it is they write it on the relevant coloured paper.
- Zones of regulation and worry boxes are ways for children to reach out in their classrooms.
- Wellbeing Warriors (Year 5) and Young Champions (Year 6) are Peer Mentors and Wellbeing Ambassadors who help to articulate the voices of those who cannot be heard.
- Thea, our therapy dog, who is the most amazing listener!
- Our Young Champions also recently led a discussion focused on pupils’ understanding of the importance of being heard.
Emma Scelsi is the mental health lead at St Vincent’s School.
In recent years, our approach to promoting mental health has undergone significant transformation. To give our pupils a genuine voice and ensure they feel listened to and understood, we transitioned from traditional paper surveys to an online format, incorporating questions from the Anna Freud Centre's, Me and my feelings questionnaire. This allowed us to engage with our pupils on their mental health needs in a more meaningful way.
Another pivotal shift was introducing "You said, we did" assemblies to demonstrate to our students that their voices are heard and their concerns matter. For example, pupils expressed concern about rushed lunchtimes, so we've created a dedicated table for those who need more time, with plans to extend the option to eat outside in the summer and we reported this change back to them in assembly. By addressing hygiene issues in the toilets, we're empowering children with gentle reminders and peer support to take better care of shared spaces.
Here are some of the further strategies we employ to enable pupil voice beyond the classroom:
- Circle Time sessions provide a platform for pupils to express themselves and build emotional literacy.
- Personalised emotions books, designed by pupils encourage private dialogues between pupils and teachers, providing a platform for tailored support, ensuring each child's unique emotional needs are addressed.
- Zones of regulation to help children manage their emotions and prepare for optimal learning. By identifying and addressing their emotional state, pupils are empowered to choose personalised strategies to return to the "green zone" for enhanced focus and engagement.
- Worry box in every classroom to ensure a safe space for pupils to express concerns, promoting a sense of openness and support.
- Peer to peer support with our Year 6 pupils providing invaluable assistance to reception children during pupil voice surveys.
- Mental health champions conducted Google surveys and formed their very own google site to address the unique needs of our diverse student body. Weekly meetings with the senior mental health lead ensure these initiatives have a positive impact across the school.
Sue Matthews is the mental health lead at Blessed Hugh Faringdon Catholic School and Sixth Form.
We have recently introduced Mental Health Ambassadors who are year 12 pupils, trained by the Education Mental Health Practitioner (EMHPs) in the linked Mental Health Support Team and closely supervised by teaching assistants, who intervene and refer for further support if needed.
Once trained, MH Ambassadors work with pupils that need early support, providing a valuable opportunity to speak to a peer about an issue that is troubling them. This provides valuable CPD for staff and the opportunity for older pupils to provide peer support and amplify pupil voice across the school.
We also enable pupil voice through a student council that meets once a term with representatives from every year group who gather points from tutor groups to take to the council meeting. A twice-yearly pupil voice survey about all curriculum subjects is also completed in tutor time. The survey helps us understand how pupils feel about their learning in all subjects and what works for them. We feedback to pupils using a “you said this, and we are doing that” approach, which is very important to us.
Pupil voice can also inform subtle adjustment to our curriculum approach as it can make the difference between teachers teaching and pupils learning. Building trust and mutual understanding is vital, so feedback from pupils is integral. Where staff need help to build their confidence in this technique, we do whole school training – it an open, interactive approach.
- Access a new resource hub to help mental health leads embed a whole school or college approach to mental health & wellbeing.
- A new targeted mental wellbeing support toolkit is also available. This provides a practical guide and filterable tool to help schools and colleges review, refresh and develop effective targeted support for pupils and learners with social, emotional and mental health needs.