“We thought we knew our kids, we really don’t”

I hear this common phrase from schools quite often, usually after they have undertaken some form of whole school group mental health assessment or screening e.g. the 3 houses tool, SDQ, WEMWEBS or Boxhall profile (see link below for more information). Oftentimes these schools have really strong pastoral care and support in place, so why should they say this?

The reality is they are caught in a firefighting trap. The pastoral team is busy providing great support to those who are known to them, who present with issues in one or more of the following ways:

  • Behaviour incidents in class or around school
  • Poor Attendance
  • Emotional difficulties in or around school
  • SEND or poor progress
  • Child in Need/Safeguarding concerns
  • External referrals via the family or external support

We should however also consider the rest of the children in the class or school. The need for support isn’t a binary process i.e. either we need support or we don’t. Within the school there will be children who don’t present any difficulties or emerge on any data radar for many reasons. This may be because they are:

  • Withdrawn or fearful
  • Quiet and shy and don’t want to be seen
  • Demonstrate excessively ‘good’ behaviour to avoid disproval
  • Are high achievers who put excessive pressure on themselves to perform
  • Have a problem in their lives but don’t feel confident to talk to talk about it
  • Don’t have the emotional vocabulary/maturity to be able to talk about how they feel

If we wait for children’s behaviour, attendance or progress data to drop before we do anything, we end up in a constant cycle of fire-fighting and always trying to play catch up.

Spotting the signs early on

The 3 houses approach is an extremely powerful tool to pick up early signs of well-being and mental health difficulties when used across an entire school. It is particularly suitable for schools year 4-7 and helps in increasing the reach of preventative measures that can be put in place at a time when they are needed.

You can download the 3 houses here

You can also go to the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC) website where you can find all sorts of evidence-based ways of using data to understand children’s vulnerability to mental health and well-being.

I recommend using these assessment techniques to put whole school checks in place so that early signs of poor mental health or vulnerability are identified before they present as more obvious problems or issues. This early warning system enables you to take supportive action at the right time, and can often head off greater problems further down the line. This is of course, the best outcome we could want for any of our children.

Collecting data

The assessment tools being used in some schools are very effective in screening for early signs of mental health difficulties. In my new course ‘Getting Ahead of the Curve’, the 2nd module covers the topic of data, its importance, how to collect it and use it to put preventative measures in place.

This course comes from the Halcyon Education Academy and is the first in a series of 12 week immersive programmes for mental health leads which will transform your thinking, understanding of data, curriculum and ethos. Its specific aim is to reduce the level of fire-fighting that is prevalent in schools, and to assist mental health leads to get to know all kids better, so they feel equipped with the knowledge and tools to be able take more effective and timely preventive action.

The Halcyon Education Academy will be opening its doors in April. Further details of this online course and how to register to take part will be available very soon. If you’d like me to email you when registration is available, please email me and I’ll make sure you’re the first to know.