Views & Opinion

Should the headteacher be the Designated Mental Health Lead?

Comment by Dr ASHA PATEL, CEO of education not-for-profit Innovating Minds

Last month in this column I talked about why we need Mental Health Leads and how they can carry forward the well-being agenda in schools and enable staff to move to a whole school approach to mental health. One of the questions we get asked a lot is

who should be the Designated Mental Health Lead (DMHL) in a school. It is a difficult question as staff who have a special interest in mental health may have other responsibilities, for example as the school's SENCO. However, the staff member does need to have some seniority as they will often be called upon to advise staff, implement policy changes and liaise with outside organisations.

Strengthening the mental health offering Gilbrook School featured in a Government Social Research Report Supporting mental health in schools and colleges Pen portraits of provision May 2018. It is an outstanding Local Authority maintained special primary school on the Wirral. There are around 60 primary aged pupils. All have social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH) and many have autism and other related conditions

When Kirsten Brown was appointed as headteacher five years ago, the

school was aware that local mental health support had been impacted by cuts and she became the DMHL charged with strengthening the school's mental health offering:

• Reshaping the school’s approach to behaviour management • Providing staff training and fostering a staff coaching culture • Ensuring that mental health stayed at the top of the school’s agenda

Staff at the school are encouraged to conduct research about mental

health, looking at, for example, whether young people with SEMH respond to sanctions; the wellbeing of staff working in challenging environments; whether coaching improves emotional resilience and pedagogy; breathing techniques to de-escalate children in crisis; and whether music can support the executive function of children with SEMH. 'I am still Mental Health Lead but it is definitely a team approach now,'

said Kirsten. 'For example, the Senco is responsible for parental mental health. Covid and staff shortages have impacted most schools and the pressures are enormous, especially on teachers and senior leader. The Deputy Head and I focus on different aspects of well-being. The work with our pupils is intensive and staff well-being is a priority.'

A frustrating time for schools This teamwork approach is also valued by Clare Erasmus, Head of Technology and Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Brighton Hill Community School in Basingstoke. She has started to use the Innovating Minds resources and is writing a series of blogs for us, sharing her experiences of working with our online platform EduPod which she is


using to conduct the self-assessment audit at Brighton Hill. She feels that this is a frustrating time for

schools. Support for mental health is a clear need in most schools both for pupils who are not coping and staff who may be struggling with the pressure of teaching under 'pandemic' conditions or on the point of leaving the profession. However, with cuts, the role of the DMHL is unlikely to carry a teaching and learning responsibility payment. These are more likely to be directed to teaching posts and pastoral or safeguarding roles. Meanwhile the DMHL can be a hugely time-consuming role and the non-contact hours on offer will not meet the need, especially as cuts to other services impact the referrals a school can make. Clare has been successful in her work at

Brighton Hill Community School, providing support in and out of school and they have won several awards for their mental health work. Last year they won a BETT Award for

Brighton Hill TeenMind app, which provides advice and guidance on mental health. They have teamed up with two companies Performance Learning and Innovating Minds so they can 'maximise opportunities for learning and mental health support through the use of technology at a time when we are more and more reliant on new and inventive ways of communication.' Clare is a middle manager and feels that the role of DMHL should be

held by someone with management responsibility: 'You need to be at the leadership table. Part of the role is directing research to identify gaps in school provision. You will also be a strategic partner with external bodies, and it is hard to deal with this if you have no easy conduit to the head and other decision makers.'

Put therapeutic teaching strategies on the agenda Rather than headteachers taking on the role, Clare recommends that they should identify middle managers looking for more responsibility to lead the mental health agenda. While headteachers may have particular interest in mental health and may want to lead on it, realistically they don’t necessarily have the time. All schools must have a Designated Safeguarding Lead in place to

deal with child protection concerns and Clare think that in the next few years the role of DMHL will also become statutory. She welcomes this and would also like to see a change in teacher training so that teaching therapeutic strategies is on the agenda: 'We need to be more pre- emptive,' she says. 'We need to build a whole school culture of mental wellbeing, so we can see the signs, intervene and save lives.' If you are looking to develop a whole school approach to mental

health or improve your provision, more help can be found at for-schools

January 2021

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