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Improving wellbeing in schools

Evidence and recommendations from a ‘Head of Wellbeing’ pilot

Evidence suggests that the physical and mental wellbeing of our children and young people is deteriorating. There is also growing concern for the mental health and wellbeing of teaching staff. Schools clearly have a critical role to play in addressing these issues but lack the specialist expertise and coordinated oversight to push this agenda forward.

This report describes a pilot programme designed to test the impact of embedding a dedicated, expert Head of Wellbeing (HoW) in an English secondary school. The school selected – Wood Green School – had a higher than average proportion of pupils on free school meals and had recently been put into special measures. It also had strong, senior-level belief in the importance of wellbeing as a way of improving performance.

Over two years, the HoW worked closely with staff and students to assess, design and implement a wide-ranging, flexible programme of initiatives and activities to address wellbeing priorities.

Evaluation showed the value of introducing a HoW in a secondary school context and the potential for positive influence on behaviour of both students and staff. Reported benefits included greater awareness and understanding of physical and mental wellbeing, as well as improved concentration and better relationships with family and friends.

Initial scepticism at the school highlighted the need for the HoW to build trust and rapport, particularly with senior staff, to achieve ‘buy-in’. By the end of the pilot, there was widespread enthusiasm for a dedicated HoW, who could provide tailored, flexible support that plugged gaps in the school’s knowledge, expertise and provision.

Following the pilot, the school made the crucial decision to invest budget in recruiting a part-time Wellbeing Lead to continue the work started by the HoW. This role is responsible for delivering a new weekly wellbeing curriculum to Years 7, 8 and 9, continuing many of the pilot initiatives and providing continued support for the school’s overall wellbeing ethos.

The pilot has also given Nuffield Health the evidence we need to make a major investment in the wellbeing of children and young people.

This innovative pilot has shown that, given the appropriate level of support, schools can make a very real difference to the wellbeing of their staff and the young people they serve, establishing habits and behaviours that will last a lifetime.