Havering Council - Children and young people: mental health training and support for schools

Bringing together partners to support a whole school approach to mental health and the development of an online resource setting out information on mental health and suicide prevention training and support for schools. This case study was done jointly with the National Suicide Prevention Alliance and forms part of our suicide prevention resource.

The project

We set up a local authority wide, multi-agency steering group to oversee implementation of work to transform children and young people’s mental health.  One of the aims of this group is to support schools to take a whole school approach towards mental health. To promote a whole school approach, we wanted to make it as easy as possible for schools to identify their training needs around mental health and suicide prevention and help them meet those. In response to schools’ requests, we have worked with a range of services and training providers to develop an online directory of training and support available to school staff, pupils and parents, that is updated termly.

The challenge

National direction from Future in Mind, alongside our own local strategy the ‘Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge Suicide Prevention Strategy’, emphasised the need to promote resilience, prevention and early intervention, and to equip school staff with the knowledge, skills and confidence to support young people’s mental health. We recognised that for a school to be effective in identifying and meeting pupils’ mental wellbeing needs, we needed multiple staff in each school to attend one or two courses appropriate to their role, instead of one or two members of staff attending multiple courses. Teachers told us they knew an increasing amount of funding and training was becoming available, but that they didn’t have time to filter through this in order to make informed decisions about what training to prioritise for their school, know which staff should attend which courses, or understand the similarities and differences between each training offer.

The method

The Children and Young People Mental Health Transformation Group was primarily made up of colleagues from the CCG and the council’s public health team and needed a broader membership to understand what training was available and what was needed.

We started by changing the make-up of the Transformation Group; it grew to include representatives from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, schools, Local Authority Education Services (educational psychologists, attendance and behaviour officers, and alternative provision staff), Youth Offending Team, Youth Services, the police, and a range of voluntary sector organisations. We invited each of these services to present to the group to share the work they were doing with children and young people and discuss what additional training and support was required.  We also brought together training providers to share best practice, discuss gaps in provision, and explore how we, and they, could meet identified needs.  This helped the group understand the wealth of training and support available and, in response to feedback from school staff, we began developing the idea of a shared online resource that would bring together all relevant training and support in one place.

The online directory resource we developed brings together information on mental health and suicide prevention training and support targeted at school staff, pupils and parents in an online spreadsheet, providing consistent and comparable information including: subject, target audience, topics covered, length of course, cost to schools, contact details, and an overview of content and intended outcomes.  Providers take responsibility for updating their section on a termly basis. 

The services and providers now meet regularly to continue the conversations about successes, needs, gaps in provision and funding.

We also hold a ‘mental health speed dating event’ during our annual Safeguarding Week where school staff rotate around the room meeting providers to find out more about their offer. This has proved an effective way of bringing the resource to life and staff have found it useful.

The impact

The expansion of the group and building relationships across such a wide range of organisations helped us to identify a much broader range of training needs and audiences, and then develop a wider suite of training around mental health and suicide prevention. Examples of work we have developed include:

  • Creating a sustainable, local Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) network. This involves training for teaching assistants to become ELSAs, strategies and tools to take back into school to use and develop with young people, and regular network meetings.
  • Providing clarity to schools on which of the range of Youth Mental Health First Aid and other courses are most useful and relevant to which staff.
  • Developing new training delivered through our Healthy Schools programme for primary and secondary school staff to transfer their knowledge about mental health into practical strategies and tools they can use every day in the classroom. 
  • Delivering in-school training specifically around suicide prevention. There are three Papyrus courses;
    • 90-minute Suicide Prevention- Overview Training (SP-OT) sessions
    • Half-day Suicide Prevention- Explore, Ask, Keep-Safe (SP-EAK) workshops
    • Two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) course.
  • Offering training on specific areas of mental health such as Understanding Anxiety in Primary School Pupils and Understanding Self Harm in Secondary School Pupils, with support from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust.

Project enablers

The fact that mental health is high on everyone’s agenda has made our work easier to deliver. In the past, schools involved in our Healthy Schools programme tended to focus on healthy eating and physical activity, but mental health has become an increasing priority.

The Children and Young People Mental Health Local Transformation Plan managed by the CCG has created a consistent offer of funding over the last five years, which has encouraged and enabled partners to work together to develop new training opportunities. Providers have also secured funding of their own, for example Papyrus was funded by Thrive London to deliver SP-OT training and SP-EAK training, as part of their suicide prevention activity.

Our Assistant Director for Education within the council sits on the Transformation Group and feeds back to headteacher forums, this has proved to be invaluable.

Project challenges

It took time to build engagement in the Transformation Group but inviting people to present to the group about their work and the challenges they were facing, and offering a regular networking opportunity, has established sustained interest. 

There are significant time constraints for school staff, it can be difficult for them to free up the time to attend training which has the knock-on effect of attendance. We have worked to resolve this to provide a range of course lengths, some in schools and some outside, which has enabled good attendance.  Delegate feedback evidences that the sessions are positive and generate a lot of conversation and enthusiasm.

It was very time-consuming initially to set up a template for the training and support resource that worked for everyone, but now just once every term a reminder email is sent out to everyone to update their sections, making central coordination straightforward.

There’s no single or major thing we’d do differently as this has been a learning curve throughout and we’ve continued to adapt and improve the group and the offer to schools as time has gone on.  The training is provided by multiple providers in many different formats and, in hindsight, we’d have worked with providers earlier on to request some common questions be included in their pre- and post-course evaluations to give us more comparable data across the suite of courses.

Next steps

The Transformation Group continues to meet every half term. In March 2020, Local Transformation Plan funding ended, and transitioned into the NHS Long Term Plan. We therefore repurposed our final three meetings of the school year to focus on:

  • Perinatal and early years mental health
  • Resilience and wellbeing in schools and colleges
  • Meeting the needs of vulnerable groups

During these focus groups, we are seeking to develop a vision for the next three years which will look at where we are now and agreeing what we need to put in place to reach that vision.

We will continue to update the resource once a term with the training and support offers available.

Advice for other local areas

  • To have a passionate individual involved from the start, as they will need to make time to contact and meet with stakeholders to galvanise interest and begin work on bringing the resource together
  • Multi-agency partnership is key – you need a range of people around the table to bring ideas together and take ownership for the part they play in the wider system
  • Value the expertise and input of everyone involved and acknowledge that they all bring unique contributions
  • Training was found to be most beneficial when it was shared and accessed across different class teachers and teaching assistants rather than focused on just one or two leads n the school. This was important to encourage a wider whole school approach and identify early signs across the school.


Claire Alp, Senior Public Health Specialist, Havering Council

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