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Wellbeing in Secondary Education – A WISE Study Update

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The mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is a major public health concern. Recent policy commitments across England and Wales have demonstrated governments’ aim to promote mental health and wellbeing within the school setting.  This includes a £1.4m investment by the Welsh Government into the CAMHS service in schools, which will aid teachers in providing advice and structured support to students with mental health needs. Meanwhile, in England, the Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care have invested £200k to provide Mental Health First Aid training to 1000 secondary school staff.  However, despite this increased focus on improving the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, we know very little about what actually works.

One promising avenue is approaches that improve the mental health and wellbeing of teachers.  Failure to address teachers’ mental health and wellbeing can detrimentally affect student health. Poor teacher-student relationships in secondary school predict student psychiatric disorders and later school exclusion. Meanwhile, positive relationships are associated with lower levels of student depression and increased educational achievement. Teachers are also the professionals who are most likely to have routine contact with students in regard to their mental health. However, poor wellbeing reduces teachers’ belief in their ability to support students, with this problem being compounded by a lack of training in how to effectively help students. In turn this threatens their own mental health, as they recognise their unfulfilled potential to help.

The WISE (Wellbeing in Secondary Education) project is a cluster randomised controlled trial of an intervention aimed at improving the mental health and wellbeing of teachers, in addition to the mental health and wellbeing of students. The intervention comprises three components: 1) Mental Health First Aid Training (MHFA) to 8% of nominated school staff to set up an informal peer support service for colleagues; 2) Schools and Colleges MHFA training to teachers to improve day-to-day interactions with students, respond to signs and symptoms of distress, and provide initial help to thoseidentified as at risk of mental health difficulties;3) Awareness raising of staff and student mental health and wellbeing amongst all staff. Evaluation is being undertaken with 25 secondary schools across South Wales and the South West of England. The study is funded by the National Instituted of Health Research (NIHR) PHR programme.

To date, the evaluation has collected questionnaire data from all teachers and Year 8 students to assess the primary and secondary outcomes at baseline (2015/2016). Teacher outcome measures were assessed again the following year (2016/2017). Data is currently being collected on the implementation of the intervention and its acceptability to staff, students and funders. The final phase of questionnaires will be undertaken during the summer term of 2017/18. The results of the evaluation should be available in April 2019 and we will be hosting a range of dissemination events to share the findings. Please get in touch if you would like to know more about the study, or register for any dissemination events: