A Thought Piece by Alison Quinn 19 December 2019

It’s been another incredibly positive year for E-ACT with our work around mental health. Our mental health first aid programme is going from strength to strength, and we’ve been busy getting the first of our mental health hubs ready to support pupils in the South West region.

A mission to train every member of staff in youth mental health first aid

We have now trained over 1000 members of staff in youth and adult mental health first aid. We are well on the way to achieving our goal of training every member of E-ACT staff to understand and recognise the early warning signs of mental health problems.

The feedback from delegates has been fantastic, with 99.6% of those attending felt they had increased their knowledge and understanding of how to support someone with a mental health illness. We’ve had staff members saying it’s the best training they’ve been on: people are glad that E-ACT is investing in mental health and making it a priority.

Offering this training is all about giving staff confidence and ensuring that they know how to support our young people. When staff leave a training saying, “I didn’t thinking of that for my students, it’s going to change the way I work”, that is a huge achievement for us.

In order to measure the impact of the training, we’ve been looking at data across a number of areas. Comparing attendance figures from September 2017 with figures from September 2018, for example, we’ve noted an increase in attendance at 64% of our academies. While a combination of factors will have contributed to that increase, it goes without saying that if we look after the welfare of our students, they will be more likely to attend their academy.

We’ve also looked at safeguarding referrals, as well as the number of pupils identified with social and emotional mental health needs. Both of these measures indicate how well we are identifying issues amongst our pupils. The number of safeguarding referrals accepted by external agencies has risen from 57% to 68%, which shows that we are making better quality referrals due to a deeper understanding of our pupils.

Staff are now identifying more pupils with social and emotional mental health leads than they were before: this demonstrates that staff are more aware of the identification process. Thanks to the training, there is now more of an understanding that many pupils with behavioural difficulties aren’t just “naughty”, and staff are now better equipped to look more closely at the underlying issues.

Looking ahead, our focus with the mental health first aid programme is to keep embedding it, making sure that every single member of staff is trained and that everyone has a basic level of knowledge around mental health.

Launching our mental health hubs

An exciting piece of work for us this year has been getting our first mental health hub up and running. Using part of a community building at Hareclive E-ACT Academy, we’ve been able to create the E-ACT Launch Pad, a specialist therapeutic setting for E-ACT pupils in the South West.

The Launch Pad has been specially planned and designed for children with anxiety and attachment needs, who are finding it difficult to access mainstream education. Pupils will work alongside a dedicated educational psychologist, as well as other experienced E-ACT staff. The purpose of the Launch Pad is to help pupils develop relationships and emotional and developmental skills, with the ultimate aim of getting them back into mainstream provision.

The best way to think of what we’re doing is by visualising a tower: each thing that we need to learn about emotional regulation and social skills is like one building block in our tower. For these pupils, their tower is potentially missing building blocks, making the structure fragile. At the Launch Pad, we’re helping them to fill in the gaps so that they can be successful in mainstream education.

The Launch Pad will offer short-term provision to 12 pupils at a time. Each pupil will spend two terms in the Launch Pad, attending for three to four days a week. Pupils will study a topic-based curriculum, developing both their academic and emotional skills. Because you’re working with anxiety and attachment, relationships are really important. We’ve therefore made sure that each pupil spends one to two days back at their academy, and that they are accompanied by a member of academy staff when they attend the Launch Pad.

The whole curriculum is written around supporting pupils with anxiety and attachment needs. Anxiety and attachment usually go hand-in-hand, and are two of the main causes of low attendance. A lot of behaviour issues can arise through anxiety and attachment issues – for example, a pupil with a disorganised attachment style (a history of disrupted relationships and unpredictable emotional experiences) will often behave in a way that puts them at risk of permanent exclusion. The Launch Pad is all about understanding each pupil’s story, determining why a young person might be acting the way that they are.

When there aren’t children at the Launch Pad, the staff will be going out to academies to provide specialised training around supporting pupils. There will also be training sessions run at the Launch Pad, as well as lots of opportunities for parents and community members to attend training sessions. For us, it’s really important that we get that knowledge and experience around mental health out into the community.

We’re thrilled that next year, we’ll also be launching a mental health hub for the Midlands, which will be based at Heartlands. We plan to provide spaces for students in key stage 2 and 3, so that all of our academies in the region can utilise the provision.  After that, our goal is to set up a mental health hub in every region, to ensure that specialist therapeutic support is available to every single E-ACT pupil that needs it.