The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Kelly Hannaghan

Why wellbeing in education matters to me

With a growing mental health crisis in our school, Kelly Hannaghan shares her views on why schools need wellbeing leaders.

My first memory of starting primary school is scarred by the immense feeling of fear that overcame me. I clearly remember looking through the glass on the classroom door and watching my mother walk away. Still now in my adult life I can be transported back to that moment by the smell of classroom paint.

Back then I was a child who would have been described as being from a dysfunctional family. I always noticed a sense of loss of hope for me; I struggled academically and was continuously placed in the lower ability groups. This pattern of response followed me throughout my whole schooling.

I’m sure my educators saw the signs of my turbulent home life but failed to explore my situation

My teachers never asked how I felt or if I needed anything to make my home life situation feel better. Back then it was a taboo subject, with no questions asked. I’m sure my educators saw the signs of my turbulent home life but failed to explore my situation further for fear of what they might uncover. How times have changed for the better!

Giving children hope for a brighter future

My passion is to make a difference to every child and young person’s life that crosses my path. It is paramount that children feel heard and respected no matter what life experiences they are born in to.

Young people should always have the hope for a brighter future free from judgement and shame. Just imagine how profoundly important you can be in reshaping a child’s life and future prospects.

Relationships make a difference

Focus first on relationships. These can have a lasting positive impact on a young child's life. Sometimes they're the only reason a vulnerable young person will come to school.

She gave me hope that I could have a brighter future

Certainly, I didn't go to school for the education that I was failing to attain. I came for Mrs Miller the dinner lady, who gave me a warm smile every time that she saw me and made my heart skip a beat. I felt valued and liked.

Then there was Miss Ellis, who challenged me every day throughout secondary school to make the right decisions. She gave me hope that I could have a brighter future, and that in fact I was clever in my own unique way.

The role of schools

Over the course of their education, children spend over 7,800 hours at school. With such a huge amount of time spent in the classroom, schools provide an ideal environment for promoting good emotional wellbeing and identifying early behaviour changes and signs of mental distress.

The social and emotional skills, knowledge and behaviours that young people learn in the classroom can help them to build resilience and set the pattern for how they will manage their mental health throughout their lives.

Emotional wellbeing is a clear indicator of academic achievement, success and satisfaction in later life. Mental health and wellbeing interventions in schools can lead to significant improvements in children’s mental health, and social and emotional skills. Wellbeing provision in schools can also lead to reductions in behaviour issues and increased attendance and attainment.

A sustained approach

I am in the privileged position to be out of class full time, which enables me to be on the ground providing urgent early help. You may be surprised that we can afford a full-time wellbeing leader – but in some schools it's a case of we can't afford not to, as the social, emotional and mental health needs are so high.

I relieve the pressure on class teachers, enabling them to focus on teaching our future adults for better outcomes in life

My role costs the same as a full-time teacher, but means that we have a trained emotional health professional, providing consistent support not only for pupils but also for staff and parents. I am the point of call and relieve the pressure on class teachers, enabling them to focus on teaching our future adults for better outcomes in life. (Read more about our approach in 'Wellbeing at the heart of our school'.)

My role as wellbeing leader also is used to grow revenue, in order to sustain its place in the school. I offer consultancy and staff training, which not only generates income but also saves the school money by not having to buy in outside service providers for staff training.

Being brave and taking a risk is key. It pays off in time!

Look out for my next blog, where I'll be reviewing the Ofsted framework for emotional health and wellbeing, and exploring leaders' thoughts around the recommended wellbeing lead roles within education. 

More reading and resources

DfE recognises the importance of mental health in schools

Pupil mental health and wellbeing: guidance for staff

Quality interventions for SEMH: what resources are available for schools?

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