Curriculum, teaching, and learning

All schools have a duty to teach about mental health and emotional wellbeing. This includes cross-curricular teaching, as well as through the relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) curriculum.

The statutory guidance for relationships, sex, and health education includes mental health and emotional wellbeing (MHEW) teaching requirements by key stage. The guidance specifies that 'teachers should be clear that mental wellbeing is a normal part of daily life, in the same way as physical health'.

The Best Practice Review of Whole School Approach within Mental Health Support Teams in the South-East and East of England (Procter et al., 2021) identified the following:

  • The impact of programmes to improve wellbeing were limited unless they were delivered as part of multi-component, systemic change (O’Connor et al., 2017).
  • Interventions that were most effective were ones that were embedded in a whole school approach to wellbeing and operated over a long period of time (Weare and Nind, 2011).
  • Universal social and emotional learning interventions have good evidence of enhancing young people’s social and emotional skills and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in the short term (Clarke et al., 2021).

Thriving: To support pupils to thrive through the curriculum, teaching and learning of MHEW

Schools should:

  • ensure that the curriculum around MHEW is reinforced through the school’s ethos and environment, as well as a whole school approach to MHEW which is operated over a sustained period of time (Weare and Nind 2011)
  • ensure that universal and targeted approaches to promoting emotional health and wellbeing are integrated within a school system that promotes connectedness (Banerjee et al., 2016)
  • provide a safe learning environment and recognise that some aspects of mental health and wellbeing can be triggering for some pupils. Bear in mind that you may not be aware of those pupils prior to the lesson
  • set ground rules before engaging in the teaching of mental health and wellbeing themes – include the whole class in the writing and setting of these rules
  • foster a culture of non-judgment, where stereotypes are confidently tackled within the lesson. This includes tackling the use of inappropriate language
  • ensure the school’s wellbeing and safeguarding leads are aware of what content is going to be taught in the lesson, so that they can identify any pupils who may find the topic difficult. Allow pupils an alternative to attending the lesson if that is appropriate
  • ensure pupils understand how they can make disclosures in a safe one-to-one space after the lesson
  • ensure that staff are confident in handling any disclosures made by pupils following on from the subject matter taught in lessons
  • choose images carefully -avoid the use of distressing images
  • ensure there is distance to the learning – consider using fictional scenarios, TV programmes, puppets, or animations rather than real-life case studies
  • use creative means of assessment to monitor what has been learned - allow pupils to express new vocabulary or to demonstrate new techniques they have learned for example
  • allow for personal reflection about what has been learned by each individual pupil
  • use the West Sussex Education For Safeguarding platform to plan a curriculum that is bespoke to their school
  • develop a policy for how mental health and emotional wellbeing are taught as part of the wider RSHE policy
  • work with external partners to enhance the delivery of the curriculum.

More information can be found on the statutory guidance from the Department for Education about teaching health education, including MHEW.

Curriculum, teaching and learning